Opiates of the people

6 Sep

Mexican Cross

 

On Sunday September 4 2016, Catholic nun Mother Theresa was canonised by Pope Francis for her work amongst the poor and sick in Calcutta, and two miracles attributed to her involving the apparently inexplicable curing of cancers.

As part of the celebrations the poor of Rome were treated by the Pope to a lunch of pizza, which, as a few of us agreed on Twitter, can be deconstructed to loaves and fishes if it contains anchovies.

It was with some disbelief that I watched media reports of this event showing great crowds of people rejoicing. There are still so many enslaved by religious delusion? I had thought it largely replaced by reality TV.

My chain of association led me next to Karl Marx:

Religious distress is at the same time the expression of real distress and the protest against real distress. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness. The demand to give up the illusion about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions.*

I don’t know that anyone has put it better: the demand to give up illusions about its condition is the demand to give up a condition which needs illusions. How many situations are there to which that insight might be applied?

Mother Theresa did not always enjoy good press. The late Christopher Hitchens, for example, was scathing, claiming in a piece titled “Mommie Dearest” that it wasn’t the poor she was interested in but rather poverty itself, which she used as a vehicle for her extreme right-wing religious views. Her habit of ensuring the dying were baptised into her church, no matter what their religious beliefs or lack of them, did not endear her to many of the living.

For me, the term “canon” refers to a patriarchal hierarchy of literary works, or, with two “ns” the final crescendo of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Associations here lead me back to the time when my sons were young and the 1812 was used by the defence forces in a recruitment drive. This didn’t fool those boys who sang in joyful unison whenever the advertisement interrupted their favourite shows: “Join the army get your balls blown off.”

I often think of this for comfort, when I torment myself about having been a bad mother. One way or another, I nurtured pacifists who from an early age could see through (some) illusions. I recall as well the time their father took them on an expedition to the public viewing of a warship and I refused to go. That ship was built to kill people, you know, I yelled as they went out the door, in an effort to counteract what I felt as an undermining.

The canonisation of humans as “saints” requires ” proof” of at least two “miracles” performed directly or indirectly by those “saints.” That the Catholic church persists in these delusions is hardly surprising, given its attitudes to priests who molest and sexually assault children in their care. Their entire system is delusional.

The emphasis on an after-life that validates suffering in real life, while not peculiar to Catholics, works in the service of the privileged who live off the efforts of those they exploit. Just as the glorification of war advantages arms dealers and politicians, who never set foot in its theatres of carnage.

In the same way that morphine lifts me above my pain so that I’m still aware of its presence but far less troubled by it, religion and other delusional beliefs lift people above the daily pain of an unfulfilled existence, without addressing the underlying condition.

There are many discouraging circumstances in the world, but I don’t know that I’ve felt quite the same sense of weariness about them that I felt at the spectacle of Theresa’s sanctification, which brought home to me the domination of opiates over human life, and I’m not referring to the chemicals.

Aside: As I wrote this a gaudy cross, part of my much-loved collection of Mexican kitsch, fell off the wall where it’s hung for years. However, a gaudy heart, part of the same collection and hung beside it, remains. Make of that what you will.

 

*Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right

The government as sea lions

5 Sep

 

 

Pier 39 Sea Lions

 

I don’t know if you’ve ever watched the sea lions at Pier 39 in San Francisco. I’m reminded of that querulous and stinking marine rabble whenever I encounter the Turnbull government in my media. The sea lions are a nasty bunch, and they fight a lot.

I now can’t picture Malcolm Turnbull as anything other than a self-congratulatory pinniped in a top hat, barking and clapping his flippers at his own cleverness as Lucy throws him a fish.

While the PM hastened to reassure the country that he had “excoriated” his rogue MPs (including ministers) who left parliament early on Thursday afternoon, the real issue is not that the LNP have taken this event as  “wake-up” call for their one-seat majority government, but that such a call was needed in the first place.

Surely someone (a staffer, one of Dutton’s ninety, yes that’s ninety spin doctors) could have reminded the government that with a one-seat majority, everyone really needs to stay till the end.

That seasoned politicians holding powerful positions (and, apparently, their entire staff) need such a fundamental “wake-up” call is worrying indeed. What it confirms is what I’ve long suspected: the LNP perceive governing as a game weighted in their favour that they are entitled to win, without any particular merit, or even by actually playing it. Any challenges to these perceptions are dismissed as little more than the grumblings of opinionated upstarts.

Turnbull’s first sitting week after the election was woeful. First thirteen of his backbenchers defied him on the matter of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Next, for the first time in some fifty years, the government lost three votes in the House of Representatives because of the Thursday bunk-off. Thankfully, they’ve now gone home for a few days.

