BERNARD CORDEN & KEITH JACKSON
“It is as inhuman to be totally good as it is to be totally evil” - Anthony Burgess
“Your Commie has no regard for human life. Not even his own” – Brigadier General Jack D Ripper (Dr Strangelove)
“Mr President, I'm not saying we wouldn't get our hair mussed. But I do say no more than ten to twenty million killed, tops. Uh, depending on the breaks” - General 'Buck' Turgidson (Dr Strangelove)
BRISBANE – Following the global financial crisis in 2008, known to Americans as The Great Recession, free market advocates admitted their entire intellectual edifice was collapsing.
Perhaps no surprise then that, 13 years on, the socio-economic consequences of this neoliberal setback continue to reverberate and gangster, no regrets capitalism prevails.
It is exacerbated by the unending merger of corporate and state interests. Irrespective of political stripe, the ugly elements of fascism have embedded themselves in every alleged Western democracy
We are bombarded with the shallow iconography of patriotic slogans, emblems, anthems and jingles even on the front pages of major newspapers. And the ABC.
It is pageantry reminiscent of the 1936 Berlin Olympics which glorified the Third Reich’s fascist ideology even as white crowds sat stunned at the commanding performance on the track of the black Jesse Owens.
A mist of fear with an emphasis on national security shrinks basic human rights and generates guilt by accusation and barbaric and oppressive state behaviour even as the term ‘Islamic terrorist’ is replaced by ‘White supremacist’.
Bread and circuses for the masses include sporting events with jet fighters, beribboned generals alongside prime ministers, frightened refugees sanctioned as enemies, and press crusades against the perceived threat of ethnic minorities and young women.
Rampant misogyny flushes the faces of conservative male politicians along with their entrenched homophobia, rigid opposition to abortion, marginalisation of the Indigenous and pandering to anything in uniform.
Direct control of the media by political cronies is increasingly prevalent. ‘Australia’s most trusted news’, ‘Independent. Always’ and ‘For the informed Australian’ mean the precise converse of what you read.
The first casualty is truth, journalists get words written not right, airbrushed flowerpots tell us what to think while looking pretty, intoning autocues and commanding screens where undifferentiated fact and fancy and hope and lie sweep over and through us.
Notwithstanding doctrines covering the separation of church and state, democratic boundaries are infiltrated and religion is another government tentacle with pious rhetoric and devout dogma the incongruous contrary to what is enacted upon the most vulnerable.
The industrial and commercial aristocracy is protected under this merging of corporate and state interests, mostly accomplished by secret donations, strong-arm lobbying and George Stigler’s notorious concept of regulatory capture of sovereign government by supreme capital via the Chicago school of economics.
Trade unions, vilified by the media and criminalised by conservatives, dwindle in size and influence and ability to offer protection for the workers who need them, often unassisted by their own adoption by political wannabees seeking a constituency and who disappear once a leather seat is sunk into.
Governments, which pine to be totalitarian and stay in power forever, disdain intellectuals and encourage open hostility to academics, humanitarians and artists who paint, write, play, dance, sing or act. Such people are colourful to stand beside in photographs but not stand behind in life.
Professors can be censored, lawyers tried in secret, journalists captured by selective information flows, billionaires inveigled by national honours and invites to sup with the great, bureaucrats bullied and disfavoured, and public funds otherwise hypothecated for health, leisure and education, greedily ransacked to win elections.
When Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding in favour of the war effort against Germany, he replied, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’
It’s a myth. Churchill never said that. He inspired Britain to maintain the fight against the Nazis, but he never stood up for the arts ahead of military spending. Even right wing moral wisdom is myth.
In many Australian states the Police became a service and then went back to being a force because 'service' sounded too sissy.
Weary immigration and customs officers were given black uniforms and unrestrained power as a paramilitary Border Force that a leaked internal review disclosed was recruiting trainees who were “cowboys, too aggressive and too keen to use weapons”.
The official report also found “alarming levels of sexual harassment, bullying, discrimination, militarisation, and a culture of nepotism and favouritism” – and that was before it even got started on the public.
The merger of corporate and state interests often involves revolving doors and golden escalators with the frequent transfer of senior executives between corporate boards and government departments.
It creates a patronising disposition of unaccountable power, which secures embezzled assets and sacrifices truth and accountability to protect the reputation of public serpents and other obsequious vermin.
