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From the ‘it won’t end well’ file: nurturing callous indifference & passive complicity

2 Dec

Conventional wisdom has it that in our (and comparable) democratic systems, the political center dictates what is & what is not practical to achieve – i.e. it may well be fine to hold a principled (or otherwise) position outside of what is considered the political mainstream, as long as you recognise that decisions are made by those who turn up, and the majority of those probably don’t give much of a damn either way beyond eschewing ‘radicalism’ in favor of ‘moderation’.

10 percent of any population is cruel, no matter what, and 10 percent is merciful, no matter what, and the remaining 80 percent can be moved in either direction.

– Susan Sontag

A problem arises however when we consider the context in which this all plays out. We live in an epoch of mass-media memetics, plagued by an illusion of ‘choice’ that privileges the value of nebulous & emotive intangibles like ‘opinion’ (i.e. ‘I’m not a racist! It’s just my opinion that all darkies are Muslims & all Muslims are terrorists! Am I not entitled to my opinion!?’) over more traditional – and reliable – instruments for analysing & determining ‘truth’.

Almost ubiquitously, mainstream media organisations produce ‘news’ products designed specifically to play to the prejudices & predilections of the target audience – banal & vapid cult-of-celebrity hysteria asphyxiates meaningful engagement with the issues, and as i’ve already discussed, ‘real’ news stories are framed in narratives that perpetuate fealty to one over-riding & pressing concern: defending & reinforcing existing worldviews – whether they relate to notions of ‘legality’ or ‘illegality’, determinations of ‘Australian-ness’, gender-normativity, hetero-normativity etc.

Validating nonsense in service of cultivating a comfortable & ‘friendly’ relationship with the pig-ignorant white-backlash demographic in other words, as both channels Nine & Seven frequently & unrepentantly do, seems a sure fire way of fostering ratings-loyalty in the face of widespread political discontent & a largely disengaged population – the implication is ‘we’re on your side’ – and who doesn’t love to hear that?

Though the laundry-list of problems created by this paradigm seems essentially endless to me, perhaps it is best surmised by the following observation:

There’s no point for democracy when ignorance is celebrated

Into this murky & dysfunctional environment strides Scott Morrison, the Coalition’s bluntest instrument (a distinction unto itself), and (unsurprisingly) MHR for the Division of Cook, site of the infamous media-incited pogrom against vaguely brown-skinned people. A real upside of an uncritical press and dueling soundbyte media culture is the ease with which one can perpetuate pretty much any kind of nonsense without having to answer for it – once the meme enters the news cycle the job is effectively done, as everything from the print media to vacuous morning-show empires pick it up and run with it, seldom if ever pausing to consider whether the position holds any water whatsoever.

This passive acceptance of declarations from on high makes for not only remarkably asinine & insipid public debate, but tacitly enables the perpetuation of casual violence and indifference against marginalised out-groups: dehumanisation, demonisation & the deification of ‘patriotic’ forces that stand to defend the ‘honor’ of the majority from the tyranny of a completely powerless & disenfranchised minority.

As David Cronenberg’s Videodrome presciently observed, passive participation in the manic relish industry seems harmless enough until the cancer has finished gestating & festering in your own body – and by then it’s waaay to fucking late to pull it back from the brink. Beyond that point, the only victor is the all-consuming tumor.

Well into his quest to become Australia’s own Max Renn, Morrison used an appearance yesterday before the Lowy Institute to lobby for an approach to ‘dealing with’ asylum seekers that would forcibly return (specifically) Middle-Eastern refugees to, if not their country of origin, the sprawling, intense misery of refugee camps in Pakistan & Iran. Given that such a plan, blatantly contravenes the spirit & letter of international agreements, especially the principle of non-refoulement, Morrison went on the offensive pushing for an Australian-led reinterpretation of the 1951 UN Refugee Convention that governs rich nation refugee acceptance‘.

Should we disregard, as Morrison has, both the compelling moral argument against such a plan, and the fact that it will be practically impossible in a region as volatile as Pakistan (from floods, to the unofficial US war machine that creeps further across sovereign borders bringing with it black-ops night raids, drone-strikes & reinvigorated resistance in the form of fundamentalist groups similar to the Taliban); by any reasonable measure, Morrison’s crusade against the 1951 United Nations Convention on the rights of the refugee (and, by proxy, though less explicitly the Universal Declaration of Human Rights), is still an extreme position.