On the matter of Section 18C, it’s interesting that the cohort advocating a “watering down” of the section are those who are the least likely to ever need the protections it offers. Read this piece by Jeff Sparrow on the co-option of speech laws for their own benefit by those who have no skin in the game.

Similarly, those most vehemently opposed to marriage equality are those who can in no way claim to be, in reality, affected by it.

(If such people are seriously concerned about a perceived debasing of the institution of marriage, they urgently need to make infidelity illegal. Imagine that).

I think it’s safe to say that politics has ceased to be much to do with good and fair governance, and is now almost entirely to do with the furtherance of the interests and ideologies of largely (and sometimes large) white men. In this they differ little from the sea lion colony in which the dominant males rule in their own interests, biting great chunks of flesh out of dissenters and shoving them, bleeding, back into the sea. It’s every pinniped for himself.

They even savage the young, and the ones with the loudest bark win.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why do 13 coalition backbenchers need to racially offend & insult?

30 Aug

 

EighteenC

 

Today, the first sitting day of a new parliament, thirteen, yes thirteen coalition backbenchers defied their Prime Minister and called for an amendment to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that would see the words “insult” and “offend” removed.

Thirteen white Liberal backbenchers want to be legally permitted to racially offend and insult. So desperately do they want this that they have defied their Prime Minister and their Attorney-General, both of whom undertook to leave Section 18C as it is, and went to the election with this undertaking.

These thirteen backbenchers are fighting for the right to offend and insult specifically on the basis of race and ethnicity. They aren’t fighting for the right to offend and insult in general: that right isn’t under threat. They want to racially offend and insult. They are fighting to racially offend and insult. They are risking the cohesion of their party in order to be able to racially offend and insult.

Think about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The profound nastiness of the Turnbull government

29 Aug

pyne box

 

It was inevitable that any opposition by the ALP or Greens to Abbott’s reeking legacy, the proposed plebiscite on marriage equality, would provide the Turnbull government with the ammunition to  claim (with confected indignation) that both parties are creating an obstacle that thwarts an opportunity for same-sex marriage.

There are bound to be those who accept this warped inversion, however they are likely to be the same groups and individuals that reject marriage equality anyway.

What this situation reveals yet again is the profound nastiness of the LNP. This nastiness (there really isn’t a better word for it, their attitude towards their fellow humans is as base as that) has been evidenced in Treasurer Scott Morrison’s decision to deprive the unemployed and pensioners in order to fix his budget, and the vengeful exercise of raw power as illustrated by Peter Dutton’s ongoing implacability over asylum seekers and refugees. It’s reflected in the image that heads this post: even the dead are perceived as new sources of revenue for the LNP.

I don’t need to go on, the evidence of their nastiness is everywhere we look, and it multiplies as we sleep.

Nastiness is the Turnbull government’s default position. From the apparent banality of nastiness all manner of evils flourish, and if you ever doubted that it is being enacted daily, for you to witness, in our parliament.

Though the Northern Territory can’t be ever be taken as typical, the carnage wrought on the CLP this weekend gives me small hope. Citizens can become sickened by nastiness, and they can wreak havoc on the party of nasty when they’ve had enough.

There is not one rational reason to deny marriage equality. We are a secular state: religious arguments ought not to influence our decisions. The unholy alliance of religion and nastiness currently hold sway.

It’s my hope that the ALP hold out against a plebiscite. No Liberal MP has any obligation to honour a yes result. Those who touchingly believe a plebiscite =marriage equality need to disabuse themselves of that belief, because it does not. We could well go through the torturous process and still have necessary amendments to the Marriage Act blocked by MPs who are not bound to accept a yes vote.

At the heart of the demand for a plebiscite is nastiness, and a poisonous hatred for anyone who doesn’t fit a narrow definition of “normal.” The influence of pure nastiness has been overlooked in our arguments yet it is a powerful driver of irrational behaviour and you’d have to go a long way to find behaviour more irrational than that of Turnbull’s government in just about any area you can name.

There are rumours again that Abbott is preparing himself to challenge Turnbull’s leadership. Not only are they nasty to citizens, they are exceptionally nasty to one another. I would take great pleasure in watching the LNP continue to cannibalise itself. I doubt it would affect our governance to any great degree: they aren’t doing much of that anyway.

It’s my hope that the fate of the NT CLP is the Turnbull government’s future. Barely enough seats left to form a party? I’d go for that.

 

 

 

Morrison’s ethics & the Taxed-Nots

26 Aug

 

Does God want you to be rich?

 

Treasurer Scott Morrison and I have very different understandings of what comprises a “Taxed-Not,” a term it was yesterday alleged on Twitter he plagiarised from a Fox News anchor who coined it some six years ago.

Leaving aside the curly questions of whether or not it is possible to plagiarise Fox News and the length of time it’s taken Morrison to allegedly do it, the term is an ugly characterisation of human beings. So I naturally assumed it refers to those who are ugly in their behaviours.

