The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

Culture wars and why we have to have them

Over at The Orstrahyun, Daryl wrote about Julia Gillard’s call to make Culture Renaisance, not Culture War. I particularly enjoyed this.

The Howard-era media and politicians don’t want to know what Australia will become, or is already becoming. They want it to stay the way it was, when they were young. They are still fighting to reshape the nation into what they wanted it to be when they were 23 years old. The ‘Culture Wars’ are locked in an almost forgotten era of Australian history, because that’s the only era these ‘warriors’ really understand.

Whoever wants to declare victory in the ‘Culture Wars’ may as well go ahead and do it now. Nobody, but the tiniest percentile, will care, and it will be a hollow victory. The rest of Australia has already moved on.

We want to know what’s coming. Who will be be in 20 years? Where will be? Who’s going to give us the future we’re dreaming of now?

I was looking to see what I had written on the topic last year pre Dog’s Bollocks. I’ve cleaned it up a little and here is my take on the Culture Wars and their significance to HowardCo.

Jees guys! Get over it! It was 35 years or more ago.

The left won the moral argument over Vietnam and brought about the end of 23 years of conservative rule of Robert Menzie’s respectably ‘Liberal’ Party. There followed a decade of socialist left political ascendancy in Western democracies, including the USA. Until Howard, the left has dominated the federal agenda in Australia ever since.

Most of our senior professional federal conservative politicians learned their craft on the radical, free-thinking campuses of the 60s and 70s. The career driven Young Liberals versus the socialist left of Young Labor. In the campus politics of the day, the left had morality, righteousness, a sense of social justice and a passionate belief that the innate goodness of humanity, breaking free from centuries of aristocratic political oppression and exploitation, would create an equitable, harmonious and peaceful world, regardless of colour, race or creed or sexual orientation.

What did the right have to offer? Puritanical conservatism and poofter bashing in the era of free love? The Vietnam War and conscription of our young men to fight for US global hegemony? Refusing the vote for aboriginal people? In the ideological struggle of the time, the moral high ground and the odds were stacked severely against the Young Liberals. Politically and intellectually they were defeated, embarrassed and humiliated, and no doubt sworn to revenge. And as we know revenge is a dish best served cold and long.

But times change, and now the Young Liberals of old are enjoying an unprecedented wave of electoral victory and an inflated self-important sense of ideological mandate to speak out for the ordinary Aussie Battlers whose minds they have poisoned and prejudiced with fear, anxiety and distrust with their think tanks and spin doctors who feed the media moguls and their tabloid attack dogs.

Now it is payback time! We’ve demolished and dismantled as much of your political legacy as we can get away with! Nya nya nya nya nya. We got you back! We won!

From the pulpit of the Church of Australian Values, Howard has declared the death of left wing ideology. There is no society. Only individuals. (We don’t talk about the military-industrial corporate state.) Education must be taken over by the federal government in order to rid the schools, colleges and universities of those deluded, faddist, commie-dictatorship-loving Maoist left wing elite ideologues who are out of touch with real Australians. And replace them with what? Right wing ideologues more favourable to the government’s agenda? We’ll give the money directly to families so they can buy a nice type of education without the risk of their children acquiring bolshie sentiments.

I think Kevin Rudd’s onto something this week. He certainly got tongues chattering in latte elite land. He reckons people who profess themselves as Christian have a moral obligation to promote peace, equity and social justice, not the endless pursuit of happiness through material consumerism and personal salvation experiences. The Right’s response is to accuse the churches of meddling in politics against the separation of church and state, while hypocritically pandering to Christian Right evangelistic enterprises such as Hillsong where Jesus can help you realise all your desires for success, love, wealth and happiness, without feeling too guilty about the poor, the sick, the old and the dispossessed. ‘When we get rich, we’ll be able to do good things for the world, so we better get rich first.’ Trouble is, as you get older, you can never be rich enough. Things naturally get worse.

Despite the best efforts of professional global warming deniers like Andrew Bolt, your average Aussie Battler is worried about climate change. They’re scared, way more than they’re scared of terrorists and interest rates. If the global climate is heading to the point of no return on the curve of climate chaos within 5-10 years (about the same length of time Howard wants to wait for more evidence and for everyone else to stop doing it first) this country is going to be in trouble – drought, fire, floods and cyclones. We all watched Katrina you know. And that smooth Al Gore’s got em thinking. They’ve already given us war, corruption. What next? Famine? Pestilence? It sounds like the end times don’t it? Got all them apocalyptic types frothing at the mouth.

But like all ideologically moribund and morally bankrupt regimes Howard’s Liberals are in popular decline, poised once more to lose the intellectual, philosophical and moral argument when the economy, Iraq, and the effects of climate change hit the fan. Blair will be gone. Bush and the Republicans will be gone, and we’ll have to pull together to act in our own best interests as good Australian planetary citizens, not powerless indentured clients of endlessly profit driven, planet-raping global corporations. It may not be this election, but it will come.

