Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Ask for me tomorrow

I would like to write about the intellectual, political and social dishonesty of the national conversation that the current Australian Government insists on imposing on the Australian public.



To do this, I would like to start with exploring the basic philosophical problems with our current discussion about the various actions the current Australian Government has implemented relating to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Now, I take the view that the current Australian Government decided to manufacture a scuffle around 18C in order to distract the Australian public from more important matters that they do not want scrutinised. The current Australian Government makes announcements that destabilise the news cycle, and these announcements come in two forms:

1. An outrageous suggestion designed to let opponents react with scorn and satire, but neither suggestion nor satire achieves anything but noise, and a false sense of protest for those who did not vote for this current Australian Government.

2. A very real threat that opponents cannot ignore, but is sure to be withdrawn or watered down once it has short circuited the news cycle and wasted the time and resources of those who did not vote for this current Australian Government.

The current Australian Government only threw 18C into the ring to keep those who did not vote for them busy defending Australian politics from the zombie attack of a long dead debate about the right of people to be bigots, conceived as an essential element of free speech.

What the Australian public knows full well is that we have progressed many decades past any idea that being a bigot, while a part of human nature, is something to be protected by law.



Humanity as a collective identity has begun to understand that the worst of human nature certainly exists, but seeing as we are capable of education, growth and improvement, we have no obligation to accept the worst behaviours available to us as innate rights, human rights or as elements of free speech.

Human rights are not the easiest bigotries of our nature, human rights are not the result of the least difficult action available to us, human rights are not the triumph of one identity over many.

Human rights are about always believing that respecting others will eventually move you away from your bias. Human rights are about hard and uncomfortable actions, because that is what living with others on this planet demands. Universal human rights are the triumph of no one. Universal human rights are the goal of an equal and equitably negotiated survival of humans by means of a long, hard struggle over generations, and with many big and small failures. Universal human rights results in each disadvantaged group voicing their own needs and orchestrating their own freedoms.

And then we have the current Australian Government, picking a grab bag of ‘human rights’ from the limited canon of Great White Man History and discussing it with great zeal, while the rest of the civilised world is over there ...

... over there, you know, in the real world, where they discuss systemic racism, the legacy of colonialism and neo-liberalism like adults in the 21st Century, with a view to moving forward into new ways of understanding progress and reconciliation.

Waleed Aly’s elegant article was an example of the nuanced international debate around the excellent news that being white and male is no longer the only way to access universal human rights. His article acknowledged that most of the world is not white (nor male, but that is for another time), so his discussion of racial vilification was more interesting and inspiring than the direction our current Australian Government and its supporters took.

Warren Mundine’s article on the matter was the most effective illustration, for me, of the frankly dishonourable turn the discussion has taken. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought his article arose out of a conversation between comfortable white men about what kind of racism they IMAGINED other people experienced, and what they would consider bearable if they were those poor people.



And I’ll tell you what, if I had included any of the opinions and analogies that Mundine marshalled in his article in an undergraduate politics essay, I would have been failed, and the note made alongside that mark would have been:



“Please read sources beyond 1980.”

I took rather pointed exception to the two analogies he used to illustrate his vintage argument, because they were simultaneously ineffective in adding substantially to the discussion, and effective at injecting grave dishonesty into our political debate.



Neither anti-semitism nor modern British racism are suitable parallels to be used to illuminate colonial racism in Australia. They never have been and never will be; neither example encompasses the racism that arises from occupying a continent with established occupants, along with the genocide and continued oppression of the original occupants. It was intellectually dishonest to draw such parallels.



However, the reason such examples were used was glaringly obvious, and brings me to the political dishonesty of the current Australian Government. Both examples were used because they are deeply connected to other issues the Government would like to raise from the dead, alongside the concept of bigotry as free speech and a human right.

The issues of protest, boycott and sanctions against capitalism, as well as the conflict in the Middle East and the War on Terror, is coded into the references Mundine made to anti-semitism. The issues of changing population ratios and the movement of people across borders (especially island borders) is coded into the references Mundine made to modern British racism.

Both examples, in the forms Mundine argued them, were decades old and have entered popular wisdom, which is why they felt so comfortable and reasonable. Both examples, in the forms Mundine argued them, negated all the progress made on both those issues in the last decades, obscuring all the use that could be made of them as analogies, while reinforcing the unquestioning acceptance of them as ‘common sense’.

I have very little qualified or anecdotal experience of modern British racism. I am white and not British, and I have friends who are perfectly capable of talking to it themselves. But what I do have is qualifications in the study of anti-semitism, with a specialisation in the manifestations of anti-semitism in 20th Century Europe; my History majors were in Weimar Republic Fascist politics and Holocaust history.

Please note also - I have a History degree, not a Modern Australian Politics degree - but still I found myself reading an article by a current political heavyweight using arguments from the 1950’s as if they are current and pertinent.



I’m a historian, so I’d love time travel to be a real thing; I have some pretty heavy questions to put to Anne Boleyn and Henry Tudor (Eighth of that name on the British Throne) when that happy distortion of the physics of time and space happens.

But, uh, I don’t think Warren Mundine and Tony Abbott wanted us to really think Australia had traveled back in time to post-WWII Europe, do you? I think they were projecting themselves as visionary leaders in a discussion that is worthy of taking up all the political air so that other issues could be safely be ignored.

