For reasons set out in an extract from a book that Chris Wallace-Crabbe and I are writing, I’m against labels, such as Left and Right. However, I do think that the term ‘feral’, as defined above, could be applied to at least three politicians – Abbott, Andrews, and Bernardi.
What do they have in common? They believe that the earth is flat and that the climate isn’t changing; they object to the people of Australia having an Australian person (who is not obliged by the Constitution of a foreign power to be in communion with the Church of England) as their head of state; they object to gay marriage on, among other things, grounds of religion; they freely admit, or they emphatically deny, that their political views are driven by their religious faiths; and they yearn to be free to insult and offend others on the ground of race.
The odds are that these amateurish types will lose and wind up in the dustbin of history on each of those issues, but they feel born to react against anything that might be branded as progress. They are preoccupied, to put it softly, by the number of Muslims in our midst; they’re still bitter that we gave up on God Save Our Gracious Queen; they get very defensive about Australia Day and they are very protective about Anzac Day; they’re very dirty that that little four-eyed socialist said ‘sorry’ to the blackfellas; and they are revolted by the thought that our flag might be better off without the flag of some other foreign nation on it. They don’t just want to hold the line – they want to go back in time. In the immortal words of Spike Milligan:
I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
Across the Irish Sea,
I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
It’s the only thing for me.
I’ve tried walking sideways,
And walking to the front,
But people just look at me,
And say it’s a publicity stunt.
I’m walking backwards for Christmas,
To prove that I love you.
Can we detect the time when the feral cancer set in? Yes – it was when the Liberal Party lost its nerve and its mind, and it sacked Malcolm Turnbull, and it unleashed the ferals. What was Turnbull’s crime? There were two – he was sane about climate change, and he did not believe in opposing the government just for the sake of it. He didn’t just want to put a spoke in the wheel. What has been the result? Total chaos, and a complete failure of government. We are now witnessing the horrifying apotheosis of the partisanship championed by the ferals in the form of Trump and Bannon. And the worst of it here comes with the national humiliation on energy and climate change and a moral and intellectual collapse on gay marriage.
Do the ferals have a set of beliefs? Not really – we are not big on ideology down here. But they get cheered on by those cranks in the IPA. Here is some of their bilge in the AFR today.
At least part of the reason for the success of One Nation is that Pauline Hanson is not afraid to talk about culture and values. Specifically, she’s willing to support the sort of values that too many commentators are too eager to dismiss as quaint, old fashioned, or as a ‘‘sideshow’’ to the business of politics.
One Nation is simply filling a void left by the Coalition and the Labor Party.
In response to the survey question, ‘‘How important is freedom of speech to you?’’, 95 per cent of respondents answered either ‘‘important’’ or ‘‘very important’’. One Nation has a policy position in favour of freedom of speech. The Coalition and the ALP don’t.
The story of Georges River College, a public school in Sydney, is another example of the difference between One Nation and the major parties.
It was revealed this week the NSW Education department has allowed the school to establish a policy whereby male students can refuse to shake the hands of women. The policy supposedly respects ‘‘the cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds of all students’’, and so, in the department’s words: ‘‘At the school’s2016 presentation day, the principal explained to invited guest making awards that some Muslim students may place their hand across their chest instead of shaking hands.’’
Rob Stokes, the Liberal education minister, refused to say what was his view on the policy. Labor’s education spokesperson also refused to comment. One politician wasn’t afraid to say what she thought. Hanson called the policy ‘‘rubbish’’ and contrary to Australian values.
The practical consequences of a school endorsing male students not shaking hands with women are legion. An education system that doesn’t prepare boys for the world of work and the possibility that one day they might have a female boss is fundamentally failing its responsibility to its pupils.
This is at best silly, petty, bullshit. Do the Liberal and Labor parties really not have a policy in favour of freedom of speech? Are they against it? Are they against peace, motherhood, or mates? Or are we banging Mr Murdoch’s can on hate speech? Then there is this nagging worry about the practices of those who have a different faith to that which members of the IPA were born into. The practical consequences of a school endorsing male students not shaking hands with women are legion. Is the man serious? Who could give a bugger how school kids shake hands? Did Ms Hanson proffer reasons for her weighty decretal? Or does our grave IPA champion of freedom of speech believe that our subscription to Australian culture and values entails that school kids of a different faith MUST shake hands whether they bloody well want to or not?
And may God save and preserve us from those who are married to Australian culture and values.
I now hereby give up on all form of politics in Oz forever. And I solemnly make this declaration before lunch!
When the Master went to Wei, Jan Yu drove for him. The Master said, ‘What a flourishing population!’
Jan Yu said, ‘When the population is flourishing, what further benefit can one add ?’
‘Make the people rich.’
‘When the people have become rich, what further benefit can one add?’
Book Extract on Labelling
11 The vice of labelling
Some years ago, a lady at Oxford, en route from the reading room to the dining room for breakfast, was heard to say: ‘I have just been described as a typical Guardian reader, and I’m trying to work out whether I should feel insulted.’ A discussion about the meaning of the word ‘presumptuous’ then followed.
There is no law or custom that says that we should apply a label to people – or put them in boxes, or in a file, or give them a codename. There is no law that we should not. But most of us can’t help ourselves. So what?
Well, most of us don’t like being put into boxes. That is how we tend to see governments or Telstra or a big bank behaving toward us. Nor do most of us want to be typed. When someone says that an opinion or act of yours is ‘typical’ of you or your like, they are very rarely trying to be pleasant to you.
