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

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.







Jerry Roberts, born and raised in Mid-West USA, trained as a newspaper reporter in Perth and has covered politics, manufacturing, and Aboriginal Affairs. He has spent the second half of his life in outback Australia.

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

  1. Hi Reg. You are correct. I used anarchist in the popular sense. George Orwell fought with the anarchists in Spain for precisely the reasons you outlined. Gerard: The structure of the Christian faith — the Trinity — is summarised in the Nicene Creed which is the most perfectly constructed document composed by man. I am lost in admiration for those 4th Century scholars. Today’s young Australians (under 40) know little if anything about the Christian story. Why would they? I wrote the above piece on Good Friday and it was no different from any other Friday with the footy on the television.

    The population worldwide is increasingly sophisticated in its knowledge of science and technology and few are going to believe that a supernatural big guy in the sky directs traffic. “Credo in unum deum, patrem omnipotentem, factorem caeli et terrae, visibilium omnium et invisibilium.” The opening sentence of the Creed is what the lawyers call an ambit claim. Expecting people to swallow that serve was a big ask even in the Middle Ages but the symbolism is beautiful and is expressed in magnificent language. Christians looking for intelligent relevance in the 21st Century should forget about God, leave the Old Testament to the Jews and focus on the humanitarian teachings of Jesus Christ, which will always be relevant. In short, an ethical rationalism as against a mystical mystery.

    For a young man, Israel Folau has acquired an impressive array of prejudices but he has no right to associate his idiocy with Christianity and he is being used by the Right. Read Alan Jones in the Australian’s sports pages for some classic dumbing-down of Christianity.

    If the hillbilly churches are all that remains of Christianity, if Murdoch is all that is left of mass media, if the mission of universities is to earn income from Chinese students, if politics is a bus-load of platitudes, then the barbarians are at the gates. For my part, I have to believe that people are not as stupid as Rupert and the Church think they are.

  2. Avatar Wayne McMillan says:

    Thanks Jerry for an interesting article. Yes the media is dumbing down discussion on everything and our educations systems are encouraging this process. “If the ALP had remained the kind of political party you (JR) seem to espouse I’d probably never have left it.” My sentiments exactly the same as espoused by Rosemary in above comment. Your party is is playing the same game as the other political parties when it comes to macroeconomic policy, forget about the truth, keep it simple and don’t confuse and annoy the punters , the media and big business.

  3. Avatar paul walter says:

    Yes, we need this election to GET RID of people like Morrison, Porter, Cash and Taylor.

  4. Avatar Brian Coyne says:

    Thanks, Jerry, for the entire commentary and the inclusion of my observations about Murdoch. Rupert was perhaps the first in modern times to appreciate that 60-70% of the population are not the slightest bit interested in politics, economics, religious dogmas or anything that requires much thought. Their horizon is limited. They’ve been seduced by the neo-liberal dream that the post-ww2 dream of unending prosperity will never end; that humanity has finally found the formula for perpetual prosperity and growth; that next year will be better than this year; that our children will enjoy a better standard of living than ourselves. All the major political parties around the first world are now petrified of the nihilism of this sector of the population. They spend enormous sums of money to seduce them with meaningless slogans. On either side the major parties already have 20% of the vote in the bag from the sector who’d always vote the same way even if the proverbial drover’s dog was leading their party. Rupert taught them that they need about 31% of this massive swinging, but largely unthinking sector, to secure the 51% to access power and form government. Their horizon is limited to the next bonk, the next conquest, the next “deal”, the next moment of “retail therapy”, the next long weekend or, at most, the next annual holiday or cruise and how they’ll pay for it.
    I did download and watched your own exploration of T.S. Eliot’s, “The Journey of the Magi. Wonderful stuff but at 3.9 gigabytes you would have to be an eternal optimist to believe few others would have waited long enough to view it. It needs to be on YouTube. I also watched an 86 minute lecture by Quinn Slobodian on your recommendation speaking about his look “Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism”: He is representative of the rising class of Millennials who’ve woken up that the post-www2 hope and dream of us babyboomers was not all that it was cracked up to be. We all live in a fascinating sea-change moment in human belief and thinking. It’s changing the landscape in politics and economics as much as in the religious beliefs that underpinned much of what drove the Western civilisation miracle of unending prosperity and power. The shift is to the power of the Indians and the Chinese. We in the West ought to take a crash course in appreciating how the Greeks and Egyptians view the rest of the world today. One upon a time their empires and thoughts “ruled the entire world”.
    The children of the generation who came to believe the money, and empty brains, of the Trumps and Palmers would make them “great again” will not be thanking their parents for their delusions.

