May 3, 2013

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.

Helen Razer — Writer and broadcaster

Helen Razer

Writer and broadcaster

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, 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.

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66 thoughts on “The Left has lost its way through symbolism and stupidity

  1. j.oneill

    Helen, a splendidly splenetic piece but I was left with a conundrum that has bothered me for years. Where exactly is the “Left” in Australian politics? Of the parties represented in Parliament only the Greens have something resembling a “Left” agenda.

    The msm constantly remind us that such and such a Labor Member is of the ‘Left’ faction of the party, including to my complete surprise, the current PM. But I search in vain for a coherent analysis from anyone in the Labor Party that could be said to reflect a Left perspective.

    the day she was appointed PM by her parliamentary colleagues our ‘Left Faction’ PM stood on the steps of Parliament and said her three foreign policy priorities were (1) the US alliance; (2) maintaining the “mission” in Afghanistan; and (3) support for the State of Israel. Says it all really.

  2. JStephens

    A bit off topic but I’d like to clarify one thing regarding the single parents onto Newstart uproar. Yes it was disgusting but there is not a single mention that this actually had been happening since 1st July 2006, under the previous coalition govt. I know, because I was one of those single mothers who was unlucky to have separated from my violent ex-husband in 2007. Essentially there were 2 classes of single parents; those ‘lucky’ enough to have got in there before the deadline. Adele Horin wrote about it at the time in the SMH. So, when my youngest daughter turned 8 in 2008 I was unceremoniously dumped onto Newstart. As were all the other single parents post 1/7/06. The 80 odd thousand were merely brought into line with the rest of us. Think about it, they were also the more likely to have older kids anyway and thus more ability to work full time.
    Look, I think that ALL single parents have access to the higher pension payment and that poor unemployed people struggling on Newstart should also have a higher payment too. But to continue to protest about a group of lucky ‘grandfathered’ single parents being brought into line with the rest of us is a bit irksome. Where were the protests when the policy came into being almost 7 years ago? Or could it be that the uproar is due to the fact that it’s a Labor government?
    Disclaimer: I’m a Green, not a Labor voter

    Sorry Helen, but this has given me the shites since 2006

  3. Mark Duffett

    Wow, if this is calculated to piss both sides off, it succeeds brilliantly.

  4. Jonathan Maddox

    Seriously Helen — do you think we can’t campaign against endemic misogyny *at the same time* as engaging on macroeconomics and systemic racism? Have a little faith, and let us enjoy our rainbows.

  5. Gareth

    Chalk on sidewalks vs campaign for mental health reform.

    You can actually do both. I hate to say it, some people are better at the chalk rainbows than real hard work activism. Symbols are important, if only to increase visibility.

  6. Student T

    Very entertaining. Boy, I cannot wait to see the flack you are going to get from the Crikey commenters. Moderator get ready!

  7. Nathan Morsillo

    Hah! Swinging at left and right. Go Helen… Though I think there’s more about HOW the content you decry / want is delivered which impacts – because there is plenty of good stuff on both sides out there (in a longer form). But very few buying it or publishing to a front / ed page.

  8. pritu

    Thank you Helen, This echoes the frustration so many of us feel with the way politics is now done not only here but seemingly everywhere in the “democratic” world. Capitalism’s gargantuan butt sits solidly on every such polity and farts loudly and copiously through people like Bolt and Ackeman whenever issues of substance demand attention and thought. So we’re doomed to “enjoy” being ruled via the Right’s “tools” poncing about in lycra and bicycle helmets.

  9. Peter Murphy

    It’s nice the article uses “Left” (in scare quotes) rather than Left (without the quotes), but it doesn’t change the fact that leftish people are a pretty heterogeneous group. Some of them argue serious policy, some of them draw rainbow crossings, and some do both. Trying to put them into one bag is the sort of Janetalbrechtsensian rhetorical tactic that caused me to stop reading The Australian 10 years ago.

    Helen, I’ll be honest. I prefer the serious end of the spectrum. I live in Queensland, which is dealing with some serious issues regarding the LNP government’s privatisation agenda. There’s going to be a serious policy fight ahead. It is literally a “life-and-death” struggle: selling off the assets will reduce in such things as worse health services, and there will be people who will die as a result. So, yes, policy is deadly important.

    But none of that is incompatible with symbolism. I don’t mind people drawing rainbow crossings on roads. I don’t see it as incompatible. Maybe it’s generally not a problem.

    Isn’t this article pushing some sort of dualism that would cause Derrida to chortle?

  10. Robert Brown

    tldr; – piss off the lot of ya

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