It has been alleged — not unfairly — that I’m routinely more critical of conservatives than I am of progressives and radicals. One person has suggested that this is because I’m after a pat on the head: the vast majority of my friends and colleagues are progressives, so it is socially profitable to go after conservatives than the alternative. This greatly underestimates what an atrocious dinner guest I am.
The answer is less sinister. I have more invested in an improvement in right wing politics than I do in the left. I am like the theologian who wants to improve understanding of Christianity regardless of how many atheists I convert.
So why am I conservative?
For about ten years, there has been a spectre haunting pop-conservative rhetoric: the spectre of conservative punk. The rise of the alt-right and the desperate attention-seeking of pop-conservatives has returned the phrase ‘Conservatism is the new punk rock’ back into circulation. In Australia, this rhetoric seems to be anchored with Daisy Cousens, whose entire schtick is saying outrageous things for the lulz.
Needless to say, I’m far from impressed by pop-conservative dominance in Australia, and my kind of conservatism is distinctly more art rock.
But if our current crop of pop-conservatives did release a punk album, what would it look like? Here’s my guess at what their first album — Are You Triggered? — would look like:
Imagine that you’re a soldier fighting in a war properly authorised by the United Nations. You find yourself face to face with a soldier from the other nation and you are legally allowed to shoot them. As you’re about to shoot the enemy soldier with your ordinary gun with lethal bullets, a magical goblin appears and offers you a different gun: one that will not kill the other soldier, but will incapacitate them with searing pain.
Which gun should you use?
If you haven’t had a chance to read Richard Cooke’s ‘Alt-Wrong: The Australian right is startling for its incoherence’ on The Monthly, get into it. It spans a few different subjects and is an extremely satisfying read.
I put together a few points on Twitter but, on account of me having a locked account, I thought it might be productive to jot them down here.
The worst sort of political analysis currently in circulation: ‘You use the phrase [X] to mean A, but the phrase originated with this group that you hate to mean not-A. Therefore, you are wrong.’
It’s an analysis that ignores contemporary usage in favour of some demented form of originalism. Who cares if the phrase was first used by the Convention for Freedom for Whales in 1918 or by the Association for Libertine Porpoises in 1932? Who cares?
And yet we see this analysis wheeled out with such regularity. ‘Politically Correct’ actually means the opposite of what you think it means! ‘Neo-liberalism’ was invented twelve different times to mean fifteen different things! Whoooooo caaaaaaares?
There are a few analyses of this kind which are worth undertaking. The first is how profit motives incentivise changes in meaning. It is worth tracking how concepts like ‘freedom’, for example, take on distinctly pro-market interpretations. Concepts which maximise profit for vested interests are the ones which proliferate. This is also true for counter-market narratives. Consider, for example, Katy Perry’s new song, Chained to the Rhythm, which is all about how too many people are just going along with the trends, a narrative which is itself a trend and a kind of identity that can be purchased on iTunes.
This all gets me to the concept of ‘virtue signalling’.
Over on his Cultural Policy Reform blog, Ben Eltham has put forward an argument for an organisation to employ writers in the same way that the Sydney Symphony Orchestra employs musicians:
[T]he Sydney Symphony Orchestra is a very important provider of salaried jobs for artists. This is an economic difficulty for the orchestra, because musicians’ wages are a significant cost. But it is a wonderful outcome for the musicians employed, who have steady jobs with salaries paid every fortnight, plus superannuation, sick leave and all the other normal conditions of full-time employment.
There is no comparable organisation that pays writers in this way in Australia. Why not?
It was circulated with praise among the arts writers, but would it work?
Peter Thiel occupies the public imagination in a lot of different ways. Until somewhere around 2010, he was a figure of the new wave of software-driven social disruptors. If you had the right software, if you had the tenacity of spirit, if you were male, you too could disrupt the old way and make a fortune doing so. The money he made on PayPal soon went into other investments, like Facebook and LinkedIn, and Thiel’s wealth and influence grew. By 2012, he was teaching a class on startups at Stanford University — the notes from which became the book, Zero to One: notes on startups, or how to build the future.