And this was, and is, intellectually, politically and socially dishonest and disingenuous.

So there’s that.

However, I would like to also talk about the amazing work being done right now in the field of using the almost seventy years of Holocaust discussion across many mediums to help other countries working through the needs of those who survived their much more recent genocides.

I was privileged to be in a workshop discussing the Taboo of Genocide with a second generation Holocaust academic and two Education PhD students, both currently development and reconciliation advocates from and in Rwanda and Cambodia.



The conversation covered the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the Pol Pot regime, the actions of the Japanese in Asia in WWII, the Indonesian purges and the current Syrian crisis. The starting point was the murderous bigotry that humans have been capable of on every continent on earth, and with one eye-witness to the Rwandan genocide and an advocate barely a generation away from Pol Pot, we were hearing the raw truth of the human potential for hatred.

But we also got to hear incredibly moving stories of villages where neighbours still lived next door to the families of people they killed. Of children who sit in classrooms with the children of people who orphaned them. Spine chilling stories, heartbreaking stories.

Stories that expanded to hold challenging examples of national and personal reconciliation, open political and social discussion, and changing methods of defining and moving past bigotry. The people in the room put forward extraordinary examples of changes wrought by countries willing to use education to overcome ignorance of the context of bigotry and it's murderous outcome, genocide.



The people in the room believed strongly in looking to the past, in this case the Holocaust, to speed up their own process of change and progress. What the Jewish nation and Holocaust historians around the world had worked through painfully and determinedly for decades, could inform the reconciliation of countries by forward thinking application of hard won human ideological progress.

And I guess it is in the context of that incredible day that I was most disappointed to be reading the ideas that I did from within the current Australian Government.



Instead of taking the chance to be social leaders, to be intellectually honest, to be political visionaries, and still enforce the pre-eminence of European hegemony (if utterly necessary, as is so clearly their intent), the current Australian Government went batshit boring, failed their high school Social Studies exam and embarrassed themselves with the adults in the room, all for the sake of a distorted news cycle.

If I wasn't been continually assured that they were in charge of my country, I’d be laughing. But I’m not laughing, because I am very interested indeed in the actions they wish to obscure by bringing old and dangerous ideas back into the national discussion.
It's Time
Australia has three major political parties, each backed by their own training and voting block: the Australian Greens have the Environmental and Activist movements, Labor has the Unions and the Liberal Party has the business sector.

The largest population in Australia without a voice is women; our very urgent needs for parity, safety and leaders are being ignored and wound back, our leadership is locked out of power and as voters we are unable to direct our vote to a party that champions us.

Australian women do, however, have an established and proven mentorship and training ground for female candidates to gain political experience and female voters to gain access to candidates to influence policy; the Country Women's Association.
Not our circus, not our monkeys
So, women of Australia, take thee to the CWA, become involved with all manner of practical local politics, all manner of women as mentors and all manner of consulting to Government, and participate in politics on your terms.

Find your own policies, build your own campaign teams, field your own candidates and vote for the candidates who have the best vision for new politics you can find. You are the only people who can build the future, because the existing systems are dying, and trying to take us all down with them.

And for all of our sakes, be militantly inclusive; as 51% of the Australian population, the women of Australia include Indigenous Australians, refugees/immigrants, the LGBTIQ community and anyone who has additional access and medical requirements. Our new politics must include everyone excluded from the current systems so our votes and candidates count the first time, and into the future.
Fighting Winter with Summer
I credit the 1% with being fully aware of the impending water and energy conflicts, and it is clear from their actions that they are taking the requisite steps to survive while preventing the population from taking the same steps. Unfortunately their pride and entitlement will never allow them to consider the fact that their place in the 1% means nothing to the environment. Water and energy do not obey, and never have obeyed, the forces of nations, economies and capitalism.
Textbook
Anyone who thinks they can argue for 21st Century Climate Aware action with 20th Century Climate Ignorant ideologies is going to be pulled back into historical patterns of conflict and paralysis, which is exactly where the Government and their corporate partners want their population.
A definition of madness
Systems are just tools, they should react and change with the user, but our systems are not changing with the population that use them, as evident by under-representation of varied proportions of our population in almost every area of public and private life. The systems are wrong, not the diversity of the population trying to use them.
Inspired by my cynicism about the Mainstream Media, I blurted out some 'rhymes' on my Facebook Status which turned into this:



Lyrics devised by Claire and Jess
Song by Jess

We're here with a question for Tony
We've got some concerns and a ukulele
We're here with a question for Tony
Tell us Tony what's really going on

We're here with a question for Tony
We've got some concerns and a ukulele
We're here with a questions for Tony
How long do we have to sing this song?

Why no more lawyers for our refugees?
No more money for them, lots for flight 370
You love mining coal once you've bulldozed the trees
But won't look at the West swing to the Greenies

You distract us with Knights, Dames and 18C
And tell us only white men can practise bigotry
And meanwhile, you're signing the TPP
Telling us 'trust me' there's nothing to see

It takes more to distract us then a visit from Jamie, Tony.

We're here with a question for Tony
We've got some concerns and a ukulele
We're here with a question for Tony
Tell us Tony what's really going on

We're here with a question for Tony
We've got some concerns and a ukulele
We're here with a question for Tony
Tell us Tony what's really going on

How long to we have to sing this song?
Why do you wear the budgie smugglers?
Is it because you have a big dong?

Tony, what's going on?

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