|megpie71 (megpie71) wrote,|
@ 2018-03-18 07:41:00
Pauline Hanson, One Nation and Why Far-Right Populism is not The Answer.
Since the election of Donald Trump to the office of President of the United States of America, there's been a lot of attention on the sort of far-right populist Trump supposedly is (he's actually a politically neutral con-artist, but let's ignore it for the sake of this article). Here in Australia, we have Pauline Hanson, and her One Nation party working (along with a bunch of other such extreme-right parties) to bring about a similar result for their perceived side.
The basics of the whole One Nation shtick are basically that mainstream politics isn't working, that working-class people are being ignored, and that the neo-liberal capitalist experiment is turning out lousy for people at the bottom of the system. And in this much, they do have a point. Australian mainstream politics isn't working - it's broken down from a largely functioning bi-partisan consensus system into a system where one major party says "yes" and the other major party reflexively says "no", whether or not this is going to improve the situation for the majority of the Australian people. We have two major parties which are clustered around the political centre, frantically trying to woo swinging voters by offering sweeteners such as tax cuts, pork-barrels and so on - neither really has a defined ideological stance any more (I mean, aside from the constant "get in power and stay there as long as possible"). We have the career politicians - young, thrusting, aggressive types who have been working political machines since their university days and whose main ambition is to reach the peak of politics. We have the ones with their snouts in the trough - the bludgers whose main parliamentary ambition appears to be to soak the Australian public for every dollar they can get. We have the grey functionaries ("desiccated counting machines", as per a description of Hugh Gaitskell) who are mainly in the job to smooth the way for their backers. We have a lot of politicians who are working for a lot of different reasons, but very few of them seem to actually be working to improve the lot of the ordinary Australians who make up the bulk of the Australian population.
One Nation are also right that working-class people are being ignored - and about this being treated as a feature of our political system rather than a bug in it. The way things are set up at present, the main political parties have to present a campaign which will get them elected, and once this has happened, they can change their minds on any and every part of what they promised. The ultimate expression of this sort of political cynicism came from John Howard, when he was Prime Minister - he spoke of "core" and "non-core" promises in the party's election platform. The "core" promises were the ones they were planning to keep. The "non-core" promises were the lies they were telling to be elected. There was no indication of which was which to ordinary voters.
In addition, since the Australian political system lacks a recall system or similar, once a politician has been elected, they get to serve out their term, regardless of how competent or incompetent they turn out to be in the role. It's a peculiar sort of job security, really - once you get the job, you can't lose it for three years (if you're a member of the House of Representatives) or six years (if you're a Senator). It's far better job security than a lot of working-class people have in this current, highly casualised, economy. If you have a completely incompetent MP, they're still going to wind up serving out their term, and if you're incredibly unlucky, being re-elected due to their party offering the right sort of incentives at election time.
Finally, yes, the neo-liberal economic experiment hasn't worked out for working-class people in the least. We've lost job security, we've lost whole industries (Australian manufacturing in particular has largely dried up and moved offshore, seeking lower wages and less comprehensive health and safety regulations), lost working conditions, lost government services (these have been privatised, and now cost taxpayers more dollars for less service), and lately we've even lost the right to withdraw our labour in pursuit of economic security (the right to strike has been fenced around with so many provisions from our industrial relations system it's effectively removed altogether). What power we had has been taken from us, and what we've received in place of this isn't satisfying our needs, paying the bills, or dealing with the day to day problems we're having as a result of these changes.
The Australian people, by and large, have been sold a pup. The populist parties on the political right have identified this problem correctly. I'll give them credit for that.
Where things start going wrong with this populism is in the proposed solutions to the problem. The One Nation solution is to prevent a particular scapegoat group - a scapegroup - such as "Asians" or "Muslims" from emigrating to Australia, attempt to expel the members of the scapegroup already living here, and placing the blame for the problems working-class Australians are facing squarely at the feet of this scapegroup. It's a short-sighted, simplistic solution, and one which largely ignores the complexities of the wider problem.