  5. Avatar Rosemary O'Grady says:

    I have read and re-read this piece and the fascinating – to me – Comments.
    If the ALP had remained the kind of political party you (JR) seem to espouse I’d probably never have left it. This is good political discussion – and I thank you and P&I and all the contributors for it. Pleasure! antidote-to-death?

  6. Avatar Hal Duell says:

    Drunks, homosexuals, adulterers, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists and idolaters are all going to hell, and then it all becomes about homosexuals.
    I agree with the comment that peace and quiet don’t sell newspapers (or get a tick on the many social media platforms). Fear and sex do.
    The Roman Catholic Church is looking at another schism with the two living popes at odds with each other. Both seem to have support, and only time will tell how big this is.

  7. Avatar Gerard Hore says:

    Very insightful Jerry; thank you. I fear, however, you unintentionally misrepresent Christianity. It’s not the “birth, life and death of Jesus Christ”. It’s attachment through baptism to the fully alive crucified-and-risen Jesus Christ. A serious, joyful Christian life is one of prayer and doing good, both of which are possible only with God’s help. Part of the good Christians try to do is the furthering of social justice through, whether poor or not themselves, taking the side of the poor. They can do none of that without the presence of Christ in their lives.
    Happy Easter!

  8. Avatar Reg Tydell says:

    A good article Jerry, but I have one quibble. I think in your use of the term “anarchist” regarding Rupert Murdoch you mean the third definition of the term in Wiktionary: “(by extension) One who promotes chaos and lawlessness; a nihilist” (in order to sell newspapers). But the better definition of anarchism is the one contained in the first paragraph of the Wikipedia article: “Anarchism is an anti-authoritarian political philosophy that advocates self-governed societies based on voluntary, cooperative institutions and the rejection of hierarchies those societies view as unjust. These institutions are often described as stateless societies, although several authors have defined them more specifically as distinct institutions based on non-hierarchical or free associations. Anarchism holds the state to be undesirable, unnecessary and harmful.” I think the Australian people would be happy with a bit less hierarchy and a bit more free association.

  9. Avatar J Knight says:

    There’s a lot to like in this article. However, following the arguments, I’d be surprised if the plebs in the pews are going to wait til 18 May when three weeks of pre-polling can inoculate them from the rest of the campaign.

    Sadly the formation of believer and citizen is limited by the perceived slavery to “the man” and the circuses that pass as education, sports and entertainment – all corporatised beyond recognition.

  10. Avatar Joan Seymour says:

    Interesting that Jerry Roberts thinks Israel Folau has been manipulated by the far right. On the contrary, Israel Folau is, and probably always has been, a member of a Christian church in a very low-church, fundamentalist tradition. Certainly, that tradition only nominally connected to the reality of Jesus – it’s a nineteenth century American protestant version that doesn’t have much intellectual backbone – but Israel is influenced by his church before political theory. He believes that what he says is truly God’s word, and that he must respect that. He’s willing to make serious sacrifices for his faith. He is wrong, but not in practising obedience to God as he believes God to be. As for the rest of Jerry’s article – sure. And look out for the right wing of the American Catholic Church, which is in full revolt against Pope Francis, who would probably agree with most of what Jerry says.

  11. Avatar Rosemary O'Grady says:

    In my modest opinion: Great Minds…Jerry. I’m also missing J.K. Galbraith at this hour… and Albert Camus – who used to opine that the Christianity of Europe is but a thin veneer, beneath which there still beats an unconquered pagan heart.

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