Our best lack all conviction; our worst are passionately intense. This is as true of modern persons as it is of modern years, and 2015 was nothing if not intensely full of passion and very empty of the best. To attempt a “Best Of” list in such conditions would, of course, be fairly grim; we can be truly joyful only that The Force Awakens was not a total pile of Wookiee-poo. This year, we are doomed only to look at those news and media moments that best show this year at its passionate worst.
10. The king’s speech
When the best are silent and the worst just won’t shut up, mediocrity is melody, as one maestro learned on September 14. There may be no time more exciting to be Malcolm Turnbull, but there have been more endurable times to be an Australian voter with ears.
Malcolm’s sweet nothings were certainly tuneful after the staccato brutality of Abbott -- a “holocaust of jobs”, a “suppository of wisdom”. They first fell like honey on an embittered land, and who wouldn’t prefer this wet music over Tony’s dry refusal not to mention the Nazis, or other enemas of the state? Well, after Malcolm had mentioned Thucydides a dozen times and overused the word “agile”, quite a few more of us every day. Just as the Peloponnesian War is no good guide to foreign policy, “agile” is no way to describe an unstable job market. “Fucked” would be more accurate.
Turnbull’s warmth might seem different to Abbott’s reproach. But after 80 “agiles”, he has begun to sound much as he is: the other side of a coin minted by neoliberalism. Abbott blamed us for the nation’s woes, whereas Mal praises us for our ability to overcome them. One’s a nice daddy and one’s a mean daddy, and however Daddy chooses to speak to us, the message is the same: the future is all up to you, not Daddy. Let him read the paper in peace.
9. The speech of freemen
Sure, Turnbull has the terrible tendency to turn meaning on its head -- uncertainty becomes agility, a rotten NBN is “innovation” and bankruptcy is “the freedom to fail”. But we’ve got to give it to him: sometimes, this chatty guy knows just when to STFU.
Counter-terrorist reports and security chiefs state the obvious: being dumb about terrorism in public is not a safe idea. Just like the guidelines for public speech on suicide, those reportedly recommended last week by ASIO boss Duncan Lewis to MPs are intended not to be PC or a barrier to free speech, but a way to save lives.
Still, Tony Abbott, Andrew Hastie and a bunch of other doofuses who’ve watched Sam Harris on YouTube feel that it’s essential to unearth the violence they believe informs Islam. And while they’re combing the Koran with a blessed brush of idiocy and screaming “look what I found!”, the chances that deeply alienated young people will think that they hear the call to jihad intensifies.
To say that Islam is the precondition for violence is not just rude and ignorant, it’s effing dangerous. Turnbull’s choice to not appear tough on terrorism could turn out to be the best domestic safeguard we have.
8.The king’s heir
Jesus. Another royal baby.
7. Mark jumps the shark
There was, believe me, an age in which former ALP leader Mark Latham provided something other than interest to students of psychology. Once upon a time, he was committed to the study of the fair distribution of equity and income. These days, he just likes to blame The Feminists.
Just how a guy switches from his role as a local Thomas Piketty to a sort of sober Andy Capp is anybody’s guess. But, whatever the case, Latham has lost interest in civilising global capital, himself or public debate.
Whether he’s charging Rosie Batty with “self-promotion” -- pot, she’s not a kettle -- or declaring mental illness the effect of middle-class ennui, he’s said almost nothing of value for almost three years. His one germ of sense -- that all this public awareness and sensitive speech halts action -- is as lost in his invective as the last remnants of his influence.
6. Death by awareness
All suspicion, even M Latham’s, of the power of awareness-raising is urgently needed. But, this year, few raised awareness that awareness-raising can do the very opposite of what it sets out to achieve.
When images of the little body of Alan Kurdi on an Aegean beach were reproduced worldwide, our political leaders said that this had finally changed their minds. Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said the pictures were a “wake-up call” and New South Wales Premier Mike Baird said “And then you see a photo. And somehow it changes everything.”
But our foreign policy and refugee policy has barely changed, and just as this climax of public awareness served only those who enjoyed its raw emotion, so did many other attempts to “light the dark”.
