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How to “dissolve the fog of lies” Try truth?

4 Dec

 

 

 

Fog

Low-lying fog

 

There’s a piece by ABC journalist Julia Baird in The Age yesterday lamenting the demise of “objective facts” in public discourse.

While politicians, lobbyists and supporters initiate fact-less commentary, the media is largely responsible for propagating a narrative based unquestioningly on emotion and personal belief, rather than fact.

Baird cites the ABC’s managing director Michelle Guthrie as an aficionada of “true diversity.” Diversity in newsrooms is one method of dispersing the fog of lies, Baird argues, on the grounds that most are staffed by middle class white men and a few middle class white women. There is apparently a correlation between middle class white men and women, and fact-less reporting.

It seems to me that one must be middle class in order to score a gig in mainstream media: perhaps it is the class, rather than the colour that is the dominant factor here. Perhaps we need to get rid of the middle class if we want to disperse the fog of lies.

This would be an interesting piece of research.

While I heartily agree with the need for diverse voices, calling up Guthrie as a proponent of objective fact and diversity is astounding, given that one of her first acts was to terminate the ABC’s fact checking unit, closely followed by the axing of the world-renowned Catalyst science program, resulting in the loss of a rare team of scientists talented enough to master the delicate art of conveying complex information in a half hour segment. Science broadcaster Robin Williams described this carnage as “morally and spiritually bankrupt.”

Baird concludes that: There is no simple solution for how to dissolve the fog of lies and fake news that has blurred our political landscape.

Well, actually, it’s not that difficult.  Try telling the truth. Try prefacing reports such as the ludicrous segment on Pauline Hanson’s big day out on the Great Barrier Reef with a caution that “what follows has no factual content.” This simple statement shouldn’t get anyone into trouble. It’s the truth.

The fog of lies and fake news that has blurred our political landscape hasn’t done it all by itself. Note the passive voice. Media hasn’t had a hand in this. The fog has done all the blurring. Damn that low-lying fog. Let’s make people of colour responsible for lifting it.

Baird and the rest of the media can angst about this post fact reality all they like, but it’s a circle jerk. The answer is in their hands, so to speak. In the US, trust in media is at its lowest since 1972, and I’m betting there’s a similar lack of trust in Australia. The longest journey begins with the first step. Try truth. We might eventually get to like you again.

Dear politicians. Parliament is not your safe space

2 Dec

peaceful_protest

 

The reaction of the political class and some journalists to the protest in parliament house on Tuesday is an example of the kind of arrogance and entitlement that has alienated many in the US from their major political parties, and voting patterns would indicate a similar disaffection is well under way here.

Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek advised citizens that if we wish to engage in the democratic process, we need to get ourselves elected. This remark seems to indicate that the democratic process belongs to politicians: citizens, once we’ve elected them, are excluded.

On reflection, this is pretty much what democracy has become in Australia. We elect a government based on many factors, among them promises made by candidates. Government then disregards the very undertakings that enabled their ascendance, and voters are thus excised from the “democratic” process. Plibersek isn’t that far off the mark. Citizens participate only insofar as we vote. After that, we do as we’re told.

Protesters are invariably described in pejorative terms, as if protest in itself is regarded as contemptible by politicians. One Nation’s Pauline Hanson, for example, claimed that she and her staff could “smell the protesters, they hadn’t even bothered to shower.” This is in keeping with the long association of legal protest with “the great unwashed.” During an Occupy Melbourne demonstration, former Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom turned Liberal politician Tim Wilson, tweeted that peaceful protesters should have the water cannons turned on them. Insults such as grubs, vermin, losers are hurled at peaceful protesters: a metaphorical association with “dirtiness” the political class assumes it is entitled to protection from.

The arrogance of the political class, their belief that they are superior to the citizens who elect them and pay their wages, nowhere reveals itself as starkly as in their attitudes to legal protest.When protest occurs in the House at Question Time they are confronted on their own turf, turf they believe to be sacred and protected from the citizens who put them there, citizens who are now irrelevant until the next election.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten claimed Tuesday’s protest was “the exact opposite of democracy.” Really? I thought protest was democracy in action, and  protest in the House of the people the fulfilment of democracy’s promise.

Journalist Malcolm Farr also stated on Twitter that if we want to speak in parliament we should get elected. Or perhaps we should all become journalists with press gallery credentials.

The “us and them” narrative has shown itself in all its ugliness, in these reactions. Perhaps parliament ought to be sacred ground, perhaps the HoR ought to be regarded with the reverence ideally due to democracy’s engine. But a House and a parliament is only as good as the people in it, and it’s been a long, long time since we’ve had good people driving our democracy train.

The only power we have, in between elections, is the power of peaceful protest. Take it right up to them. Protest in the House politicians have so thoroughly defiled.