It’s not only that was Australia was one of the first nations to ratify the Convention, or the fact that these agreements are recognised by the international community as fundamental measures of civility & responsibility. It’s not that both Pakistan & Iran are already struggling under the weight of millions of displaced people (the best available information suggests 1.2 million people alone in Pakistan), compared to the piddling 6000 odd arrivals on Australian shores this year.

No, it’s a question of consistency – are we so fair? Are we so great? We’re told constantly and in no uncertain terms that we are – by our media, by our advertisers, by our politicians – but when it comes to anything more tangible than selling an identity as a branded product, our actions (or lack thereof) speak volumes about our true nature… not that it’s ever allowed to get in the way of a good old fashioned platitude. It will surely be a cold day in hell when any Australian politician dares to concede the rhetorical flag-waving pretense that we are the most free, fair & like totally fucking awesome country on the planet.

Quite simply Morrison, you can’t boast about our nobility without us actually having done anything noble… er, that is without indulging in profound myopia & cognitive dissonance… which probably goes a long way in explaining why the Coalition & it’s sycophants atop lofty perches in the right-wing punditocracy have, especially since the Mad Monk’s ascension to the Liberal leadership, increasingly resorted to peddling highly-emotive isolationist narratives about the dangers posed to everyday hardworking Ozstraaayaans by Australia’s good-faith participation in the international community. I really don’t think that even Morrison would actually be dumb enough to try and have Australia back out of a cornerstone agreement that it has already been a signatory to for over 50 years, but then again, he doesn’t need to be that dumb. All he needs to do is drop the suggestion – thump his chest, roar about ‘illegals’ taking away security & opportunity from the poor Australian working man – and then lurk on the fringes of the debate ready to paint anybody who doubts the magnificence of his scheme as wanting to take something away from aforementioned Australian working man.

Flagrantly dishonest narratives like the above aren’t favored because they are good arguments, but rather because most people are low-information voters that make determinations about issues far too complicated to be understood without conscientious engagement instead on the basis of what they ‘feel’, or more accurately, what makes them ‘feel’ better about themselves. Remember President Governor Bush and the prominence his administration gave to emotive feel-good narratives like ‘fuck the French/UN/Dixie Chicks/Bono etc in it’s march towards the war on the people of Iraq? Or perhaps the UN-is-out-to-get-us meme is more familiar in it’s current incarnation as the the ideological meat & potatoes of proto-fascist militia groups inside the United States.

Whilst Morrison’s rhetoric is by no means as extreme as that of the batshit ‘black helicopter’ brigades, nevertheless he continues to blast away with his tumor gun – sewing division, fostering disinformation, passionately encouraging the proliferation of the same cancerous reactionary invective. Whether or not it is his specific intention to embolden & enfranchise organised xenophobia is largely immaterial – what actually matters are the tangible effects of kow-towing to malignancy:

The far-right Australia First Party, which was revealed yesterday seeking to exploit resentment toward the proposed Inverbrackie immigration detention facility by letterboxing a viciously anti-refugee pamphlet, has started publicly identifying “supporters” of the Inverbrackie immigration facility as part of its effort to “mobilize” the people of the Adelaide Hills against asylum seekers.

The party, which stood candidates in Queensland in the recent Federal election, has distributed a pamphlet in the Adelaide Hills that refers to a refugee “invasion” and calls for a “community strike” to ostracise anyone who supports the facility. It claims the Government is “handing over army bases” to “cashed-up ‘asylum seekers’” as part of “recolonization of your land”

[snip]

The dark terror that will be waged by Moslem extremists, Tamil Tiger guerrillas, Afghan drug criminals, African animists and so on is but a matter of time. It sums to culture busting (the process by which Australian community feeling and identity is broken down) and is also a type of state-terrorism against the Australian population — ethnic cleansing!

These seeds were planted long ago in Australia’s history, and took firm root years before any of us were born. Perhaps for a little while, we thought this cloying quest to nurture our pathological fear of ‘the other’ was all but over. And maybe so – is it a good sign that even explicitly racist organisations now seek to shed the ‘racist’ label?

Or does the fact that this is only the latest in a long line of stillborn policy-lite hatchet jobs from Scott Morrison to be taken seriously by the press say something much more serious about the state of our society & discourse – that utterly discredited impulses, like that which led successive north American governments to turn away the MS St. Louis, carrying 930 Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi Germany – are being regurgitated into the Australian political mainstream and allowing new currents of xenophobia, jingoism & casual violence to burrow into our collective flesh?

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