Arise, sons of privilege. Just when you think things simply cannot get any crazier, they do. I thought our right to be bigots was just about as wild as things were going to get, but how wrong can a girl (maybe more of a dame) be? Now four Aussies a year will become knights and/or dames if considered sufficiently worthy by our esteemed (if somewhat unpredictable) Prime Minister. I guess it just goes to show that while you can take the boy out of the UK (as Tony Abbott’s mum and dad did in 1959), you can’t take the UK out of the boy — or the 1950s, for that matter.

To be honest with you, I have rather enjoyed these recent mediaeval shenanigans. Sometimes to stop yourself crying you really do have to laugh, and people have been having an absolute field day of hilarity in response to Abbott’s imperial proclamation. You can choose your own tweet of the week from this cornucopia of witty offerings collated by BuzzFeed. My personal favourite is number 18. Some of the more po-faced among us have been complaining mightily about “cheap shots” like these, but frankly, what do they and Abbott expect?

Indeed, that is the sad side of these absurd new honours. The first two recipients — Dame Quentin Bryce and Sir Peter Cosgrove — are both outstanding Australians with real and important achievements under their very different belts. They are two people who deserve to be taken seriously. Unfortunately, thanks to their ridiculous new honorifics, I now can’t actually hear either of them mentioned without giggling. Far from honouring Bryce and Cosgrove, I feel as if Abbott has unwittingly made a mockery of them.

Bigots from sea to shining sea. To return to the other bizarre development in our polity — our right to be out and proud bigots — I thought Waleed Aly absolutely nailed the narrow vision behind the new legislation in this marvelous piece from The Sydney Morning Herald. It is what worries me most about our current political masters — they just don’t know what they don’t know. The lack of diversity in their ranks — of ethnicity, class, privilege, religion, gender and even schooling — leads to an inability to comprehend the very different experiences of the world others have had. They have a right to their narrow-minded perspective (a right about to be enshrined in legislation, in fact), but that doesn’t change how unattractive and revealing it is.

Here is another example of the absolute blindness a privileged existence can bestow. This time from the increasingly insufferable Gwyneth Paltrow (yes, privilege makes strange bedfellows — don’t think about that too hard), who has been in the headlines for her “conscious uncoupling” from Coldplay’s Chris Martin. Personally, I couldn’t give a rat’s about her personal life, but it was her claim that being a movie star “mom” was harder than being a 9-5 working “mom” — and particularly the responses to her remark –that caught my eye. I particularly liked this witheringly sarcastic response from the New York Post.

Sometimes, however, being born into a life of privilege can become a living nightmare, as it has for four of the daughters of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. The princesses bravely used the visit of Barack Obama to Saudi Arabia to draw the world’s attention to their plight.

Poor political climate. And just to depress you about the state of the modern (yet strangely mediaeval) world completely, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its first update on the state of our planet in seven years. It did not make for pleasant reading, particularly when George Monbiot drew this devastating parallel in The Guardian between an Ibsen play and our current responses to the now virtually inevitable effects of climate change. This article on the effect of rising seas on low-lying countries — such as Bangladesh — from The New York Times reminds us again that if we think our cruel asylum seeker policies have “stopped the boats” for very long, we are living in a fool’s paradise.

Speaker spat. There was also a lot of discussion about the perceived bias of Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker of the House across both mainstream media and the other kind.

There is a strong smell of petulance about this government altogether, as Judith Brett points out in this lovely essay in The Monthly. But, to end this week’s wash-up of events on a more positive note, I am lost in admiration for the tenacious determination of lion-hearted (sorry, this knights and dames stuff has gotten to me) Charlotte Laws and her dogged battle to take down the man who had ruthlessly exploited her daughter (and so many other women and girls) on the internet.

Moreover, just when I despair of what is happening to public education all over the world as corporations seek to exploit our kids and their life chances in the name of profit, I am reminded that, along with US campaigner Diane Ravitch, there is also the indomitable Finn Pasi Sahlberg, whose stated mission is to save public education. Both give me a slender hope that with wise warriors such as these, the world may yet avoid a second Dark Ages.


Peter Fray

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