Elections under corrupt governments are often a complete sham or an attempted sham and include smear campaigns, widespread bribing, manipulation of polling and fraud in counting. Josef Stalin’s wise dictum still resonates, “The people who vote decide nothing but those who count the votes decide everything”.
We saw such in Papua New Guinea in the rorted 2017 national election; how tempting it must be to Australia’s politicians as a next step after the current redirection of taxpayers’ funds to their re-election campaigns.
Eighteen months ago, financial journalist Michael Pascoe wrote, “I stopped counting politically-rorted federal grant programs when I got to $1.1 billion. I should have kept going to reach $8.1 billion”.
Pascoe, occasionally seen at his Sunshine Beach Noosa hideaway, had observed then deputy prime minister McCormack happily part with $2.5 million of the taxpayers’ best, for a flash new Sunny Beach surf club in the electorate of Barnaby Joyce’s mate, Llew O’Brien.
“The club has built a flash bar, restaurant and event centre on its brilliant site overlooking the Sunshine surf. The previous bar and restaurant were more modest, very much Sunshine rather than neighbouring Noosa, yet still a fine spot,” wrote a wistful Pascoe.
The coronavirus pandemic has revealed the fragility of rampant neoliberal ideology and the concept of free market fundamentalism underpinned by laissez faire economics.
Its impact includes corroded public services, oppressive working conditions, an insecure and exploitative gig economy, massive underemployment, stagnating wages, declining living standards, escalating inequality and increasing psychosocial disorders, used as an excuse to give people back their Freedumb and give Covid a fighting chance to steal more lives and ruin more bodies.
Governments have emulated business in understanding that a crisis provides many opportunities to do things they could never do in normal conditions when the populace is less anxious about its material and existential prospects.
Hence the injunction to ‘never waste a crisis’ and, with the hands of Morrison gripping the national purse, enforce a more dystopian version of capitalism, the politicisation of everything, regression into divide and rule, surrender to social barbarism, and fawning to the interests of cronies in the expectation that those handed free billions are bound to steer some back to keep the gift-giver in power.
There were some idealists who lost their grip early in Covid and thought the need to act in a more controlling manner in the face of a great common threat might somehow yield a new dawning of social progress, economic good and political wisdom.
But they did not understand the magnetic attraction of handing more control to governing politicians whose foremost desire is to stay where they are.
So we now perceive the totalitarian features: predictive analytics; voice identification; the supra-surveillance of facial recognition; social media algorithms dissecting and profiling users; cameras and microphones staring at you from your clever TV; smartphones effective as ankle trackers; metadata as useful as a resident spy in your closet; and our movements across the landscape and habits as a consumer pretty much understood.
More gated residential and self-sufficient compounds will spring up with minimal requirements for local council development approvals. The complexes will include overpriced luxury shoeboxes with ocean glimpses, provided you are fit enough to stand on a box.
Shopping will be exclusively online, which will probably weaken consumer rights but prevent shoplifting.
Goods will be despatched from remote automated warehouses aloft in drones or in driverless vehicles. This will significantly reduce waste, minimise energy consumption, slash overheads and increase profits.
Mass gatherings at major sporting events and music concerts will be prohibited and arts and entertainment will involve annual subscriptions to online streaming services appearing on screens as big as the wall of your living room.
Algorithms will furtively manipulate choice and suppress subversive or radical material that might cause you emphatic feelings of autonomy or eccentricity. After all, you are allowed the illusion of free will, what more do you need.
As China gradually outpaces a stricken and divided USA as the dominant world superpower, it is demonstrating this reach for hegemony by utilising the accepted and deplorable track record of dynasties towards human rights within the empire and manipulating the behaviour of weaker states beyond it.
So far China has mainly stuck to biasing trade and investment but no true empire has been able to resist force of arms where other impulses fail. Mao knew that political power emerges from a gun barrel and that without the gun influence and supremacy will ever be in danger of vanishing.
The grim nights on Tiananmen Square in June 1989 and Dee Brown’s ‘Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee’ provide all the substantive evidence you need as to the brutality of total power.
In AUKUS Australia has just made a captain’s pick in favour of people who look more like us; too scared to go it alone and too ignorant to understand how the ancient art of diplomacy might offer a smarter way through.
But, if it does come to war, as so many of our countrymen who never fought in one seem to favour, it needs to be comprehended that war does not determine who is right, it merely establishes who and what is left.
The track we’re on, unless the people determine in the next few weeks or few months is not to their liking and the other mob have a better plan, may determine we’ll arrive at the same place either way.
And that place is not appearing too flash.