For example: most members of whichever scapegroup is being targeted tend to be working-class themselves, or at least in working-class circumstances. The decisions which lead to things like Asian workers being hired offshore for lower wages, and brought into Australia on temporary work visas aren't being made by working-class Asian people: they're being made by the people in charge of the business, who are, for the most part, Anglo-Australians. The business owners aren't going to employ Australian workers because there's a perception (in Australia) that Australian workers are lazy, expensive, troublesome, and entirely too aware of the basics of industrial law in this country to be worth the bother. If you're an employer wanting to cut corners and take risks with your workers, you're not going to be wanting workers who are aware of their rights and your responsibilities. Far cheaper and easier to just employ a bunch of people on 457 visas - plus, of course, you don't have to worry as much about your employees finding something better and moving on, because the conditions of 457 visa employment tend to be rather restrictive.
Removing our scapegroup from the local scene isn't going to really change the situation. And really, what happens after we remove a particular scapegroup, and discover things haven't altered? From the One Nation model, it seems highly likely the decision will be to choose a new scapegroup (probably Indigenous Australians, who are always second on their list of undesirables) and to start harassing and haranguing them.
However, what the One Nation and similar such far-right tactics do achieve is this: they distract our attention away from the actual locus of the problem. They're very much "pay no attention to the man behind the curtain" tactics. The root of the problem, as I hinted above, actually lies with the owners of businesses, with profit being elevated to the point of being the only possible reason to go into business (you don't start a business because you have a good product and want to share it with people these days; or because you want to improve the lives of your fellow citizens - you go into business because you want to become stinking rich), and with the whole structure of capitalism and the sorts of choices it makes inevitable. If we're all busy looking at Muslims, or Asians, or Indigenous Australians, and complaining about the way they're "takin' ehr jerbs" or "getting special treatment" and so on, we aren't looking at the people who are making the choices to either import more cheap labour from outside Australia, or to offshore jobs from this country, or to charge high fees in order to unnecessarily gold-plate a power network, or to only offer jobs which are rolling three month contracts (in the interests of "flexibility") and so on. It means we're not looking at the politicians who are bought and sold by business interests and who formulate laws and policy directions (often aimed at "cutting back on government interference" or "streamlining business") which make it easier for employers to cut down on permanent full-time employees, cut down on workplace safety, stop paying penalty rates, refuse to negotiate with workers regarding wage rises, and so on. It means we're not looking at things like the way that businesses engage in regulatory capture of the remaining government systems which are supposed to be ensuring fair play and reasonable behaviour (as an example: Fair Work Australia has largely been stacked with pro-business types, who are more interested in facilitating the ability of business to make a profit than they are in ensuring workers have a decent standard of living).
It keeps us from looking too closely at a mainstream media which is so heavily dominated by a single company as to be an effective monopoly. The Murdoch media controls so much of the media environment at present that the only way any other media organisation can make a headway is by largely conforming to the Murdoch agenda and the Murdoch formula. To the point where the only real difference between Murdoch and Fairfax newspapers is in their online availability - if you can't see it for free, it's probably Murdoch. The Murdoch style of news (light and frothy, little analysis, strongly pro-business, strongly anti-union, strongly in support of the Liberal Party of Australia, strongly against the ALP) has spread to dominate the commercial media, and from there to the ABC. It goes without saying that this particular style of media will cheerfully join in with the business of pointing at the chosen scapegroup of the day, simply because it brings in eyeballs, and thus advertising dollars.
The process of pointing at a scapegroup and blaming them for the country's ills diverts attention away from the truth that the Australian political and media sectors do not find it in their interests to represent our interests. The media and the politicians have been captured by the forces of Big Business, and as far as they're concerned, it's in their best interests to remain captured. They get regular work, they get regular sponsorship, they get to remain in the jobs they enjoy doing, and they get to become powerful and influential. You don't get that if you're pointing out the problems in the system. So instead, they keep throwing attention in the direction of One Nation (or outright nicking their policies and politics from under their feet, as John Howard did) and keeping us distracted. Pay no attention to the men behind the curtains. Pay no attention to the payouts from corporations to government ministers. Pay no attention to the large amounts of advertising companies purchase to keep the media on side. Watch the clowns instead, while we pick your pockets. Get angry with that group of people over there, not us.