That is why the culture wars are so important to Howard and his follow travelers right now. They want to rewrite their place in history in a more favourable way and purge the left from the education system lest they corrupt our youth away from their brand name myspace, ipod, it’s all about me world and to hell with the cost to the planet, humanity or even our survival as a civilised species.

Although nominally educated as one, I ain’t a Christian. Churches have a lot to answer for. But the moral, spiritual and ethical message of the Christian gospel is a good one, as it is with Abraham’s other children, the Muslims and the Jews. I have no argument with any of them as long as they practise their religious beliefs, not just preach about them and impose them on others by oppressive means. Kevin Rudd’s reclaiming of Faith in politics, and his call to Christian Social Action wedges the Howard-voting Christian Right and their Corporate Sponsors.

It reminds me of a story I heard in a Bluegrass Gospel song

About the story of Jesus and the Pharisee
And how he taught the holy man to see
How the holy word and the holy way
Won’t save your soul on the judgement day

The Pharisees were the professional priestly caste of society which ran the Roman temples. They were well rewarded with patronage from the rich and powerful for keeping their subjects in peaceful subjugation, but they weren’t really offering much to their clients in terms of learning to love and becoming closer to their personal god. Jesus told the Pharisees that they shouldn’t be making money out of religion, they should be giving their wealth and work to serve the sick, the poor, the feeble, the old and the oppressed and downtrodden. Indeed, the Christian Gospel implores its followers that this is the only way to serve and please Jesus, to repay him for dying for their sins so they can be redeemed by his mercy to holy salvation on the Judgement Day.

Al together now – in the Key of E – with 3 part harmony… a 1,2,3,4,1

Now don’t condemn your fellow man
Treat him like a brother, help him all you can
Try to help the world not steal your hope
Don’t be so quick to claim the Kingdom for your own

Now the moral of the story of the Pharisee
It’s the judgement’s call, not you and me
It’s the job of the Saviour, He alone will say
Who’ll go with Him on the Judgement Day!

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Filed under: Australian values, Big Picture, Ideology, Media, Politics

15 Responses

  1. AV says:

    In my view, the only culture war that really matters was won during the Enlightenment, when we realised that we didn’t need a theory of God to be ethical or to explain the Universe. Today’s reactionary culture-warriors are fighting a rearguard action in a battle that was lost long ago.

  2. Link says:

    In our secularised age, there is no need for God, he has outgrown his use and simply stands in the way of what we imagine we really want. But the reasons to do good once God or ideas of soul or conscicence are eliminated and with it a divine being/divine aspect within oneself grow ever dimmer and the upshot is complete and utter mortal terror, rampant now days.

    Well put slim. Reminds me of line from Tom Lehrer’s “Who’s Next”:

    “The Lord’s our shepherd says the Psalm; but just in case, we better get a bomb.

  3. AV says:

    But the reasons to do good once God or ideas of soul or conscicence are eliminated and with it a divine being/divine aspect within oneself grow ever dimmer and the upshot is complete and utter mortal terror, rampant now days.

    Indeed? So how do you explain 9/11? How do you explain abortion clinic bombings? How do you explain the high crime and divorce rates in the Bible Belt of the US?

    These examples indicate two things: (i) belief in God does not necessarily correlate with good behaviour (nor does an absence of God-belief lead to immorality), and (ii) faith-based ethics can in fact be incredibly destructive. 9/11 is a case in point; but we could also talk about the practically-genocidal effects of the Catholic Church’s birth control policies in sub-Saharan Africa.

    Reasons to do good don’t disappear with secularism. Indeed, secularism forces us to offer good reasons for behaving ethically, rather than absolving ourselves of this responsibility by declaring: “x is ethical because God says so.” Most people would be able to offer very good reasons against murder, for instance, without reference to a supernatural being or to religious dogma.

  4. AV says:

    In sum: “Because God says so” is a very shallow basis for ethics.

  5. Link says:

    Gee AV I can’t really ‘explain’ 9/11, abortion clinic bombings or for that matter the high divorce and crime rates in the Bible belt. All these things are somehow related I take it?. And I don’t quite understand why on earth you would think I could or would attempt to. But can YOU tell me why secularism should force us to behave ethically? What on earth for? And spare me the crap about us all working together for some common good. Do you really believe me we are inherently good? Why for christsakes (if you’ll excuse the expression) would you think this, given things like 9/11 and abortion clinic bombings . . . and high divorce and crime rates in the Bible Belt.

    Because God says so? Que? I have no idea what God says. I think you’re equating a belief in the Divine as being one and the same with a belief in organised religions the latter of which I have little ‘belief’ and a fairly dim view.

  6. AV says:

    Gee AV I can’t really ‘explain’ 9/11, abortion clinic bombings [. . .]. All these things are somehow related I take it?

