My column - has bit on East Timor's impact on Australia

Gary MacLennan g.maclennan at SPAMqut.edu.au
Mon May 1 02:40:13 MDT 2000


More denken in the binken.

1.      The piety of thought is to ask questions (Heidegger)

I am currently studying the work of Martin Heidegger.  That is a massive
undertaking which will probably take me through at least two more
reincarnations. Still the effort is worth it.  Heidegger was one of the
great philosophers of the last century.  He is also an interesting
paradox  beautiful creative thought on the one hand and a repulsive
politics on the other. Though there of course those like Teodor Adorno who
wish to insist that the thought and the politics are one. But it is not my
intention to write about Heidegger today.  What I wish to take up is his
insistence on the importance of thinking and on the virtue of asking
questions. I wholeheartedly endorse that as a principle, however at any
single historical period that which can be thought is always limited by
those in power.

Such limits are never absolute but they are there and they are powerful.
They are all the more so because many people do not see the limits and the
constraints on their thinking as they operate within the boundaries that
have been laid down for them. Still we need to break through these barriers
and a good place is to begin by asking ourselves what cannot be thought
today? I would like to suggest that which cannot be thought is a world of
freedom, a world without domination and exploitation. So unthinkable is
this that many would argue that they are not dominated or exploited and
that they are free.

Ironically it is a virtue of the current phase of capitalism that today
fewer and fewer people would argue that they are free.  Indeed despair and
depression and resentment and anxiety are so widespread that they form a
kind of contemporary Apocalyptic.  In a very real sense these are the Four
Horsemen of our time.  It is important though to understand that despair,
depression, resentment and anxiety are a natural outcome of the urge to
seek to know what it is that the powerful want us to do.  Above all they
are signs that we are fleeing from the realisation that the powerful cannot
be satisfied and there are simply not enough sacrifices to appease their
appetite for more and ever more.

It is only when we reject the urge to appease the powerful and the master
class and begin instead to think our freedom that we can become free of the
Four Horsemen. Of course like a good Marxist I would never argue that we
can simply think ourselves into freedom.  The power of the master class has
a material and institutional framework that will have to be
smashed.  Thought is not sufficient for emancipation, but it is necessary.

2.      If you could hear at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs
Bitter as the cud
Of vile incurable sores on innocent tongues
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie - Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. [It is sweet and glorious to die for one's fatherland.]
(Wilfred Owen)

This year's Anzac Day has come and gone. Each year we are told of 'record
crowds' at all the services and this year was no different. However there
was one significant departure. Howard trotted out photos of his father and
grandfather  warriors both and his popularity rating went up in the polls.

Howard though has never been a popular leader.  He does not have the
ability to become the embodiment of the positive hopes of the nation.  When
he tries to do this as in his disastrous trip to Lords to watch the cricket
match he becomes a pathetic figure.  Yet to see him solely as a comic
figure is a mistake. His great strength has always been that he can
articulate the resentment and jealousy of the middle class at the success
and talents of others.

The Marxist analysis of the middle class as squeezed between the capitalist
class and the working class is essentially correct. The capitalist charges
rent and ruinous interest rates while the working class continually demands
wage rises or will not work hard enough. It is this experience of being
trapped between other class forces that gives the typical middle class
leader the quality of vicious and snarling resentment. Thatcher had it.  So
do Hanson and Howard.  But if the middle class resenter is to become a
national leader then a transformation has to take place. Spite and hatred
have to be carefully directed and targeted at a clearly identifiable
powerless minority and away from the powerful minority. Here in Australia
welfare recipients, refugees and Aborigines are obvious choices for middle
class spite and the Howard administration does have them in its sights.

Equally importantly, the vast majority has to develop positive feelings
about the Leader. So the Leader must become the 'statesman' and speak for
the nation.  This year's Anzac Day marks a careful attempt to cast Howard
in the role of the Leader we actively identify with.  All of us, that is,
except for pensioners, refugees and Aborigines.

It is vital that we understand the nature of what is in truth a right wing
ideological offensive.  There have been many of these since Howard came to
power.  But this one is different and there are signs that it is more
successful.  Thus Dennis Shanahan of the Australian assured us (April
29-30) that  'there is a clear public mood of sympathy and empathy with our
military history that has not been present for decades'.  Earlier in the
week Gerard Henderson of the right wing Sydney Institute was equally upbeat
at the renewed support for Australian militarism. Equally significant was
the starring role given to General Peter Cosgrove at the recent television
Logie Awards. In a program where every celebrity was roasted and derided
the former commander of East Timor was treated with total obsequiousness
and given a standing ovation. An alliance between the military  and show
business is being forged.  Think Bob Hope. Think Vietnam.

