Friday, September 23, 2005

Relaxed and comfortable

I recently visited Abbey’s Bookshop in Sydney. Having previously barred myself from all bookshops, as I already have so much to read, I went a little nuts. I bought some wonderful books – the 2006 edition of the Good Food Guide (many fabulous Blue Mountains restaurants are listed – and it’s a great companion to the broader Sydney Eats website), Bain Attwood’s Telling the Truth About Aboriginal History (I’m interested in historiography, something probably equivalent to “philosophy of history”, not to mention the political content of the debate about Aboriginal history), Marion Maddox’s God Under Howard (despite this review) and the latest Quarterly Essay by Judith Brett – Relaxed and Comfortable: The Liberal Party’s Australia (the Quarterly Essay is published by the same mob as The Monthly magazine and “relaxed and comfortable” refers to an oft quoted statement by John Howard from 1996, promising all Australians that under his government, they would be).

I’ve just started reading the Quarterly Essay, and I hope it will improve my political perspective. As Brett says in her introduction:
"To my mind much that has been written about Howard and his governments has been wrong, or at least overheated, particularly the claims about what his election victories show about the Australian people – that they are racist, uncaring, reactionary, and so on. Also overheated are many of the claims made about Howard himself. Hating a straw man may be emotionally satisfying, but it is not good politics. Making Howard out to be more radical or more cunning or more powerful than he is might explain to his opponents their own sense of futility, but it does nothing to connect with his arguments or his supporters …

For me, a central task of political history is to inhabit political positions and explain them from the inside. This means taking seriously what people say about what they believe, and thinking hard about how and why they see the world as they do. This requires knowing the historical context: what is going on in the world people are forming their beliefs about. Political beliefs are partial representations of reality, and historians need to understand as much as they can about that reality if they are to perceive the patterns of partiality with which it is apprehended. But they also have to listen carefully to what people say they believe and not be too quick to dismiss them as opportunists, hypocrites or liars.”

I’m guilty of the errors Brett points out. As is always the case when one has held a particular strong belief for some time (and I have been opposed to the Liberal party for about six years now – but I’m no fan of the ALP either), we tend to isolate and alienate our opponents as simply wrong; we tend to make issues more black and white than they really are. A person who vehemently supports the Liberal party is to me like an old friend with whom I had a bad falling out and haven’t seen for years – I think of them in simple terms; I am merely disgusted with them. I forget that they are actually complex characters with good and bad points like everyone else.

I think that political activism, as well as political history, should strive for a more complete understanding of seemingly irrational, immoral or inconsistent views. Certainly the recent
minor success of refugee detention reforms has shown that there is some value in lobbying the more socially progressive members of the Liberal party. And with the Coalition government now holding a majority in both houses of parliament, this is becoming a more necessary tack.

However, I am furious, and I feel justifiably so, at the pain and suffering caused, or at the very least not helped, by the Howard government. The pain and suffering of refugees in detention is obvious, as is the disconnection and poverty felt by Indigenous Australians, single mothers, people with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups. And yet there are more votes in making us fearful of refugees, making us complacent about Indigenous Australians, making us morally outraged at single mothers and making us see people with disabilities as lazy than there is in actually helping those who need it most.

I am furious about the proposed industrial relations reforms, putting people who are already on the lowest possible wage, many of whom are already struggling, into further jeopardy.

I don’t understand why people who have enough of everything, people who are already ‘relaxed and comfortable’, don’t think about those who aren’t when placing their vote. When who is in government is unlikely to change our circumstances, isn’t it time we thought about those for whom small changes can really rock their world?

I look forward to finishing the essay, when I might just see more to politics than anger, fear and greed. Might.



  • Help Mommy, there are Liberals! underneath my bed!!! (No, seriously, that's the name of the book...) Don't believe me? The dang thing's on Amazon, not some hippie-press bullcrap ;) Anyway, thought you might enjoy, pinko ;)

    By Blogger NoTONoEagles, at November 09, 2005 3:04 am  

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