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The Drum, gay marriage and knowing your history

How did the cultural left win the war on marriage equality, asks Kevin Donnelly at The Drum? His answer? Radical leftists completed what he claims Antonio Gramsci called “the long march through the institutions”, to control the heights of debate.

These cunning leftists apparently commanded the cultural heights, and changed the meaning of words — “discrimination” for example, from a positive thing to a negative thing — in a manner described by St George of the Orwell. Where will it end, Donnelly wails: “Same-sex marriage “raises the problem that if marriage is now to include gays and lesbians, what right do we have to exclude bisexual and transgender people?”

Um, Kevin, I don’t mean to alarm you, but bisexuals and transgender people are already allowed to marry — as long as they marry someone of the opposite sex. Transgender people already have some leeway in which gender they classify themselves in and, um, on bisexuals, do you actually know what they actually are? The simpler explanation for the success of the marriage equality campaign is that the cultural base of social life changed over the past two decades, from a vestigial Judeo-Christian one, to one where market relations and consumption — and the notions of formal equality, exchangeability  that come with it — came to the centre of social life.

Attitudes have been manipulated, Kevin wails again: “To be conservative, on the basis that there are some things from the past that are worthwhile holding on to, is to be old-fashioned, out of touch and guilty of continuing past injustices.”

Indeed, and what has convinced people that conservatism is a bad thing? How about three decades of top-down economic reconstruction, in which people were told that the new economy, new technology, globalisation, cutting-edge, next gen, etc, were compulsory, and the worst things in the world were protectionism, localism, collectivism, etc. The path to marriage equality didn’t begin five years ago — it began, you might say, when Sunday trading was abolished and capital finally triumphed over the Sabbath, quashing any notion that the state should have any regard to traditional values in setting the rules.

Your problem isn’t the left, Kevin — it’s your compatriots on the Right — the Turnbulls, Kennetts and Costellos — whose vision of social life involves a world entirely composed of individual contracts between people, and no institutions to be spared ceaseless transformation. In that framework, the objection to marriage equality becomes as archaic as trying to maintain a commitment to fault-only divorce.

The “cultural left” could have redefined the whole dictionary but they wouldn’t have got anywhere much before around 2005. It’s only after a period in which capital has made all cultural barriers to individual wants into a denial of human rights that the campaign became possible — because marriage equality cuts with the cultural grain of neoliberalism. All the marriage equality movement had to do was work hard, and do its research — a wise move, if only so that one knows that it was Rudi Dutschke, not Gramsci, who advocated a “long march through the institutions”. 

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  • 1
    Kevin Donnelly
    Posted Thursday, 8 December 2011 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Thanks for that - always good to get a response and to be corrected where necessary. While Rudi may have made the phrase popular a close reading of Gramsci’s The Prison Notebooks and an appreciation of his concept of cultural hegemony shows that the idea of taking control of capitalist structures and institutions, from within, originated with the Italian Marxist. This explains Gramsci’s focus on a traditional academic curriculum – if the peasants and the working class wanted to win the revolution they would have beat the capitalists at their own game.

  • 2
    Holden Back
    Posted Thursday, 8 December 2011 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    I blame Derrida … “

  • 3
    Sancho
    Posted Thursday, 8 December 2011 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

    Donnelly and Rundle are swinging wildly, each trying to land a punch on the political Left or Right, but neither seems willing to consider any historical context beyond the past twenty years.

    In the 20th century we had two world wars, followed by an explosion of mass media, which prompted massive social rethinking and allowed us to showcase the Vietnam war as the politically grotesque waste that it was. Consumerism and the market made sure there was a TV in every home, alright, with the result that citizens of western democracies could see the absurd nonsense of the Cold War, which led many people to engage in a culture war to ensure greater tolerance at home.

    Rundle doesn’t make any defence of gay marriage or the right of homosexuals to the same rights as everyone else, but it’s also impossible to ignore that Donnelly’s arguments are the exact same ones that were raised against women’s suffrage, evolution, interracial marriage and even the possibility that left-handers aren’t in leagues with the devil, and are equally hollow.

    The most noteworthy part of this intellectual bitch-slap fight is that Donnelly follows the now-standard conservative pattern of skipping reasoned argument, and instead leaping into a florid conspiracy theory.

    Really, as a member of the Left, I wish I could get invited along to one of these meetings where we all sit down and plan exactly how to seize academia for the purpose of destroying the social structures of the mid-20th century, how best to use our army of zealous Marxist climatologists to undermine capitalism, and which foreign infants will need a comprehensive fake history so that we can position them to become US president and rule the world on behalf of Kenya and Al Qaeda.

  • 4
    Kevin Donnelly
    Posted Friday, 9 December 2011 at 8:37 am | Permalink

    Hi Sancho,

    In both ‘Why our schools are failing’ and ‘Dumbing Down’ I detail how the cultural-left took over education and reshaped what was attacked as a conservative, academic curriculum based on merit and winners and losers.

    Such has been the success of groups like the Australian Education Union to capture the agenda that a past president, Pat Byrne, has boasted that conservatives would have a lot of work to do to undo what the cultural-left had achieved.

    Joan Kirner, ex Victorian Premier, argued at a Fabian meeting that education had to be reshaped to be part of the socialist struggle for liberation, that is why she replaced the HSC with the VCE.

  • 5
    Sancho
    Posted Saturday, 10 December 2011 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the response, Kevin.

    If you ask Google, you’ll find that many conservatives claim the economic collapse and effects of climate change are God’s punishment for not persecuting homosexuals. The fact they say that doesn’t mean there’s any evidence to support it.

    Similarly, a contender for Australian PM, Tony Abbott, seeks advice from an archbishop on how to govern a modern democratic nation. That doesn’t mean the Catholic church is running Australia from the shadows.

    Acceptance of homosexuality is just another development in the evolution of a reasonable and fair society, no different to the abolition of slavery, the extension of civil rights to women, the easing of persecution of left-handed people, or the separation of church and state - all of which were (and often are) fiercely opposed by social conservatives.

    The inevitability of gay marriage isn’t the result of some committed ideological army progressively taking over civil institutions; it’s just the natural result of creating a society that thinks critically and has an informed sense of right and wrong.

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