Most of us just want to be what we are. You don’t have to have a university degree specialising in the philosophy of Kant to believe that each of us has his or her own dignity, merely because we are human. We are in a different league to camels and gnats. So, if I am singled out as a Muslim, a Jew, or an Aboriginal, what does that label add to or take away from my humanity? What good can come from subtracting from my humanity by labelling me in that way?
So, the first problem with labelling is that it is likely to be demeaning to the target, and presumptuous on the part of the labeller. We are detracting from a person’s dignity. We put registration numbers on dog collars, and we brand cattle, but we should afford humans the courtesy – no, the dignity – of their own humanity. After all, we can scarcely bring ourselves to think of that time when some people were tattooing identifying numbers on the bodies of other human beings.
The second problem with labelling is that it is both loose and lazy. If you say of someone that they are a typical Conservative or Tory, that immediately raises two questions. What do the labels Conservative and Tory mean? What are the characteristics of the target that might warrant the application of the label?
In this country, at the moment, the terms Left and Right hardly mean anything at all – except as terms of abuse – which is how the words Tory and Whig started in England. These terms are now generally only applied by one side to the other. Not many people are happy to have either of those labels applied to themselves. The categories are just too plastic and fluid.
There is one curious distinction in the way that these terms are applied in this country at the moment. The Murdoch press is happy to call followers of the Fairfax press or the ABC ‘the Left’ (or ‘the PC Left’ or ‘the Love Media’), but those members of the press very rarely respond by calling readers of the Murdoch press Right Wing (or Far Right, or worse). Is the difference one of custom or courtesy – or don’t we know or don’t we care?
Similarly, the labels Liberal and Labour hardly stand for any difference in principle any more. At the time of writing, on any of the major issues in Australian politics, what were the differences in the policies of those parties that derived from their platform? (We will come back to this point later, too.) The old forms of name‑calling between Liberal and Labour mean nothing to our children – absolutely nothing. These old ways are as outmoded as name‑calling between Catholics and Protestants. And there is some common ground in the two shifts – very many people have lost faith in both religion and politics. The old tensions or rivalries just don’t seem to matter anymore.
Unfortunately, and notwithstanding the obvious problems we have just referred to, labelling is not just common but mandatory in far too much political discussion in the press, and certainly for shock jocks and those who make a career out of working TV chat shows. While some people naturally thrive on conflict – Napoleon and Hitler are two bad cases – some journalists in the press engage in conflict, for a living. These people rarely have a financial motive to respond reasonably, much less to resolve the conflict. To the contrary, they have a direct financial interest in keeping the conflict as explosive as possible. It is notorious that controversy feeds ratings and that bad news sells newspapers.
If you put up an argument to one of these people who live of the earnings of conflict, the response will very commonly involve two limbs – a personal attack on you (the Latin tag for which is ad hominem), followed by some labels, which are never meant as compliments. So, for example if someone, were to query the rigour of the policies of the government toward refugees, a predictable response would be ‘What else would you expect from someone who subscribes to the ABC? How would you like these people to move in next door?’ There is no argument – just vulgar abuse.
The disintegration of thought is palpable, but a lot of people are making a handy living out of it – and not in ways that do the rest of us any good.
There is commonly a third problem with labelling – it generally tells you a lot more about the labeller – some would say the sniper – than the target, and the answer is rarely pretty. And if you pile cliché upon label, and venom upon petulance, the result is as sad as it is predictable. You disappear up your own bum.
Let us take one label that became prominent in 2016 – right across the western world. There has been a lot of chatter – some call it white noise – about populists. Who are they? One of the problems with this word is that people who use it rarely say what they mean by it. If you go to the Web, you will find references to ordinary or regular or common people against political insiders or a wealthy elite. These vague terms don’t help – to the contrary. What do they mean? Is dividing people into classes a good idea in Australia now – or anywhere at any time? And if it is simply a matter of the common people wresting control from a wealthy elite, who could decently object? Is this not just democracy triumphing over oligarchy?
Populus is the Latin word for ‘people,’ with pretty much the same connotations as that word in English. Do populists, therefore, appeal to the people for their vote? Well, anyone standing for office in a democracy does just that. The most famous political speech in history concludes with the words ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’.
But the word populist is not used to describe anyone standing for office. It is used to refer to only some of those, and the difference seems to be in the parts of the people that are appealed to and the way in which that appeal is made.
So, what kind of public do populists appeal to? Well, those who use this word say that the people appealed to are anything but the ‘elite’ – those who have got on well in life because of their background or education, or both. In both the UK and the US this feeling about the elite – which might look like simple envy to some – is linked to a suspicion of or contempt for ‘experts’. People do, however, tend to get choosy about which experts they reject. This rejection does not extend to experts who may save their life (in the surgery, or at 30,000 feet) or their liberty, but it may explain the curious intellectual lesion that many people of a reactionary turn of mind have about science and the environment.
Another attribute of the public appealed to by populists is that they have often missed out on the increase in wealth brought about by free trade around the world and by advances in technology. These movements obviously have cost people jobs and are thought by some experts to be likely to cost another 40% over the next ten years.
A third attribute of those appealed to by populists is said to be that, in their reduced condition, they value their citizenship above all else, and they are not willing to share it. They are therefore against taking refugees or people whose faith or colour threatens the idea of their national identity.
Now, if folk who use the word populist are describing politicians who appeal to people with those attributes, they may want to be careful about where they say so. The picture that emerges is one of a backward, angry, and mean chauvinist. That picture is seriously derogatory, but it adds warmth and not light to the discussion. If that is what people mean when they refer to populists, then it is just a loose label that unfairly smears a large part of the population. The term does then itself suffer from the vice of labelling that we have identified.
So, we would leave labels with George Bush senior, who said that labels are what you put on soup cans.