Peaceful protest is not terrorism, nor is it the threat of terrorism, though they will attempt to frame it as such in an effort to suppress. Politicians want to be protected from the sight and sound of dissent. They want Parliament House to be their safe space. It isn’t. It belongs to everyone. This is still a democracy, Ms Plibersek, Mr Shorten. Shame on you.

No politician can occupy the moral high ground on QT protests

1 Dec

moral-high-ground

 

I have very little time and a whole lot of fury, so here goes.

Driving home from Lismore this afternoon I heard Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Leader of the Labor Party and the Opposition, deliver a lecture on how the protesters at Parliament House yesterday threatened our democracy and prevented debate by interrupting  question time for some forty minutes.

I’ve read the same drivel from Tim Watts MP, and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

To describe question time as either *democratic* or a *debate* is as fanciful as just about anything I’ve heard lately.

Politicians in the HoR were prevented from engaging in the abuse, vilification, insult, lies, duplicity, theatrics, dissemination of misinformation and the hypocrisy that constitutes question time in the Australian parliament. As far as I know, such behaviour is neither democratic nor can it be dignified with the title *debate.*

It’s more than a bit rich when politicians who are responsible for the imprisonment, suffering and deaths of refugees who legally sought sanctuary in this country, attempt to claim the high moral ground on the alleged disruption of democracy by people protesting those same politicians’ inhumanity, and callous courting of xenophobic votes.

The only people who have denigrated our federal parliament are the politicians who work in it. The only people who have denigrated our democracy are the very people to whom it is entrusted.

Both the ALP and the LNP have broken international law, domestic law, and committed and continue to commit atrocities against people who legally sought asylum in this country. They belong in The Hague, every last one of them.

Not one of them gets to lecture the citizens of this country about alleged threats to democracy caused by us protesting their perfidy.

There is no difference between the stand taken by Plibersek, Watts and Shorten, and that taken by any perpetrator who points the finger of guilt at the whistle-blower rather than him or herself. It is a more serious crime to protest in the HoR than it is to torture refugees?

And please note, *torture* is the word used by the UNHCR and Amnesty International to describe successive Australian governments’ treatment of refugees.

The situation on Manus and Nauru is acknowledged throughout the world to be intolerable. If you’ve got those crimes  against humanity on your conscience, you have no moral ground left on which to stand.

 

 

 

March of the white men children.

21 Nov

white-pride

 

“We are proud that there’s absolutely no balance whatsoever. No gender balance. We’re all white. We don’t believe in things like gender balance.”

Thus spake the white man Mark Latham at the announcement of the new panel show on Sky,  featuring former Howard front bencher and proud white male Ross Cameron, and Rowan Dean, white as editor of The Spectator magazine. The show will be called “Outsiders” (owing to them all being white and male, a disadvantaged and marginalised demographic in this country) and broadcast on Sunday mornings, immediately after Barrie Cassidy’s “Insiders” on ABC TV.

The trio also like to be known as “Trump’s Aussie Mates,” and fervently hope for a Trump landslide victory in 2020.

Latham breathlessly expressed the trio’s vision: “We want Trump to abuse the media and for them to abuse him back and we want more lectures from actors…”

I don’t know that anyone has yet characterised Donald Trump as a man-child, however, he seems to me the perfect poster boy for the breed, and it comes as no surprise that Latham, Cameron and Dean have at last found the pack leader they’ve so long been looking for, the man who endorses their regression.

Normalising television shows based on the spectacle of abuse, delivered to us by white men children who are opposed to gender balance (no emotionally mature male would oppose gender balance, let’s face it) may well be our future since Trump let white men children everywhere know that from now on shoving your white dick right in everyone’s face is more than ok, it’s what real men do.

It will end in tears, these things always do, the question is, how long will it take?

Pray for premature ejaculation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You want it darker? We kill the flame

20 Nov

Georgia O'Keeffe

 

Stephen Bannon, chairman of the fascist platform Breitbart News, has been appointed chief strategist in President-Elect Donald Trump’s new administration.

In apparent response to fears that a darkness has fallen on the US since Trump’s election, Bannon countered: “Darkness is good. Dick Cheney. Darth Vader. Satan. That’s power.”

(Here’s a useful glimpse into the men Trump is considering as his most senior staff.)

The binaries dark and light, good and evil, have long dominated western political discourse. George W.Bush and his axis of evil; Tony Blair and his messianic conviction that the invasion of Iraq and the destruction of Saddam Hussein was a just and holy intervention: the bright light of democracy beamed into the abyss of despotic darkness by the forces of good.

There’s no nuance in the narrative, no shades of grey, and the lack of hue hasn’t changed with the ascension of Trump, it has merely been reversed. Trump doesn’t pretend the light and the good are superior ideals to which we should aspire. Darkness is good. Evil is power. There’s no longer any need to mask the dark with false light, as did Blair, Bush and sycophant John Howard. Trump has dragged us from those layered duplicities into his unmitigated and unmediated darkness. A million candles burning for the help that never came. You want it darker? We kill the flame.

