The Left has lost its way through symbolism and stupidity
The Left is dead -- hopelessly lost in the minutiae of gestures, rainbow crossings, political correctness and confected outrage about the latest Geoffrey Barker piece. It's time for the Left to think about material conditions and macroeconomics.
Andrew Bolt is to David Marr as a Kraft Single is to raw milk chèvre. This is to say, these big cheeses long typified the differences between popular Right and Left thinking. Marr was, and remains, an acidic shock whose difficult charms reward the body politic when it takes the time to savour.
And to me, Bolt is just a nasty piece of work.
This has been the usual division: public thinkers of the Left offer us data and difficulty and demand our participation in understanding. Public thinkers of the Right offer us comfort. Eva Cox, for example, has long argued with numbers for tax and labour reform, whereas Piers Akerman draws hilarious crayon pictures of c0ck-and-balls.
But, recognising the traditional split between leftist wankers and conservative yobbos is nothing novel. What is new, however, is the conspicuous stupidity of the Left. If by “Left” we mean people who like rainbow crossings, petitions at change.org, and People with a Disability, then our gestures made in colourful chalk have begin to rival Akerman’s for numb impermanence.
It is, of course, easy to decry the lack of an emerging Rundle, and rage about the “dumbing down” of the culture and fetishise a golden age of debate. But it is stupid to simply call people stupid and explain the Left’s growing Kraft Single problem in the terms of things being Better in My Day.
Things, however, were certainly less individually sliced and wrapped in my day. Or, rather, they were less wrapped up in the cheesy idea of individuality.
Let me tell you what I mean by taking you through just the last week in the life of the “Left”.
With her budget taste-test speech served on Monday, Gillard had given the old Left food for thought. The Prime Minister told low-to-middle income earners that Keynes would want them to share the burden. By Tuesday, she had announced a levy for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. By lunchtime, News Limited had published this folly which is — to save you the displeasure of bad cheese — a sort of rom-com approach to analysis wherein a young, under-informed man says that HE doesn’t want to give up $300 a year and would rather drink his flavoured coffee, and a young, under-informed lady says that SHE ruddy well does.
But it was this piece by Tory Shepherd that drove the tone of debate on social and news media for much of the week. The NDIS and its revenue model drew wide and uncritical support and this is nice for the ALP this week, but not so good over time. We had a chance, for example, to talk about a government that has been quietly committed to progressive tax reform being pushed by a perverse opposition into serving Clive and Gina. Instead, the “Left” made do with crowing about its deep, deep love for the Disabled and never, for a moment, bothered to discuss, say, the idea of quantitatively easing Twiggy’s arse off the ground to pay for services that any reasonable human agrees are essential.
“It’s nice that you would happily relinquish your Wine of the Month Club subscription to buy a happy cripple but it is also deeply irrelevant …”
The debate, though, comes down not to macroeconomics and not even to the NDIS itself, but to the role of the individual in paying for it. You know, it’s nice that you would happily relinquish your Wine of the Month Club subscription to buy a happy cripple but it is also deeply irrelevant and even, I suggest, damaging.
The personification of this debate continued when Myer CEO Bernie Brookes did what any retail sector CEO would do and complained about the introduction of a new tax. Just like the old Left, Brookes, at least, is able to see that a tax is a tax and not the ethical responsibility of the individual from which it is secured. But, whatever. Let a dozen barely literate tits secure their freelance stipend from Fairfax and the ABC this week as they rage about the injustice of a CEO behaving exactly like a CEO.
That is, of course, if they’re not engaged with the matter of Geoffrey Barker who yesterday suggested female newsreaders should not wear cocktail frocks to work. In an inelegant and contorted act of onanism, Fairfax maintained the “rage” at its women’s interest site and offered an ad hominem attack on a man, its author claimed, some were calling Mr Misogynist.
For contemporary thinkers, this is not a polity but the sum of individual will. Brookes and people who want to drink flavoured coffees are responsible for delays to the NDIS. If Barker has not been charged with responsibility for all rape, he probably will be by the afternoon. Because the “Left”, such as it is, is not able to think about systems; about social and economic class. It has not only borrowed the cheesy stupidity of Andrew Bolt; it has borrowed the idea of his “individual” as well.
The “Left” now hungers for symbols of cultural identity and spurns the idea of class. Or, indeed, of material conditions.
Nowhere, for mine, is this more starkly drawn than in plaintive chalk on sidewalks as queer activism gives up its campaign for mental health reform and supplants it with the symbolic fight for an equality that already exists in law. Nowhere was this in sharper contrast than on the day of Gillard’s misogyny speech wherein many single parents (chiefly women) were consigned to Newstart.
The “Left” loved Sorry Day and, indeed, can’t get ENOUGH of Aboriginal Australia. They’re a very spiritual people, don’t you know. But on the day of the Closing the Gap report, the “Left” was far more interested in misogynists who had dared chasten Chrissie Swan for smoking while pregnant than to give a fuck that the mortality age-range between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians had widened.
But data no longer matters when we have stories about individuals. The economy is irrelevant in the face of cheese. By dividing us into individual slices of stupid, the Left serves up a convenience food from which the Right will profit.
So, you know, keep raging about marriage and newsreaders and “rape culture” and the number of flavoured coffees it would take to buy a cripple. And in September, do enjoy your new treasurer, Joe Hockey, who will borrow Akerman’s crayons to draw a picture of Milton Friedman’s cock-and-balls all over Keynes’ General Theory.
Helen Razer is a writer whose work appears in The Saturday Paper, Daily Review, SBS Online, The Big Issue, and Frankie. She has previously worked as a columnist for The Age and The Australian and as a broadcaster for ABC radio.