Blair Cottrell

This week, international provider CNN asks the world: “is Australia becoming a more racist country?” This, in my view, is a crucial question. After CNN got to it, though, it’s one that remains without answer. To assess the racism of this nation-state, CNN does not look to relative measures of poverty, poor health or criminalisation. CNN does not look closely to the racist policies and presentations of the Australian state. It its precis for a global audience, CNN looks largely to the telly and other popular media.

This, it must be said, is not the habit of CNN alone. Media often use other media like television and mean tweets to make their case. It’s not a question of “is the nation racist?” here. It is a question of “is the media racist?”

It is uncritically accepted that media are not only the measure of a nation’s racism more reliable than, say, disproportionate incarceration of Aboriginal minors. We could put all the black kids in chains, and we’d still be debating about the role that television and mean tweets played in their forging.

No. This is not to say that’s a bad question to ask. But when it becomes the only question, something is awry. News media are intended to report, surely, not on the misdeeds of other news media or social media users, but the conditions in which the prisoners are kept.

You know. I no longer really mind that our “debate” is awful. I no longer mind that from “both sides” we hear that “both sides” are responsible for the diminution of debate. The neoliberal progressivism of The Guardian/Fairfax and the neoliberal conservativism of The Australian each offer the view that the true measure of a good society is its debate. If we tune into the ABC, we can hear “both sides” accusing both sides of rubbishing debate at once.

From a Leyonhjelm we will hear that the true problem is the constraints the “politically correct” attempt to impose on debate. From a Hanson-Young, we will hear that her debate represents the debate all women are having with men. From my beanbag, I have lost what little faith remained that the people on the telly or the Twitter represent much but the urge to “represent”. The real is left behind in this rush for representation.  

Even here at Crikey, we debate debate. And, in an era where a person who has been often described in reputable and mainstream press as a “neo-Nazi” is interviewed on Murdoch’s Sky News, it is difficult, perhaps even reprehensible, for analysts to ignore the Parlous State of Discourse etc. Last week, both Bernard Keane and I offered you different accounts of “debate” as it currently isn’t. Many of you responded. Some of you called for more compassionate and tolerant debate. And some of you said that you were just up to pussy’s bow with debate on the nature of debate.

You have every reason to be cross. We in purportedly critical media argue now most often about how to argue, and we take as read that better argument will produce a better nation. Even when history shouts at us that better conditions tend to produce better “debate”, and not the other way round, we do not listen.

Fascism does not require cable news to prosper so much as it needs the hard ground of widespread deprivation, a result of wealth inequality, to have its best chance. The most effective solution to fascism is not “calling it out” and nor is it the exclusion of fascists from debate. Note. This is NOT an endorsement for the inclusion of fascists in public debate. The most effective solution was settled upon by Franklin D. Roosevelt. He created jobs and welfare for a mass of white workers, thereby famously “saving capitalism”, and saving liberalism from collapse to fascist opportunists as well.

No amount of propaganda works as well on populations as the conditions of their real life. No amount of “debate”.

When Blair Cottrell, the individual identified by many outlets as a neo-Nazi, featured on Sky News, we are obliged to ask some questions. But we are obliged to look, in my view, beyond the debate itself and into the conditions that produced it. And, no, not just the lowered standards and vulgarity of a channel that has always been, albeit more covertly, vulgar. Not just the editorial “lapse”. Not only the fact of a neo-Nazi being given airtime. We must ask, surely, not just about the impact such debate will have on a nation, but how the nation produced such shit in the first place.

This is to look at Sky’s invitation to Cottrell not just as an ugly act — it was — but as the visible sign of a true ugliness heretofore concealed.

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” This, in my view, is a beautiful means to convey the production of historical ugliness. An illness produces symptoms. We do not address the potentially fatal disease by asking only how the social body could possibly have permitted its worst symptoms to appear. And, no, again this is NOT an argument for the “free speech” of Cottrell. It is an argument that we must look more freely to the sickness, and not just its signs.