There's no incentive for the mainstream media, or the political sphere to direct the anger of the Australian people at the problems caused by neo-liberal economic and social policies at the correct people - if they do, they're the ones who are going to be winding up bearing the brunt of that anger. Scapegroups are a wonderful solution instead, and the right wing of Australian politics have them by the score: Muslims, Indigenous Australians, the unemployed (who are clearly just lazy scroungers), foreigners in general (particularly the ones who don't have money), refugees, asylum seekers, the list goes on. Exhaust the potential of one scapegroup, and you move on to the next, and never, but never point the blame where it actually lies: in the hands of the wealthy, mostly white, decision makers at the top of politics and business.
Resolving the problems caused by neo-liberal capitalist politico-economic thought will take time and effort. It won't be simple, and it won't be easy. It will be hard, it will take time (but then, it actually did take us time to get into this mess - it makes sense it would take time to get out of it) and there will be no easy answers. It will require a lot of pain spread over the full spectrum of society - but most of the pain will be up at the upper end of the socio-economic scale. At present, the idea of causing any pain to the upper end of the socio-economic spectrum is anathema - the fear is they'll take their money and go; liquidate all their assets and go elsewhere. They've sold us all on the idea they're indispensable.
It will require businesses to start internalising costs they've successfully externalised for a long time - the costs of cleaning up pollution; the costs of maintaining infrastructure; the costs of creating the sort of society they want to function in; the costs of creating the workforce they require for their processes; and so on. Again, business is going to resist this with every fibre of their being, because internalising these costs will reduce profits - and profit is the only purpose of business these days. Again, the threat of "taking our money and running" will be wielded.
(Incidentally: what do we think is likely to happen if, for example, BHP or Rio Tinto picked up and moved all their Australian operations out of the country and never invested here again? Do we really believe the entire mining industry would grind to a juddering halt? Do we really believe nobody else would step up to occupy their niche in the business world? It seems likely their threat to walk out is all one great big bluff.)
It'll require us to start tackling the cultural and social myth-making which has reduced our capacity to conceptualise collective action toward a goal, or collective thought about a topic - particularly the idea of the "rugged individual" (a particularly toxic little myth, and the myth on which a lot of the more aggressively destructive streams of late-capitalist thought, such as libertarianism, objectivism, and the various neo-feudalist ideas popular on the extreme right, are based). It will require us, as individuals, to acknowledge society is made up of all of us, collectively, and we each have a say in the way it turns out. We are none of us isolated entirely from our fellow human beings; the bad things happening at the bottom of the socio-economic pyramid affect the people at the top of it as well. Humans are social apes like chimpanzees - we'd do better to accept and acknowledge this, rather than denying it and pretending we're solitary orang-utans instead (for one thing, there isn't enough usable physical space on the planet for each of us to have our individual fortress of solitude).
It will also require an honest, thoughtful discussion with the whole Australian people, about what everyone wants from our political system - even the people who are most disengaged from it. It will require constant monitoring of the public preferences, it will require a press corps which embraces the role of providing accurate information to the Australian public about what political actions are occurring, what these may result in, the rationales behind these actions, rather than their current default of providing constant opinion and colour commentary, as though politics were just another form of team sport. We will need a press corps who are willing to ask the hard questions of our politicians: "how is your policy supposed to achieve it's outcome?" "Why do we need to do this?". At present, our political commentary is somewhat indistinguishable from the sporting coverage, which is a problem.
Moreover, it won't just require any one of these - it will require all of them. At once. This is the thing about the answers to complex problems - it's not a question of doing one thing or another thing. It's a question of doing one thing and another thing and a third one on top of that, all at the same time.
Yes, these are hard tasks, and they're all going to require a lot of work. The results aren't going to happen quickly, either - especially not with the cultural and social factors which need altering. It's certainly far easier to turn around and point at a scapegoat group, and say "it's all their fault", then stand back while other people go fetch the pitchforks and tiki torches. But the thing about easy solutions is this: when it comes to complex problems, the simplest solution is often the wrong one. We're facing a lot of complex problems in Australia right now. We need people who are willing to embrace the complex answers to those problems.
This entry was originally posted at https://megpie71.dreamwidth.org/115323.h