But it hasn’t only been through technology that Thiel has influenced society. Having little interest in technology, I first became aware of Thiel through his lawsuits against Gawker Media. Gawker had outed him as homosexual, and Thiel felt this was an invasion of his privacy. He bankrolled lawsuits against Gawker — which he considered a philanthropic activity — until the Hulk Hogan case forced Gawker into bankruptcy. I was (and still am) in support of Thiel’s position here, but disagree with him on the remedy. Thiel’s position is strictly libertarian, and his bankrolling of lawsuits against Gawker was done to provide a deterrent to media companies invading the privacy of individuals. That is, he thinks a private citizen driving a media company into bankruptcy is a market-based solution to privacy invasion. But the same mechanism would also (and does) deter media companies from reporting matters genuinely in the public interest that happened to involve private citizens. State-based regulation is a far better remedy, but falls immediately into the public discussion as ‘censorship’ or (in the US) a violation of the first amendment.
And then there’s the case of his support for Trump: $1.25m donation towards his election.
Which all brings me back to Zero to One: his book about being a success.
There is no good argument to ban the burqa. It’s a racist proposal, pure and simple. There is a smokescreen that racists use to hide their racism: they argue that we need to be able to see faces because it helps with security. This is not a reasonable argument, and it flows from an intuition that anonymity is a threat and that everybody should present themselves for scrutiny at all times.
Senator Jacqui Lambie has introduced a Bill to the Senate to ban the burqa. Senator Pauline Hanson has proposed some amendments. It is helpful to understand what is being proposed and debated by our Parliamentarians.
When Hector faces Achilles, he knows he is about to die. He gives a little speech and prays that he will not die ingloriously, with his great deeds living on after him. Achilles wins the fight, aided by supernatural forces. As the life is rushing out of him, Hector makes a request of Achilles:
Then Hector said, as the life ebbed out of him, “I pray you by your life and knees, and by your parents, let not dogs devour me at the ships of the Achaeans, but accept the rich treasure of gold and bronze which my father and mother will offer you, and send my body home, that the Trojans and their wives may give me my dues of fire when I am dead.”
Achilles glared at him and answered, “Dog, talk not to me neither of knees nor parents; would that I could be as sure of being able to cut your flesh into pieces and eat it raw, for the ill have done me, as I am that nothing shall save you from the dogs- it shall not be, though they bring ten or twenty-fold ransom and weigh it out for me on the spot, with promise of yet more hereafter. Though Priam son of Dardanus should bid them offer me your weight in gold, even so your mother shall never lay you out and make lament over the son she bore, but dogs and vultures shall eat you utterly up.”
Hector with his dying breath then said, “I know you what you are, and was sure that I should not move you, for your heart is hard as iron; look to it that I bring not heaven’s anger upon you on the day when Paris and Phoebus Apollo, valiant though you be, shall slay you at the Scaean gates.”
Achilles doesn’t honour Hector’s request. Instead, he drags Hector’s body around tied to his chariot and does doughnuts on the plains outside try. The whole event plays to the idea that Achilles is the mythical monster of this human drama. There are no Nemean lions, or minotaurs, or fearsome dragons… just Achilles who is both superior and inferior to the other humans on the battle field.
The question of how we treat the dead recurs throughout literature: what do we owe the dead? When a person’s contribution to the world has been overwhelmingly negative, should we celebrate the few times he did something that wasn’t negative? How should we mourn Bill Leak?
I remember being weirdly religious when I was a child, but not specifically religious. I knew for an utter certainty that there was a God and we should pray to Him, but this rock solid conviction that I believed as a child was born of nothing in particular. My family life wasn’t religious. My mother was some kind of eclectic hybrid of ‘spiritualities’; my father fell asleep during mass and would wake on cue to stand, mumble the recitations, and then fall back to sleep. When my parents separated, I remember there being a very beautiful picture of St Francis of Assisi in my mother’s cupboard that belonged to my father… but my father didn’t seem to want it, and mum never seemed bothered to just throw it out. I know now that it was St Francis; at the time, I had no idea. It was just a very beautiful piece of religious art that stirred within me all those things that good art should stir: awe, marvel, and interest.
When I was very young, my mother would encourage me and my younger brothers to pray each night before bed. I would later wonder why she would do this; I was an extremely difficult child and wouldn’t explain why I was angry and frustrated. The ritual of prayer was hijacked to get me to sit down and list all the things I was anxious about.