There’s a now infamous quote from a senior Bush administration official which goes like this:
That’s not the way the world really works anymore.
We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.
It may well have been Karl Rove.
If there’s one thing we’ve learned from the Howardian culture wars, it’s that postmodernism is evil. Stick to the facts and memorise the dates, get the narrative straight. That’s the mantra from the Windschuttles, McGuinnesses and Donnellys of the world. And it’s been chanted by successive Education Ministers as well as the PM himself.
But this election campaign is nothing if not postmodern.
Over at The Australian, housing stress apparently doesn’t exist, and rate rises are “very good news for John Howard”. And the almost daily Newspoll gizzards are picked over by the resident augurs to find a good omen somewhere.
In an almost Derridean deconstructive move, we’re asked to simultaneously believe that WorkChoices has raised wages and that wage constraint is a necessary and good thing that can only be ensured by WorkChoices. None of those nasty binary oppositions in the Coalition’s discourse, thank you very much.
And speaking of industrial relations, we have a debate “that does not quite take place” (to quote Jacques Derrida himself) because the government won’t release any research and spins the ABS figures any which way it chooses, depending on the narrative needs of the time. Meanwhile, anyone who puts their head up above the parapet with a bit of empirical data risks having it shot off. There’s no neutral knowledge in a postmodern world, of course – it’s all coloured by the bias of the author.
Reality? Pfft. It’s the story, stupid.
Of course, any old fashioned sociologist could tell you that beliefs and ideas have their own force if enough people have faith. But our unfashionable empiricist would also point out that they have to have some connection with lived reality, and tend to crash and burn when the narrative starts to fracture and rubs up against the real world.
Karl Rove could probably tell you that too. Now.
The election result is going to be empirical proof of one thing at least – whether or not right-wing postmodernism has spun out of control. In this dialectic, the ideological world is about to meet the material world.