When I first heard Morrison use it (apart from an immediate association with Dr Seuss) I thought, oh, the treasurer is referring to the churches, the mining magnates, the media moguls, the corporations, and the many politicians who rort the public purse for their private and/or ideological gain.

Friends, I could not have been more wrong. It turns out the “Taxed-Nots” are welfare recipients, and Morrison seems to be labouring under the misapprehension that if he takes from them what little they have, he will restore the budget to surplus.

Now I am, outside of my own relatively simple budget, financially illiterate but even I can see that taking the price of a cup of coffee from people on Newstart and pensioners is unlikely to curtail the budget deficit. I tried to begin a conversation with Mr Morrison about this on Twitter, but he blocked me. There are none so deaf as those that will not hear.

Perhaps I unthinkingly insulted Morrison’s faith. He’s a Happy Clapper at Hillsong, a Pentecostal outfit that believes God wants everyone to be rich and if you aren’t it’s because God doesn’t love you and if God doesn’t love you, you deserve what you (don’t) get because you are morally deficient. Like a Taxed-Not.

The term encapsulates a powerful, deliberately false dichotomy of wealth with morality and poverty with immorality that appeals even to the non-religious.

There are surely many avenues available to the treasurer that would go some way towards addressing the country’s allegedly parlous financial state. It would, for example, cost us a couple of billion less to resettle refugees from Nauru and Manus Island  in Australia, rather than continue to bribe less developed nations to shoulder our responsibilities at the cost of some $55 million for two individuals.

Then there’s the $160 million plus marriage equality plebiscite: totally unnecessary if only the parliament would do its job.

Then there’s the $1.615 billion VET FEE-HELP loans rort. Yes, that’s $1.615 billion gone up in Joe Hockey’s cigar smoke.

Plus the ideologically driven and/or vengeful Royal Commissions, tax concessions to the wealthy, really, it can’t be that hard to grub up a bit more cash, can it, Mr Morrison? Try the almost 600 companies who pay little or no tax, such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft, for starters.

There obviously are people who rort the welfare system. But I suspect their numbers are inconsequential compared to the rorting  wealthy.

In the LNP universe the wealthy don’t rort: they are entitled. In the LNP universe poverty equals immorality and therefore lack of all entitlement, indeed, in the LNP universe if you’re out of a job you don’t actually deserve to eat & they’ll take another $4 off you to make that even more clear.

Morrison and his multi-millionaire boss Malcolm Turnbull bullying the disadvantaged into deeper disadvantage while the wealthy flourish. What would Jesus say?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dutton’s message: torture works

20 Aug

Torture Works

 

Yesterday I had a Twitter conversation about Kathryn Bigelow’s movie, Zero Dark Thirty, which was shown on SBS last night.

Many angry critics have  described the film as CIA propaganda advocating torture, and accused Bigelow of making an immoral argument that torture works. That wasn’t my reading as I argue here.

This revisiting of the film and the arguments surrounding it made it obvious to me that the message “torture works” is precisely the message the current Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Scott Morrison before him, and several former Prime Ministers including Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard have sent to the world since the indefinite detention, off-shore and previously in the hell holes of Woomera and Baxter, of waterborne asylum seekers began.

They are not even particularly subtle about conveying this message: forcing women, children and men to live in circumstances in which they are tortured will deter others from attempting to seek asylum in Australia. It’s that stark.

To dissuade attacks from rusted on ALP supporters: Paul Keating built Woomera. I went there. It was one of Dante’s circles of hell. So please don’t come at me with the usual defence of your political party’s position on asylum seekers. There’s a bee’s dick of difference between the major parties.

Every time politicians insist that bringing refugees from Manus and Nauru to Australia will “start the drownings at sea again”, he or she is arguing, to the world, that “torture works.”

Frank Brennan, John Menadue, Tim Costello and Robert Manne have here proposed a solution to the current ghastly impasse. Their proposal retains the turn-back policy:

We believe there is no reason why the Turnbull government cannot do now what the Howard government previously did – maintain close intelligence co-operation with Indonesian authorities, and maintain the turn-back policy, while emptying the offshore processing centres and restoring the chance of a future to those we sent to Nauru or Manus Island three years ago or more by settling them either in Australia or, if any are willing, in other developed countries. Like Howard, Turnbull could maintain the offshore processing centres in case of an emergency.

Boats are to be turned back to their point of departure, usually Indonesia or in the case of Sri Lankan refugees,southern India where they continue to live as stateless people with few, if any rights.

The proposition put by Brennan et al would at least thwart the message that torture works, to which our politicians seem alarmingly attached. It’s by no means an ideal solution, but it could be our next step in addressing a situation that in its current manifestation is hideously wrong in every possible way.