Breast cancer awareness can actually repel women from having mammograms. Family violence awareness may normalise violent acts. Awareness of racism might make us nicer people, but it permits racist policy to remain unchanged. We’ve had a cry. We’ve done our bit.
Awareness that Syrian toddlers are dying in the sea may do little more than confirm to us that we can still be moved to beautiful tears. Everything does not change; nothing does. We accept the facts of violence and death so long as we are assured that we can still be personally moved by them.
5. The Boomers and their stupid X-er mates
Income inequality is at a 40-year peak in Australia. Young people face higher education costs and lower prospects of employment when they’re done paying for a degree whose worth is as diminished academically as it is vocationally. The current house-price-to-wage ratio means that few young people will own their own homes and, even if they could, the front yard will be submerged in saltwater if it is not first burned by the El Nino sun.
Still, commentators find ways to blame youth for those policies that their own generation founded. Myer chief Richard Umbers says that young people don’t want penalty rates. Hockey called them “entitled" and some abhorrence at the Herald Sun blamed the young Chinese for a housing bubble largely caused by tax concessions to the wealthy.
They didn’t do it.
4. The Millennials and their tendency to blame the Boomers
Just as the old blame the young, the young blame the old -- and nobody blames the policy class at all. Old folks misremember their 40-hour weeks and penalty rates and actual sick days and tell the young “we were grateful to be beaten all day, then sodomised with gravel at 5”. Young people answer that they have an app for that.
It was at the Junket unconference this year in Canberra that we saw an aging neoliberalism refigured for a new Uber age. Young “activists” increasingly see their diminished lot as the result of the old-person failure to innovate.
Not without reason, the young have misplaced their faith in the state. They have elected not to involve themselves in elections in record numbers and they report, when asked, no faith in the idea of democracy. Their solution is to look to private enterprise.
Bill Gates. Mark Zuckerberg. Tim Cook. These are the frictionless heroes of a generation who would rather see the “efficiency” of Silicon Valley in place of the dull business of government. Why pay taxes --as Apple and Uber choose not to -- when you can just get a great company to fix the world?
Penalty rates are restrictive! Uber is freedom.
3. Caitlyn Jenner: progressive hero
Just as the unrestricted flow of capital can apparently save the world from inequality, the unchecked blather of a Vanity Fair cover girl can deliver us all from intolerance. Rarely has someone so ideologically offensive been held as such an antidote to offence.
Jenner is a Republican Christian who is on record with her opposition to what the Americans call “socialised medicine” and what, thank goodness, is still known here as “health”. Jenner champions the rights of transwomen while actively campaigning against the social and health services this very marginalised group so urgently needs.
1. Paleo Pete and friends
In an era of dangerous scientism where the idiots have googled their way to specious expertise, we probably shouldn’t be worried that some dills are starting every day with “bone broth”. There’s the anti-vax people to worry about and those hold-outs on climate change who are doing serious damage, so Paleo seems like small anti-science change.
Still, this “movement” in diet, if not in bowels, locally promoted by celebrity chef Pete Evans just keeps on giving me the absolute shits. It’s not so much that it might delude a few vulnerable people or kill the occasional baby that grates; rather it’s the hard evidence that Australians have become almost as stupid as Americans in their willingness to be sold The Truth That They Don’t Want You To Know.
The sale of conspiracies is a conspiracy. Whether it is “Islam is the true source of evil” or “Housing prices are inflated by the Chinese”, it’s all the same old shite. Kale won’t save you any more than Christianity or Islam or the abolition of penalty rates will.
In an age of increasingly complex problems, we look for solutions of decreasing complexity. Eat this. Hate that. Call it out online.
Paleo is depressing for the same reason the Western world is: it tastes bad and it is full of false solutions based on a tiny grain of truth.
Burnside, as you likely know, is a barrister, a refugee advocate and a man with an honourable alphabet of letters appended by others to his name. He's also a fighter and dogged correspondent who seems to thinks a lot about death.