Category Archives: Politics

On conservative opposition to ‘changing the date’

Regarding currently fashionable opposition to changing the date of Australia Day, or better contextualising historically inaccurate public monuments, conservative commentators such as Dean Jaensch appear to want it both ways when dealing with the question of symbolic representation and its role in our society (Australia Day should be a celebration of unity, not division and conflict).

On the one hand, they say, to ‘change the date’ would be ‘political correctness gone mad’ because Australia Day is only meant to celebrate the best, not the worst, of what our country has been and become. The painful symbolic consequences that result from celebrating Australia’s national unity on a date which marks the beginning of Indigenous people’s original dispossession are dismissed.

On the other hand, calls for change are also met with hysterically hyperbolic ridicule because it would supposedly represent an Orwellian “cleansing” of history likened to the worst cultural crimes of Stalin and National Socialism. Madness, indeed.

Why is the pain felt by Indigenous people because of Australia Day’s current symbolic connotations less important than the desire of conservative white Australians to preserve a symbolically one sided, often inaccurate view of Australian history?

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In response to a letter entitled “Deconstruction” and the ramifications thereof

Don de Ieso has a misguided understanding of history, historiography and the socio-cultural purposes of historical remembrance (Letters, 24/8/17).

Merely to remove statues or monuments from public display is not repressing knowledge of the occurrences and people they depict. Nor does changing the date of Australia Day erase or condemn the entirety of post-1788 society and culture in Australia.

Rather than a “deconstruction” or “transformation” of history, such changes actually reflect a “reconstruction” of previously lost histories: a deeper, more accurate engagement with the complexities of past events and their consequences, particularly for settler-colonial societies like Australia or the United States.

Confederate statues being taken down will be moved to museums, not blown up as ISIS and Taliban fighters have done to cultural and religious monuments. Moreover, it seems farcically and dangerously absurd to compare Holocaust denial with a desire to more appropriately reflect (through symbolically altering our national day of celebration) the grotesquely destructive cultural impact of the stolen generations and real violence suffered by indigenous Australians because of colonisation.

To quote John McEnroe, “you cannot be serious.”

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An unpublished, open ‘letter to the ed’ reply, regarding prejudice and being mean to white men

Mick Cearnes makes a frustratingly common category mistake when he suggests that labelling “old white men” as “grumpy”, or blaming them for being over-represented among opponents of social progress, can be equated with the kinds of prejudice experienced by black women, Muslims, or other marginalised social groups (Discussion, Sunday Mail, 06/08/17).

Sexism, racism and other forms of bigotry are not simply about saying ‘mean’ or offensive things to people of a particular gender, nor making stereotypical generalisations about certain racial groups. Such personal slurs are also part of broader political issues involving systemic forms of discrimination and disadvantage.

So, while older, particularly rich, white men can be stereotyped and (choose to be) offended by mean things people say, such ‘slurs’ carry none of the same connections to real social disadvantage, cultural erasure or historical dispossession as they might, say, for a homeless teenager, a queer woman, or an Indigenous Australian.

This is because white men, as white men, are not the victims of any systemic prejudices in our current society. But perhaps we should begin making the grumpy ones demonstrate commitment to our shared values of cheerfulness on pain of deportation. That would be a step toward ending prejudice, surely?

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Thoughts on the Alt-Right and Online Trolls, while listening to Bob Dylan’s ‘Only a Pawn in Their Game’

A South politician preaches to the poor white man
“You got more than the blacks, don’t complain.
You’re better than them, you been born with white skin,” they explain.
And the Negro’s name
Is used it is plain
For the politician’s gain
As he rises to fame
And the poor white remains
On the caboose of the train
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

The deputy sheriffs, the soldiers, the governors get paid
And the marshals and cops get the same
But the poor white man’s used in the hands of them all like a tool
He’s taught in his school
From the start by the rule
That the laws are with him
To protect his white skin
To keep up his hate
So he never thinks straight
’Bout the shape that he’s in
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game

From the poverty shacks, he looks from the cracks to the tracks
And the hoofbeats pound in his brain
And he’s taught how to walk in a pack
Shoot in the back
With his fist in a clinch
To hang and to lynch
To hide ’neath the hood
To kill with no pain
Like a dog on a chain
He ain’t got no name
But it ain’t him to blame
He’s only a pawn in their game.

Copyright © 1963, 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1991, 1992 by Special Rider Music

I would like to make something clear and direct, now, in my late night, post night-shift period of reflection, relaxation and moderate whiskey drinking. A period in which I listen to music that encourages me to reflect, read poems or articles about the world’s state of affairs that drive my own thinking.

I detest the alt-right. Online trolls disgust me. I don’t mean because you (and yes, this is directed at you) revel in offending, revel in breaking taboos. I can get behind that, in certain ways. In many ways. It’s certainly not the source of my contempt, my absolute revulsion at your content, your methods, your style, your tactics, your selves.