Critiquing their proposition is a post in itself, and I won’t do that here.

As I argue Bigelow’s film demonstrated, the proposition that torture works is in itself a terrifying premise for debate.Who are we, that we would engage in such a debate in the first place?

It isn’t about whether or not torture works. It’s about torture even being considered, and then implemented as an option. You might argue that no politician foresaw or planned the circumstances that have evolved on Manus and Nauru, and you’d likely be correct. So we have come to torture by accident, rather than by design. Having arrived at that point, even accidentally, we are culpable and every day we reinforce the message that torture works, we add to our burden of culpability. What was initially accidental, thoughtless, ignorant, uncaring, politically self-seeking becomes, in the maintaining of it, deliberate.

Which puts us in the company of the CIA and its propaganda, does it not? Not to mention Donald Trump.

 

 

 

 

 

Australia, Vietnam & white male supremacy

18 Aug


Little-Pattie-Col-Joye-Nui-Dat-18-Aug-1966

 

I don’t know who came up with the macabre notion of recreating the concert at which Little Pattie was performing when the Battle of Lon Tân commenced fifty years ago.

I don’t know who came up with the even more macabre notion of ABC TV’s Australian Story filming the recreation.

I do know that it should be no surprise to anyone that the Vietnamese government, citing the sensitivities of the people in Lon Tân and its surrounds, have, at the last minute, baulked at the notion of Australia recreating the circumstances in which that battle took place and refused to allow planned commemorations to go ahead.

I find it difficult to imagine that Australians would permit similar commemorations being enacted in our country, had we suffered the large-scale destruction wrought upon the Vietnamese by the US and its allies in a filthy war from which we finally withdrew in so-called “honourable defeat,” leaving a napalmed, land-mined landscape behind us and the communist regime intact.

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull and his ministers have expressed their deep disappointment in the Vietnamese government’s decision, and are particularly outraged at the last-minute nature of it. Perhaps the Little Pattie concert was too much of a stretch for the Vietnamese.

…the gala dinner, concert and the expectation of more than 1,000 Australians at the Long Tân memorial cross was seen as an insensitive celebration.

Yes. I get that. I would have expected Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to get that as well, and nip it in the bud.

However, Australia doesn’t care much for the feelings of brown people. There’s an example of this almost daily: indigenous youth in Don Dale. Asylum seekers and refugees in atrocious conditions on Manus and Nauru. The bribing of those countries and Cambodia to take refugees off our hands because they’re all brown aren’t they, so they should get on. The death of yet another indigenous woman in police custody. The conservative white male outrage over Section 18c.

The dominant Australian attitude as expressed by politicians and media would seem to be one of white entitlement: our sensitivities are paramount in the Lon Tân situation, not those of the brown people who cannot escape the repercussions of that war. We are apparently entitled to restage the entertainment of our troops, and if the Vietnamese want to stop us they are ill-willed spoil sports who will further destabilise our veterans.

Australians should never have been conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War. They were treated hideously when they returned. Successive governments have dark histories concerning their attitudes to and neglect of war veterans. Accusing the Vietnamese of destabilising them is hypocrisy.

In neighbouring Laos, the arms and legs of children and rice farmers are still blown off when they step on land mines, fifty years later. I’ve stood on the Russian airstrip in Phonsovan, Northern Laos where the CIA conducted its “secret war” and seen the napalmed jungles, and the bomb craters outside the caves to which the villagers fled when they no longer had anywhere to hide. I’ve walked the Plain of Jars on a narrow path marked by white-painted stones, on either side of which there remains uncounted numbers of active mines. This is the legacy the US and we, its allies, left in Vietnam and Laos.

So the Vietnamese government refuses to permit a gala dinner, concert and large numbers of Australians at the memorial cross? I’m OK with that. Theres nothing to prevent the veterans already in Lon Tân from holding their own ceremony of remembrance. They don’t need Australian Story to do that.

We have never been invaded.* It’s one of our deepest collective fears. The arrival of a few thousand boat people causes us to construct a fortress around ourselves, and a border force in black shirts to protect us. We spend billions on keeping invaders out. We torture them, children and all, to dissuade other potential invaders. Yet we believe are entitled to perform our ceremonies in another country where we slaughtered its people in the service of the US for seven years.

That’s privilege. That’s entitlement. That’s white male supremacy.

*Some objections have been raised to this sentence, on the grounds that it seems to imply a denial by me of European invasion of this country, and the ongoing trauma of that invasion for Indigenous people. Australia has two distinct overarching populations: Europeans who invaded and colonised and now call Australia home, and Indigenous peoples who were invaded, colonised and displaced. I’m speaking from the European position, one that has the privilege of never having experienced invasion in this country we call home.

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