We should not reward attention-seekers with attention. We should not reward attention-seekers with attention. We should not reward attention-seekers with attention. It’s so difficult because it is so satisfying. Look at this idiot and their idiot opinion! Look at what they have written now! We should not reward attention-seekers with attention. But it’s so hard not to give them attention because, sometimes, they provoke interesting debates that they themselves are entirely too thick to entertain themselves. But maybe other people might take up the discussion. But perhaps we could turn what is bad into something that is slightly good. We should not reward attention-seekers with attention.
Caleb wrote something and it is really bad. I have mentioned before that Caleb is a conservative columnist because News Corp believes that right wing commentary is so easy that even a child can do it. I have been experimenting with a hypothesis, engaging the Dark Arts to fill an old mannequin with the most foul, chthonic nightmare demons and then transcribing the damn’d howls that fill the air in oily smoke. The results have been promising, and some of the articles produced have been picked up by The Spectator Australia.
Anyway, Caleb wrote something really bad and, no doubt, he did it for attention. I’m now going to give it attention and I feel bad for doing so. Forgive me, gentle reader. Forgive me on the grounds that I haven’t had much sleep since the head of the mannequin burst open and the ten thousand spiders crawled into my ears and I hear them, I hear them saying things I hear them and they whisper and I hear them and the ten thousand spiders whisper things that should not be whispered and they crawl in my ears and they whisper.
Anyway, it’s about Australian values.
So Caleb said this:
HOW can we expect migrants to respect our country and values when so many of our own seek to undermine them?
Indigenous Australians have, no doubt, been wondering pretty much exactly the same thing for an awfully long time. It is not unreasonable to suspect that a lot of white anxiety about migration and globalisation stems from a fear that somebody will do to white people what white people did to everybody else. What if foreigners come and take our land? What if they impose their values? What if they bring violence and drugs and crime and what if they start perverting the legal system to avoid justice and leave us an underclass in our own country? What if? What if? I’ve been playing with an idea that Sharia Law and Koori Courts suffer some kind of metaphysical double vision. On the one hand, they are real things that actually exist. On the other, it’s actually the white fantasy of these things which motivate various behaviours and explain various social interactions. This latter category is actually based on the things we fear about our own legal system but externalised as a threat from the Other. Sharia Law is oppressive and unknowable, based on arcane rules that reflect an authority completely alien to us. Surprise, that’s how the majority of Australians understand their own legal system. Koori Courts exist to tailor the justice system to meet social needs of a particular class of people in society. Surprise, that’s exactly how our legal system works except it systemically disadvantages a particular class of people in society.
And this returns us to Caleb’s awkward query. Caleb fears that the reason why Islamism is such a big threat to Australia is that too few Australians defend our country and values. He alleges that ‘the Left are determined to paint Australia and its Western counterparts as evil institutions. We’re built on colonialism and oppression and atrocities. […] Some even go so far as to say that Australia has no culture or openly boast of their desire to bring it down.’
So we could stop at this point and interrogate Caleb’s assumptions here. Is Islamism thriving because the Left is attacking our culture? This seems like a stretch. But, more distressingly, is it really the Left who is at fault for attacking our culture?
Last year, Caleb wrote a column attacking the ABC and said it was unfair that the ABC was immune to market forces: ‘the ABC unconditionally receives around $1 billion in taxpayer’s money every year.’ He’s attacked universities, saying that the undeserving are being admitted for degrees and that its academics are peddling nonsense.
Caleb’s articles are part of a wider News Corp narrative that Australia’s cultural institutions are full of Lefties (they probably are) who want to promote Left wing things, like blasphemy, obscenity, and perversion (they probably do). But rather than defend culture against the blasphemous, the obscene, and the perverted, News Corp’s columnists think that public assets should be privatised and that market forces should shape the cultural diet of ordinary Australians.
As a conservative of the old, Deeper Magic from Before The Dawn of Time kind, I don’t think our cultural diet should be mass produced by the invisible hand of the market. I think culture needs curation, protection, and nurturing, even if that means defending some fairly classist, elitist beliefs about the need to be a curator, protector, and nurturer. If anything, it wasn’t the Left who destroyed our cultural institutions — it was the vapid selfishness of the Baby Boomer generation who sold off everything they could and underfunded the rest in exchange for tax cuts. Conservatism and Baby Boomerism was a disastrous mix.
