There’s a member of our household we affectionately call Mrs Chook, for reasons none of us now remember. Mrs Chook is central to everybody’s emotional well being as she is generally unfailingly just and fair, and takes a reasoned position on matters some of us might get rather too het up about. She’s also broadly supportive of the Carbon Tax, and is gently critical of my attitude to Julia Gillard.
So imagine my astonishment when last night watching the ABC news clip of Julia’s speech at the Press Club, the bit where she got all choked up, Mrs Chook yelled: “For God’s sake, it’s not all about you!”
We have two dogs visiting while their humans are overseas. These dogs leapt up from their fireside spots in anger and fear at the tone in her voice, as did the Dog who lives here all the time. I stared at Mrs Chook until I could manage a feeble “What?”
“I’m sick of it,” she yelled, getting up off the couch with great energy, and striding into the kitchen.
“Sick of what? Sick of what, tell me, tell me,” I begged as a scurried after her, my world rocked.
“Haven’t you ever noticed? She always says ‘I.’ I have done this, I have done that I will do this, I will do that! Right back when she took over what did she say then?”
I opened my mouth but Mrs Chook wasn’t interested.
“She said ‘I have taken over,’ I I I. What about the bloody government? What about everybody else, all those people, some of them actually good, who do so much bloody hard work and it’s always I! She isn’t a bloody President! What has she got against saying ‘we?’ Or ‘The government?’ Why is it always about her?”
I take this outburst as a bad omen for the government. If someone as fair and rational as Mrs Chook gets this fed up, anything can happen.
Julia became nostalgic at the Press Club for where she came from, the school she attended, and her first win when working at the law firm Slater and Gordon. I’ve noticed that when things in the present are difficult and testing it’s a fairly normal human reaction to become nostalgic, and yearn for a time that in retrospect, and compared with the shit field one is currently attempting to negotiate, looks rosy and comforting and is one to which one longs to return.
The ABC rather cruelly titled their clip “Real Julia.” However, we did get a glimpse of the real Julia in that emotional slip. Unfortunately, and this is what so aggravated Mrs Chook it seems, the emotion was all about her.
Tony Abbott is very good at manufacturing fear, he learnt it from John Howard who learnt it from Goebbels. Yo! Godwin’s Law already!
Abbott has fertile ground – in general Australians have become (have always been?) a fearful people, controlled by catastrophic expectations that create a free floating and irrational anxiety about what could happen to us if…
This fear of catastrophe is apparently unassailable. Reason and logic stand no chance against it. It dominates the public and private imagination, and people look to governments to protect them and assuage their fears.
The public doesn’t want governments offering challenging vision and the excitement of change. The public wants things safe and ordinary.
In general we live in a mindset of scarcity, rather than abundance. No matter how good things are for us in comparison with the rest of the world, we worry that it might get worse soon. This causes an inability to empathise with anyone who is not in our immediate circle of concern. That circle can be very small, and as fear takes hold it will inevitably shrink further.
We live in a culture of constructed vulnerability and this creates a diminished sense of agency. There are experts in every aspect of human life, telling us what we should do and how we should do it. Even the most common sense matters must be subjected to expert research in order to be validated, in fact common sense has been so thoroughly discredited as a human value it barely counts any more.
As a consequence we increasingly perceive ourselves as passive subjects who must be protected from walking too close to the edge of a cliff as we are incapable of judging for ourselves when we’re in danger. Somebody in authority has to tell us and put up a fence. This constructed powerlessness makes us angry, frustrated and incompetent. We can’t trust ourselves, the dominant culture tells us. We must be regulated for our own good not to take risks.
Enter the LNP. Only too happy to tell us the danger we are in, and only too happy to offer us the solutions. Abbott and his cronies are whipping up a perfect storm. The government’s popularity is in the death zone. Gillard has a major trust issue with the public, and has ever since she took over the leadership. Abbott would not be nearly so successful if the ALP had a leader the public trusted a good deal more than it trusts Gillard. In this sense, the ALP did the groundwork for Abbott, and he’s used classic propaganda techniques to run with it. The public is ready and waiting, prepped by learned helplessness to follow the one who apparently offers security and freedom from fear.
“It is not propaganda’s task to be intelligent, its task is to lead to success,” Goebbels wrote, and Howard, with his propaganda war on asylum seekers that led to his re-election, brilliantly demonstrated this. Abbott watched and learned.
This is not the time for the PM to get personal with us about herself. That moment is long gone. Mrs Chook has a point. There is an entire government there. We need to be hearing from many more members of it. Gillard will do herself no favours getting emotional about her personal history at this point. Abbott is conducting a vigorous propaganda campaign against her and against the government, and he’s succeeding. While it’s two years till the next election, there could be a by election at any time. The government doesn’t have the luxury of thinking it’s got time on its side. The threat of an Abbott-led government is constant.
Now there’s a catastrophic expectation, if anybody’s looking for one.
“From where Winston stood it was just possible to read, picked out on its white face in elegant lettering, the three slogans of the Party:
WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH.”