The key to the change in public perception is generally recognised as the
East Timor operation.  The sending in of Australian soldiers has it
seems  finally snuffed out the spirit of anti-militarism that goes right
back to the protests against the Vietnam War.

Howard has talked of the Anzac veterans as 'doing the right thing', just as
Australia did the 'right thing in East Timor'.  It seems that the hope of
the Tories is that young Australians will continue to do 'the right thing'.
What this means is not spelt out but Shanahan talks of young people doing
their 'civic duty'.  In reality it means that the chances of young
Australians dying in war is higher now than at any time since the Vietnam War.

The legacy of the East Timor adventure is that Howard  (and Beazley!) can
lead Australia into a more aggressive military stance not only in our
region but elsewhere in the world.  Where and whenever Australians next go
abroad to kill we will be assured that they are like the Anzacs and they
too are doing the 'right thing'.

I do not have the space to analyse WW1 in greater detail.  But I will say
that the truth is that the Anzacs who went abroad in the A.I.F.  did not do
the right thing.  They went abroad not to fight 'for families' as Shanahan
claims but to fight for 'King, God and Empire'.  If you doubt my words
check out the slogan on the War Memorial in Anzac Square in central
Brisbane. You will find I am quoting. Need I say that the British Empire
was an evil, brutal institution that ruthlessly exploited peasants around
the world?  Need I say that successive Australian armies fought loyally for
that same evil institution? As for WW1, the truth is that it was an
inter-imperialist struggle where nation fought nation to see who could
dominate and exploit the world.  Sadly the working class died in their
millions so that the rich could become even richer.


Nevertheless there were people in Australia who did the right thing in
WW1.  They were above all the anarcho-syndicalists of the International
Workers of the World (Wobblies) who heroically opposed the war and who went
to prison rather than kill other workers.  There were also the brave people
who opposed the two attempts by the Australian Govt to conscript
Australians to the killing fields of France where even more could die doing
the 'right thing'.

My own father fought at the Somme as a boy of 17 and he was wounded twice.
I say this in case there are any who would accuse me of being hostile to
the Old Diggers. I am not.  I grew up among ex-soldiers and I have an
abiding affection for them. But I would not claim my father did the 'right
thing' in joining the British Army.  He didn't.  The people in Ireland who
did the right thing during WW1 were the anarcho-syndicalists of the Irish
Citizen's Army who rose up in 1916 not only to free Ireland from the
British Empire but also to strike a blow against the war.

Here in Australia there are no memorials to the Wobblies. There are no
public holidays.   There are no speeches and no politicians wipe away tears
as they talk about them.  No  media baron tells us how emotional and moving
it all is. That in itself should be ample proof that the Wobblies did the
right thing. This Anzac Day then we learned that Australian militarism is
once more abroad. Yet again it will have to be opposed and this column will
have more to say about the 'glorious tradition' of the Australian Army. We
who are safe from military conscription owe it to the young who are not.

3.      The ENJOYABLE LIGHTness of LOCAL being or How I Learned to Stop
Worrying and Love Big Business

I had not wanted to be so heavy and grim in this column, because since the
advent of the new newspaper in the West End I have been anxious to follow
the command of the editor Kerrod Trott to be 'LIGHT, LOCAL and ENJOYABLE'.
Kerrod assures us all that this is the way to success and I have no reason
to doubt him. He is obviously an expert on being LIGHT. Besides I could do
with a bit of success.

I have a problem with the 'LOCAL' though.  My mortgage repayments went up
again last week and this was a direct result of a decision taken by Alan
Greenspan of the Federal Reserve Bank, USA.  Not very LOCAL  I know, in
fact I don't think Greenspan has ever been to the West End.  But the impact
of his decision was very LOCAL on me, and I have to tell Kerrod that it was
not LIGHT, nor was it ENJOYABLE. It also seems that there is more bad news
to come in terms of interest rates and our mortgages. This might not
originate LOCALly but it will impact LOCALly, whether Kerrod likes us to
think about it or not.

However I do not want to end on a mean note.  I want to thank Kerrod for
bringing us the Gospel or the Good News according to the traders.  Thus the
last issue of his paper proudly proclaimed that Coles is coming  our new
Messiah.  And to think I was so worried and could not sleep for fearing Big
Business might not want to take over the West End.  Hallelujah. Let all
those who are LIGHT and LOCAL follow Kerrod. Coles and Big Business will
find it ENJOYABLE, I am sure.






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