In the grand pantheon of ideological battles, the current shit-fight between the Coalition and Labor over what amounts to basic common decency figures quite low.
We have allowed our discourse to be pulled down into the mud and thrashed around like a gutted pig. The fact that the word ‘debate’ was considered even faintly in relation to the Mal Brough fundraiser menu constitutes a great national shame from which our country may never recover. As the wealth in Australia is slowly drained upwards and our welfare payments plummet below the living wage, our political conversation is hopelessly entangled in determining whether or not we, as a nation, are sexist, racist and homophobic. In actively engaging conservatives on issues they can ignore with a series of increasingly loud ‘nuh-UHs’, the Left is dragged away from its purpose: to stand with the poor, the hungry and the marginalised.
This is in no way to say that issues surrounding gender, race and sexuality are unimportant. Eradicating conservative attitudes on these subjects is crucial to the establishment of a functional, just society. But we are allowing right-wing blowhards to dominate the discussion on issues for which they have a thousand-year head start. I cannot recall the last time a frank discussion of poverty in Australia made the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald. I am hard-pressed to remember the last large, widely-reported rally in support of economic justice (as a sidenote, the annual CEO Sleepout doesn’t count. We all know they’re stashing Hennessy in their thermoses and foie gras in their pockets). By letting conservatives set the tone and content of our national debates through their reprehensible social politics, we give them home-ground advantage.
The only answer?
Let’s tear it all down and start again.
Australia’s base sexism and racism are not root problems in and of themselves, but rather manifestations of something deeper and infinitely more grotesque. The growing disparity between rich and poor in an increasingly wealthy economy reinforces the fear and division from which bigotry emerges. When the prevailing economic debate in Australia is not whether or not neoliberal capitalism is the most effective foundation for our country, but rather how we should best manage its excesses, the Left has absolutely failed. When both the right-wing and dominant left-wing parties have unquestioningly embraced conservative supply-side economics, how can we possibly expect to fix what’s broken in our culture?
We have a newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, that publishes an unabashedly activist, feminist section – ‘Daily Life‘ – directly adjacent to ‘Executive Style’, a big-business-oriented lifestyle section. It forms the basis of a limp hypocrisy – a left-wing that has fully internalised the rules of a class-based, heavily-segmented society. When the broad social platform of the Left is packaged, commercialised and broadcast on for-profit media, it loses the immediacy of its impact. Amputating the atrophied limbs of sexism, racism and homophobia isn’t sufficient – we need to blast the entire diseased body into orbit.
Open discussion on the various bigotries that plague Australian culture must never end, despite conservative attempts to stifle such. However, the Left has to come to terms with something immensely unpalatable: when it comes to institutionalised intolerance, the right-wing is defending their home turf. They’re fighting the battle on their own terms, with swathes of the voting population on their side. By allowing them to twist the debate toward social issues – on which they have an historical advantage – we’re letting them reinforce the monstrous heart of the problem: economics.
Australia has always had a strong anti-corporate working class ethos.
Until we unearth it again, the Left will continue its downward spiral.