Thursday, 18 August 2011

The civil society and in defence of politics

I am thinking constantly about my life,  my experiences, and my present need to work out my future by means of a legal challenge. Yet while these concerns absorb me by day and by night, in the scale of things they are trivial.

My mind is inexorably drawn to the wider world. The riots in England, the wars and rebellions in the Middle East, the famine inAfrica, the routine raping of women by soldiers so that the women are forever disgraced and outcast, even though their husbands know full well their wives did not deserve either the rape or the disgrace, and what seems to be the increasing breakdown in the civil society, and the abounding selfishness. School is just finishing as I write, and the daily litany of every second word being 'fuck' is resounding.

There was a demonstration outside Parliament House earlier this week, which seemed to be characterised by extreme intolerance, nastiness and abuse. 'Ditch the witch' - apparently considered preferable to 'Get rid of the bitch' or  'She should be dragged out to sea and abandoned' - another such recommendation.

How have we come to this? This awful sense that pride in our democratic system of government has disintegrated, this disrespect for the rights of others, for the virtues of tolerance, compassion, understanding and acceptance?

What can be done? The British Prime Minister and his cohorts talk of criminality, but without the context of the just and the civil society. The Murdoch empire has done its utmost to focus on triviality and has used horrific invasions of privacy, for the sake of making the immensely rich even more indecently so. Here we campaign against a carbon tax, and advocate sending refugees back to the open seas.

Yesterday I went out for a little walk, to go to the bank, and called into the St Vincent de Paul shop. It sells quite a lot of books, so I had a browse around. So too did the man who owns the local second hand bookshop. I am not sure what he picked up.

I bought a book by Bob Carr, My Reading Life: Adventures in the World of Books. Bob Carr was the Premier of New South Wales for ten years. Before going into politics he was a journalist. He wishes he had had a better education and had had greater access to libraries and books. He discovered both, and became an omnivorous reader. He launched the Premier's Reading Challenge in 2001, a programme in which school children commit to reading as many books as possible. It gets quite a lot of publicity, and is indubitably a Good Thing.

When I got home I opened Carr's book. The first section is entitled The Silence. The first book he chose to discuss is Primo Levi's If this is a Man. It is a book I have read a number of times, and which I can scarcely bear to open and re-read.

It is incredibly painful to read. It describes, as would a witness in court, how millions of human beings were treated, suffered and were murdered, through the deliberate policy, worked out in minute detail, to exterminate millions because of their race. Carr asked, as so many must have done, about the silence of God, and asks what message this sends to suffering humanity.

Carr devotes another part of his book to the Australian Labor Party and to political journalism. He discusses Don Watson's Book Memoirs of a Bleeding Heart, and its sub-theme of the restless and self absorbed Canberra Press Gallery, and describes how one noted journalist, Alan Ramsay, told Paul Keating, the then Prime Minister, that the journalists would all be advocating a change of government, because  'We're all sick of you'. It is a sobering account.

In today's mail was The House Magazine, published by the Department of the House of Representatives. Article after article described the work of the House, and its committees. The articles described the subjects investigated by committees and what their reports contained. Interesting and informative stuff, which you would never know about if you relied on the daily newspapers. Sure, we get pro or anti carbon tax articles, and lots of rhetoric for and against.  But we are far more likely to be force fed articles and incessant comments about out Prime Minister's voice, nose, clothes and hairstyles, and we have also recently been treated to some numbingly boring and irrelevant coverage of a new hairstyle for our former Premier. We get lots of coverage of Tony Abbott's budgie smugglers, cycling marathons and attendance at barbecues, and meeting and greeting the electorate. But there is little sober and factual political coverage.

It makes me so depressed I can scarcely bear to look at the newspapers or to watch or listen to current affairs programmes. Yet, in my working life, it was mother's milk to me, essential and absorbing stuff. I dealt with it for most of my working life. Ditto for Dr P, who was a professional.

Obviously it is far more important to concentrate on airbrushed photos of film stars and models, the sex life of sporting heroes, and to campaign against speed campaigns, because as well as identifying those who break the law and endanger others by driving above the speed limits, they are contributing to consolidated revenue. And we would all, especially the very rich, rather pay less tax than to ensure that we have good schools, hospitals, roads and infrastructure, competent and honest government and a civil and decent society.

If I had my way I would introduce a wealth tax. It seems to me that billionaires can afford a little more tax, instead of spending their money campaigning against resources taxes.

Later in his book Bob Carr discusses Bernard Crick's book In Defence of Politics, who wrote

politics represents at least some tolerance of differing truths, some recognition that government is possible, indeed best conducted, amid the opening canvassing of rival interests. Politics are the public actions of free men.

Carr comments:

Celebrate the genius of free peoples expressed in the glorious mess of rowdy politics, the clash of interests - inevitable in any society - resolved at the ballot box, a working definition of politics and a celebratory one

I hope these thoughts are still apposite, but in my moments of gloom, I have my doubts. Is it still possible to pull together in a positive rather than in a destructive sense?

We need to think in terms of all of us and not only of our own narrow and selfish interests.


molly said...

I've been thinking a lot lately about how hopeful the world seemed when I was young. Each new experience, each new adventure, was like a gift to be opened.....What a horrible mess we've made of it and are leaving for our children to sort out, as best they can. On the other hand, as your magazine proves, there are still many good and decent people working hard to put things right. But those kinds of stories don't sell newspapers!

Frances said...

Persiflage: The New York Times'editorial yesterday: "Mr Cameron ...has blamed the looting and burning on a compound of national moral decline, bad parenting and perverse inner city subcultures.
"Would he find similar blame - this time in the culture of the well housed and well off - for Britain's recent phone hacking scandal or the egregious abuse of expense accounts by members of parliament?"
It seems to me that bad behaviour and corruption is not rare among our society's "leaders", and, indeed that's the direction in which they are leading us.

R.H. said...

Showbiz is seeping into politics as it becomes just another soap opera. It's all a matter of who can outact who, losers are no longer defeated, they're humiliated as well.