I’m quoting from Leonard Cohen’s final album, released just weeks before he died. As with all great work, it’s both intensely personal and universal. I’ve been listening to it for days, not just because he’s dead and I mourn his loss, but because the album seems to speak with uncanny prescience of our current transition into a Trumpian world.

At first blush the work is about Cohen’s approaching death, but it is also about the dying of our irresponsible innocence, our smug carelessness, our neglect, our wilful blindness to how the Blairs, the Bushes and the Howards led us inevitably to Trump and Bannon, leaders of the killers of the flame, leaders of those who want it darker.

Trump’s vision for the US (and necessarily the world) Fox News, 2014

You know what solves it? When the economy crashes, when the country goes to total hell and everything is a disaster. Then you’ll have a [chuckles], you know, you’ll have riots to go back to where we used to be when we were great.

Bannon, 2016 interview with the Daily Beast:

I’m a Leninist, Bannon proudly proclaimed.

Shocked, I asked him what he meant.

Lenin, he answered, wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.

Meanwhile, at home, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia found it necessary to release a press statement expressing concern over inflammatory remarks made by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton on the subject of various “cohorts” and “nationalities” welcomed to Australia by former PM Malcolm Fraser. These refugees, Dutton asserts, may well be responsible for producing “terrorist” children and grandchildren. Fraser should have been more careful, Dutton (no doubt emboldened by Trump’s success) claims.

And to top off an increasingly dark fortnight, the UN Human Rights Council has appointed the Saudi ambassador to oversee women’s rights world-wide. The Ambassador will have the right to vote on, participate in and influence the following:

Elimination of discrimination against women
Equal participation [of women] in political and public affairs
Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice
Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences
Accelerating efforts to eliminate all forms of violence against women
The right to a nationality: women’s equal nationality rights in law and in practice
Addressing the impact of multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination and violence in the context of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on the full enjoyment of all human rights by women and girls
Annual full day debate on women’s rights
Annual half-day panel on the integration of a gender perspective

Saudi Arabia has among the worst, if not the worst, record on women’s rights in the world.

What I’m seeing in our new picture is even less nuance than we had before, which wasn’t all that much, we could have done with a bit more. Like an individual who decides to thoroughly trash his or her life as a means of effecting change, so Trump and Bannon see disaster and destruction on what could well be a global scale, as a legitimate method to correct perceived wrongs. We’re post fact, post truth, and post nuance.

You want it darker?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Losing privilege is now a crime against humanity.

18 Nov

 

rights

 

It’s becoming rather tiring, listening to privileged people with large platforms complain that their freedom of speech is being denied, and we have to get rid of anti discrimination laws that allegedly silence them.

As far as I can tell such people are incapable of dealing with criticism of their speech, and are unable to distinguish between that criticism, and the oppression of silencing. Criticism is not denial of free speech. It’s criticism. I don’t think they know this, which is surprising.

Neither are you being “silenced” if you don’t have the guts to speak. That’s not denial of free speech, it’s lack of courage. The “I can’t say anything because of political correctness” whine is an admission of cowardice.

“Stop political correctness” actually means, “make the world absolutely safe for me to say whatever I like without fear of criticism” which is in itself interesting, because the “stop political correctness” cohort also seems to oppose the idea of safe spaces for people who might actually need them.

The complaint of denial of freedom of speech currently emanates overwhelmingly from those incapable of tolerating a challenge: they wish to engage in bigotry without anyone calling them on it. Somewhere, in one of their developmental stages, somebody hurt them by giving them critical feedback for bad work and they never got over it.

Apart from all that, it is rather ludicrous when someone with a platform regularly provided and paid for by Newscorpse et al (not to mention those privileged by their presence in parliament) complains they have no freedom to speak. Cowards, every one.

There were mixed reactions when the Human Rights Commission dropped its inquiry into the Australian’s cartoonist, Bill Leak, after complaints were lodged against him under the now infamous Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

I found the cartoon under scrutiny (you can see it in the first link) obnoxious, an expression of white paternalism, privilege and assumed supremacy. I also believed the complaint would fail under the exemptions permitted by Section 18D, and I can’t see how that potential failure could do anything to further the cause of those racially humiliated by Leak in his cartoon, not for the first time or the last, I might add.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, without which many other rights collapse. We also live in a country in which it is regrettably necessary to have a Racial Discrimination Act, because we are racist, and because the concept of freedom of speech is frequently abused to justify racially motivated attacks.

The two are not always compatible. Section 18C is perceived by some as a threat to free speech or, as Attorney-General George Brandis so memorably put it, the freedom to be a bigot. However, nobody is prevented or can be prevented from being a bigot: they just need to be aware that there may be consequences,  just as there are consequences, positive and negative, for every other choice we make.

