JERRY ROBERTS.  The dumbing-down of politics, religion and trade unions

Apr 26, 2019

Getup! is campaigning in Western Australia against Attorney General Christian Porter.  In the parochial West, as in Peter Dutton’s Queensland seat, this foreign presence may favour the incumbents.  By the same token the trade union campaign to change the rules by changing the government could help the Coalition.  The present government is not responsible for the decline of trade unionism which goes back to a time before anybody had heard of “Scomo.”  Dumbing down politics (and religion) works against the Left and favours the Right.

Earlier generations of trade unionists read Marx and studied the workings of the political economy.  Some of these old-timers are still on deck and they are lively conversationalists.  These people cannot be dumbed-down.  They would not watch “My Kitchen Rules” if you paid them. Today’s trade unionists are equally capable of studying their enemy, which is a set of economic theories and philosophies known as neoliberalism.

A number of books are now appearing on this subject.  They are 30 years too late but better late than never.  A recent publication is “Globalists: The end of Empire and the birth of Neoliberalism” by Canadian historian Quinn Slobodian. I have not read it yet but I watched the author on You Tube and it was pleasing to see that he is a young man.  I was afraid critics of neoliberalism were all old folks like me, haunted by memories of Margaret Thatcher and Milton Friedman. Slobodian refers to a new book on Keynes by Geoff Mann that I quoted in an earlier post (Pearls and Irritations 14 September 2018 – Whither Labor?)

The rising force of Modern Monetary Theory is giving a new lease of life to Keynesian economic management (in the broad sense employed by Geoff Mann).  Another interesting development in projects to civilise capitalism is worker control of corporations promoted by thinkers such as the Marxian economist Richard Wolff.  In other words, behind the boring façade of everyday petty bellyaching there is hope for a more relevant politics.

From their early organisational meetings at the 1938 Colloque Walter Lippmann in Paris and in 1947 at the Swiss ski resort of Mont Pelerin the neoliberal thinkers and activists were hostile to organised labour.  The success of their revolution with its swift imposition of privatisation and de-regulation was due to the acceptance of their theories by formerly social democratic Parties such as the ALP, British Labour and the American Democrats which were once the political homes of the labour movement.

At a recent get-together in Port Hedland I discussed the “Change the Rules” campaign with CFMEU organisers.  It is a good project but as a matter of integrity and credibility from the union point of view it should not be run in conjunction with the election campaign.  From the political point of view, I doubt if Bill Shorten welcomes 100,000 trade unionists marching through the city streets of Melbourne.

In a fascinating post on 12 April Brian Coyne connected Rupert Murdoch to the Roman Catholic church in his spectacular mission to turn the entire population of the world into morons.  Brian quoted Cardinal Ratzinger, later known as Pope Benedict XV1. “The Christian believer is a simple person.  Bishops should protect the faith of these little people against the power of intellectuals.”

“Rupert’s genius insight” writes Brian Coyne, “is that most of the population wants simple answers …. Rupert Murdoch reads the minds, needs and wants of the populations where he operates better than any priest, politician or pope.  He feeds them what they most want – wall-to-wall 24/7 entertainment and distraction.”

Rupert and the Cardinal follow Hollywood’s golden rule.  People are stupid. Therefore, they should be fed garbage.  An alternative rule goes back to the Scottish enlightenment and Presbyterian social conscience and says people are stupid because they are fed garbage.  Given more nutritious information they can lift their game.  I suppose we should be grateful that it is not yet compulsory to read the Australian’s editorials and watch “Survivor.”  My personal theory on Murdoch is that he is first and foremost a newspaper man which means he is at heart an anarchist.  Peace and quiet don’t sell newspapers.

It is ironic that in an era when people spend more and more years in formal education the level of public debate sinks lower and lower.  With rugby player Israel Folau it has struck rock bottom.  As the name suggests, Christianity is the story of the birth, life and death of Jesus Christ.  The passionate beauty of the story provides the foundations for the glorious music of Bach and Handel and the galleries full of awesome paintings by the old masters.

The Jesus we meet in the New Testament is a brilliant anti-establishment intellectual who preaches a radical egalitarian ideal.  It is the only ideal.  It is Beethoven’s ideal.  Jesus preaches the brotherhood of man.  This is the key to understanding the survival of Christianity over two thousand years and it is the key to understanding the future of Christianity, if it has a future.

Briefing notes supplied to Anglicans during the gender marriage debate identified seven biblical references to homosexuality.  Four can be found in the Old Testament books of Genesis, Judges and Leviticus.  The New Testament mentions are in Paul’s letters to the Romans, Corinthians and Timothy.  Jesus had nothing to say on the subject, which is a trivial matter.  Jesus was not interested in trivialities.

It is a travesty to see the sophistication of Christ’s teaching and the artistic beauty of this religion drowned out by a load of mediaeval malarkey about naughty boys and girls going to hell.  It is also a personal tragedy for one of our finest athletes who is by all accounts a good team-mate and a decent bloke.  It appears that Israel Folau is being manipulated by forces on the Right determined to make trouble.  There’s a lot of it about.

Likewise it is a travesty to see the life’s work and scholarship of such thinkers as Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill, Marx, Keynes and Polanyi disappear behind a contrived personality clash between a few not terribly interesting personalities in a campaign that is so tedious even full-time commentators who spend their lives talking about politicians struggle not to appear bored when they give us their daily election reports on the news channels.

Brian Coyne asks what is the answer to Rupert’s genius?  The first step is to identify the main problem and I am sure it is the absence of critical thinking in our society and – let’s face it – a lack of courage.  These failings are most evident where they are most needed – in the parliaments and universities, in the media and the church.

Transplanting backbones into the jellyfish inhabiting these institutions is beyond the scope of today’s medical science but it was good to see West Australian Labor identities Melissa Parke and Josh
Wilson standing up for the Palestinians.  How to educate people to think for themselves instead of letting the Pope and Rupert Murdoch do their thinking for them?  I favour old-fashioned teaching of the classics in literature, history and religion as illustrated here Magi for people who have time to watch and are interested in this sort of thing.


Meanwhile the Liberal-National Coalition is holding too many marginal seats and is heading to the workshop for repairs and maintenance but I think a lot of voters will make up their minds on the morning of Saturday 18 May.

Jerry Roberts is a former parliamentary reporter and a member of the ALP.







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