No, what provides me with this complete rejection of your essential claim to existence – that you are waging some kind of war against orthodoxy – is the absolute laziness which underpins your attempt to prosecute this pathetic little rear-guard action. You have read no history, though you claim to have studied it.

You understand no philosophy, though you claim to be driven by the highest (mutilated) ideals of the Enlightenment.

You appear, most often, to have not even a basic grasp of the English language, competency in which you wield against immigrant others, to keep them from becoming a part of societies to which they will undoubtedly make incalculably greater contributions than your own laughably small, manifestly self-centered offerings of reactionary wrench-throwing.

If Bob Dylan, himself such a fluxing and tension-ridden figure, could scope out the basic premise of your position 50 years ago – that you are pawns in the game of people who care not a shred about your little selves, because what they care about is power, that you have been fundamentally misled, and have misled yourselves in this endeavor – well, if he could do that 50 years ago, then I really think it’s time for you to grow a pair, to wake up, to acknowledge your place in this world . . . or, really, to just quit.

Quit this whole circus.

Because you aren’t offering anything new, anything provocative, anything original or even interesting. And though it ain’t you to blame, ultimately, the fact remains you’re offering nothing but pathetic self-pity, and hatred, and tedious repetition of an insufferably boring, tiresome premise.

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Free-range porn: Shades of grey in the sex-on-film debate

sex1-380x505Recently, two articles regarding the by-now popularised debate over pornography and its social effects, particularly in the Internet and smart phone age, gave me some hope that a measure of complexity is beginning to replace the previously black-and-white, sensationalised and often misleading treatment of this discussion by some anti-porn activists.

 

The first was a piece in The Age entitled The problem with porn

It prompted me to write a one thousand word Facebook comment, which I’ve included below – largely because I feel that such a long essay rant, composed spur of the moment when I should have been doing more constructive things, deserves at least a blog airing.

Now, this piece features observations from Marree Crabbe, “an expert on young people and sexuality.” In many ways, it continues some of the more simplistic approaches to discussing and critiquing porn’s role in society. For example, as I discuss below, it repeats the oft-cited reference to statistically prevalent violence in today’s pornography, without discussing what is actually defined as violent or degrading behaviour when compiling such data.

Nevertheless, it does at least gesture toward the idea that pornography itself – the depiction of sexually explicit activities for pleasure and entertainment – is not inherently bad. Rather, as Crabbe says:

The point is not whether anal sex is good or bad, or that it’s no good to get ejaculate on your face or parts of your body. It’s that the script of pornography is normalising and misrepresenting the experiences of pleasure of lots of people, particularly women, and shaping a sense of what is expected as part of the sexual experience for many young people when that is not actually what a lot of people want to engage in.”

The second piece, refreshingly, makes this gesture more explicit. Heh.

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The Imperfect President (plus Comedy in Politics and the Deficit of Trust)

Often, the politically informed get particularly cynical about casual hero-worship directed at figures like Barack Obama. While I agree with their sentiments, it’s also undeniable that Obama is one of the most intelligent and progressively minded Presidents in American history (yes, I know, he’s still behind Carter – but this baby just won a second term!)

Criticisms about foreign policy and the exercise of American power are legitimate and important, but the fact is that whoever holds the reigns of U.S. government will likely be implicated in drone strikes, civilian deaths, direct or tacit support for unsavoury regimes and/or a variety of other international law breaches that, as I’ve recently been reminded by one Facebook post, would see Obama (along with every other post-war President) hanged by the standards of Nuremberg.

The fact is, American Presidents, along with all leaders and those who participate in any form of position-taking, must be judged by their actions in the context of choices, which are constrained by political reality, institutional power and systemic inertia. Obama’s re-election is of course the better result when compared to a Romney Presidency, beholden to lunatic Tea Party fanatics. But Obama can surely be judged a genuinely good President in numerous ways, not least of which are the symbolic and practical support he’s given to socially progressive causes in the United States like health care, gay rights, women’s issues and, in a combination of domestic and foreign relevance (remember that Cairo speech), not-hating-on-Muslims-quite-so-much in the wake of 9/11 and Bush’s “War on Terror”. While it’s not everything, of course, rhetoric and symbolism do actually matter.

The reality of Obama’s presidency has been disappointing, but we should judge him as U.S. President, with all the constraints, hypocrisies and compromises that inevitably entails. We should judge him as a man who wanted to run for high office with the best of liberal intentions, as somebody who obviously has the insight to know exactly how complicated things really are, but whose position often blunts the better and more precise angels of intention. We should not judge him as Noam Chomsky.

Anyway, well done Mr. President and, in the spirit of examining just how fucked up the current state of politics is and, perhaps, some of the ways it might gradually move in a better direction, please check out this piece on comedy, politics and public discourse I recently penned for EMMI, a great new online home for creative works and social commentary. While you’re at it, be sure to read some of the other features and “stranger profiles” too. It’s a veritable cosmopolitan digital wonderland over there!

4 more years!

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