So, now, when we look for the conservatives who will stand up for culture and say ‘Yes, we should defend our cultural institutions against the barbarism of the Left’, we hear nothing but the whiny screaming of News Corp columnists that sounds eerily like the damn’d howls of a demon-haunted mannequin.
But perhaps Caleb can do better. Perhaps he will list what the Australian values are that are in desperate need of our curation, protection, and nurturing:
From an early age now, children are bombarded with all kinds of nonsense in schools around transgenderism, homosexuality and other topics of no relevance, yet little attention is paid to Australian history.
Errrr… Okay. Rightyo. Also, do you know how many very famous conservatives were homosexual? And how many of the people responsible for some of the greatest contribution to our culture had difficult relationships with gender norms and sexual expectations of their time? And do you know how recently we invented heterosexuality?
How many people know who wrote the national anthem or who designed the flag? Who was the first prime minister?
Oh, I see you’re going to answer questions with questions, Caleb. Well played. But why are we playing Trivial Pursuit (Australian Edition)?
They’re simple questions, but they represent a hell of a lot. They represent turning points in our nation — symbols of what has made it so strong. And that’s what we’re missing.
Why should the Left give two shits about your concept of Australian values when they reduce to a parody version of the Citizenship Test? It could have been worse, thank Jove. It could have been ‘mateship’ and ‘ANZAC’ and ‘Throw a shrimp on the barbie’ or some shit.
But why is Caleb’s understanding of Australian values so thin? Perhaps he too is a victim of the terrible education system which has denied him access to the finer things in life. But, more likely, he’s regurgitating predigested claptrap from Australia’s conservative commentariat and he literally has nothing better with which to work.
Which is a shame, because there’s a whisper of a point in Caleb’s narrative. What are the things we are missing in public discussion of Australian values?
Part of it that is missing is the lived experience of Australia, and the experience of Australia that distinguishes us from the rest of the Anglosphere. It’s this lived experience that is under threat when so much of our political and cultural tropes are now taken wholesale from the United States. The average Australian is now significantly less likely to consume Australian-made scripted television than an Australian a generation ago. Our political discussions are informed by American television shows: Trump is like Frank Underwood, and the ALP is like A Game of Thrones. C-grade political commentators from the US and UK are now paraded around Australia by think tanks and writers’ festivals, often crowding out homegrown talent.
I’m really interested to see what happens when more of our television and cinema content is funded by China. Will our political and cultural tropes shift again away from the narcissistic individualism of American literature to whatever dominant threads of Chinese narratives translate into blockbusters?
But I digress. If you want Australian values to be protected, there needs to be some expression of what those values are. And the key way to do that is through cultural expression, but that’s under attack from the same people who are claiming that we’re not protecting our Australian values.
Don’t get me wrong. Caleb is an idiot and News Corp editors should be ashamed of themselves for exploiting a child. But his article points to a broader vacuity in mainstream conservative rhetoric: an incoherence between desire to see Australian values protected and an open hostility to the institutional repositories of those Australian values.
More importantly, we are prosecuting a dumb and outdated argument. Serious conservatism cannot keep treating Australian culture as monolithically white. The real question we have to engage with is how can we curate, protect, and nurture our cultural heritage consistently with the curation, protection, and nurturing of our neighbour’s cultural heritage?
The obvious example here is religion. I want everybody — Anglo atheists included — to get a first rate religious education that teaches people to engage with the forms of Christianity that survived hundreds of years. I think that we are safer and better as a society when people engage with traditional forms of Christianity rather than forms that are taught in some clown’s garage based on racist rantings from fringe websites. Similarly, I think we will be safer as a society when our Muslim neighbours feel free and encouraged to engage with traditional forms of Islam.
Instead, contemporary views about ‘secular society’ encourage us to push these things out of schools and out of the mainstream into the fringes where they compete with the sorts of things that grow in the dark. Worse, we are not taught the beauty of each other’s cultural heritage when we are coerced into hiding that heritage.
Just in case there is some confusion: I do not think the modern religious right engage with an intellectually serious cultural heritage.
But this is a difficult space. It’s an intellectually challenging space. There are a lot of pitfalls and traps and questions about the State’s role in fostering this kind of environment. And that’s why it needs serious thinkers.
Instead, we’ve got Caleb.
And the spiders.