I’d prefer to see the words “offend and insult” in 18C changed to “vilify.” I think it’s extremely difficult to make laws about offending and insulting: vilification is far more specific and contains within it the notions of offence and insult. Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs is not opposed to rewording the Section.

The concept of freedom of speech is in danger of becoming grotesquely distorted by those who have no need at all to be protected from the loss of it. But this is the neo liberal way: co-opt the safeguards put in place to protect people from vilification and exploitation, and frame yourself as the victim. Losing privilege is now a crime against humanity in the new world order. Oh, yeah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t give Trump a chance

15 Nov

noam-chomsky-neoliberalism

 

There are situations that arise from time to time in which to act with civility may cost you your life, metaphorically or literally. If you haven’t encountered such a situation may your good fortune continue, however, I’d argue that the world has collectively come up against just this challenge with the endorsement of Donald Trump as President-Elect of the United States.

Over the last few days I’ve read what to me are profoundly stupid calls from the US, from Australia and from other countries, to “give Trump a chance.” He may “settle down” once ensconced in the Oval Office. Actually being president may “tame” him. He “only campaigned as he did to win,” not because he really believes all that stuff about punishing women who have abortions, deporting “illegals,” building a wall, banning Muslim immigration, dismantling the health care system, and men’s freedom to sexually assault women.

The wall is interesting. It exists only as a metaphor, claimed more than a few commentators, it is the wall in our minds. How baffled they must feel to hear that Trump is already discussing materials.  Yes, a wall is a clichéd metaphor (we don’t need no education on that) and, what a surprise, it also has a concrete reality. Ask any number of nations about literal walls. Donald is no innovator in this field. Yet many in the US media did not see this, as well as much else including Trump’s victory, coming.

Here in Australia we have a “ring of steel” to protect our borders, and I feel fairly confident this is a metaphor but who can say for sure anymore?

Australians need to proceed with caution when pointing our shocked fingers at what people who wish to be civil now describe as “only” Trump’s means to his end. Decades of torturing asylum seekers and refugees who arrived here perfectly legally by boat, because an influential number of voters believe it is acceptable to do that. Supporting both major parties in their transgression of every human decency and the UNHCR Convention as well. We are disqualified from planting our flag on the means to an end high moral ground. As was pointed out by Naomi Klein, Trump is at this point still talking about a wall. We already have one.

Trump was “only campaigning as he did to win” has to be a justification given life and voice by those who value winning above all else. Have they forgotten already the vileness of Trump’s campaign, or do they minimise the horror, given that it brought him victory? Is everything secondary to winning? Trump thinks so. When questioned on his campaign tactics he shrugged off all criticism. “I won,” he said.

This piece by George Monbiot describes Trump as the product of a neoliberalism that found its political expression through Margaret Thatcher’s enchantment with the theories of Nobel Prize winning economist Frederick Hayek. Competition and winning the competition is the neoliberal credo: democracy comes a very poor second.

He (Hayek) justifies this position by creating a heroic narrative of extreme wealth. He conflates the economic elite, spending their money in new ways, with philosophical and scientific pioneers. Just as the political philosopher should be free to think the unthinkable, so the very rich should be free to do the undoable, without constraint by public interest or public opinion.

Trump certainly seems set upon doing the undoable (in the sense of the morally and ethically undoable) without constraint of any kind.

Women well know the limits of civility. Asking a man set on harming us to please don’t rarely works, for example. Civility doesn’t work with despots and tyrants and psychopaths, and people who care only about winning. They will sneer at your civility, indeed, they will crap upon it.

Donald Trump is a man entirely willing to cause harm in order to achieve his goals. How any one can doubt this for a nano second is beyond me, given the nature of his campaign and the vile forces of hatred he has unleashed already against anyone who isn’t white and male.  So if Oprah Winfrey advises us to have hope, as she has, I say, WTAF is wrong with your head, lady?

Giving Trump a chance means overlooking or accepting his manner of campaigning, which in itself should disqualify him from high office. Giving Trump a chance means normalising the most base of human instincts. Giving Trump a chance means endorsing a savagery towards our fellow humans that will eventually deaden every communal and societal instinct we possess. Giving Trump a chance means surrendering to the dehumanisation of ourselves and others, a path with which we in Australia are already overly familiar through our treatment of refugees and Indigenous peoples.

This is not the time for civility. This is the time to call a spade a fucking shovel, and refuse to allow Trump’s narrative to be normalised, as it will be in this country unless we fight back, by politicians and media, many of whom perceive great gains in assisting the elevation of Trump’s narrative.

As Monbiot concludes, those who tell the story run the world. Let it not be Trump’s story, and the story told by those in this country who share his beliefs.

Let’s not give him, or them, a chance.

 

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