    They are all the actions of those who believe they are doing good, and that God is the reason for their doing these “good” things (i.e. they believe they are doing “God’s will”).

    But can YOU tell me why secularism should force us to behave ethically?

    Nope–I never said that. My point is that when you remove the “Godtoldmetodoit” excuse, you are forced to consider ethics from a rational perspective. For example, is “because God says so” the only reason we ought to abstain from murdering people?

    And spare me the crap about us all working together for some common good.

    Never said that.

    Do you really believe me we are inherently good?

    I don’t believe we are inherently anything.

  7. slim says:

    Religious morality cannot be the ultimate basis for right action. I say this, even though I would consider my self a theist for the sake of the discussion.

    As I’ve mentioned before, religious communities tend to have amongst their ranks influential leaders who are arguably motivated by the power and prestige they have rather than by a desire to become closer to the divine. As well we know, history is replete with outrageous moral behaviour enacted in the name of religion. In all cases it can be argued that such aberrant behaviour contradicts the essence of spiritual living for those who chose to follow it.

    All major religions have been conditioned by their political, economic and cultural circumstances and have tended to act according to those interests. To protect one’s country, tribe, heritage, culture, community, family and even individual material desires for profit, fame and distinction people will oppress, suppress, alienate, injure and kill, despite these behaviours being the antithesis of spirituality.

    Therefore it is individual conscience which is the most important determinant of ethical behaviour (or its absence). So it is the quality of the conscience which matters. Conscience can be informed, as the Catholics would have it, by deep understanding of the articles of faith, or as AV justifiably argues, by critical analysis. The primacy of conscience will reject unethical behaviour, even when it seems at odds with religious moral orthodoxy.

    However, I don’t accept that ethical behaviour is a purely utilitarian product. There is a requirement for individuals to have an innate empathy with others, regarding them as essentially non-different from ourselves. From genuine empathy, we are naturally inclined to act in moral and ethical ways, as we see that which is damaging to others is done also unto ourselves.

    The opposite consciousness is that of the narcissist – one who sees everything purely in relation to the self and is pathologically unable to empathise with others – Martin Buber’s I and Thou. Narcissists can act ethically, but usually only do so when it is to their advantage.

    Unfortunately for all of us, narcissists are over-represented in all power structures, be they political, military, corporate or religious.

  8. AV says:

    As I’ve mentioned before, religious communities tend to have amongst their ranks influential leaders who are arguably motivated by the power and prestige they have rather than by a desire to become closer to the divine. As well we know, history is replete with outrageous moral behaviour enacted in the name of religion. In all cases it can be argued that such aberrant behaviour contradicts the essence of spiritual living for those who chose to follow it.

    I’m sorry to be argumentative, but I’m going to have to call “special pleading” (e.g. religious leaders who act immorally don’t have the “right” motivations) and “No True Scotsman” (e.g. no-one who chooses spiritual living would behave immorally) on you here. How do you know that those religious leaders who practice or condone outrageous moral behaviour are motivated power and prestige rather than by a desire to become closer to the divine? And what is the essence of spiritual living, exactly? Wouldn’t this have to be agreed upon before it can be determined that x moral behaviour contradicts it?

    There is a requirement for individuals to have an innate empathy with others, regarding them as essentially non-different from ourselves.

    OK, but where does this requirement come from?

  9. AV says:

    From genuine empathy, we are naturally inclined to act in moral and ethical ways, as we see that which is damaging to others is done also unto ourselves. [Emphasis added]

    I’m having trouble seeing how this is all that different from ethical narcissism (as you have described it).

  10. slim says:

    AV – re 8 & 9.

    For Christians, Jesus reduced morality to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. While not a Christian, I reckon that’s about as basic an ethical/moral yardstick as anyone would need – do no harm.

    Working from this understanding I could reasonably surmise that any religious or spiritual leader practising or condoning outrageous moral behaviour is being motivated by something other than the pursuit of spiritual growth. Either that, or they are misguided or willfully ignorant, in which case they have no business being spiritual or religious leaders, and again I would surmise they are motivated by something other than the desire for spiritual advancement.

    Regarding narcissism, I wasn’t as clear as I should have been. Caring for others because that will give you a better personal outcome is still narcissism. When caring for certain others gives a negative personal outcome, the narcissist will no longer care, and may even act in ways to the detriment of the other.

    On the other hand, the individual who has grown beyond narcissism intrinsically cannot conceive of intentionally causing harm to others, regardless of personal advantage or detriment.

    It’s not easy to explain. I am certainly not free from narcissistic traits, but my guess is that it is impossible for an extremely narcissistic person to comprehend what it is to be otherwise – something which I suspect underpins much of the reflex condemnation of bleeding heart tree-hugging leftist luvvies by wingnuts. As best as I can tell, wingnuts seem only to respond to issues by how it affects them personally, not how they may affect others.

  11. AV says:

    For Christians, Jesus reduced morality to ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ and ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. While not a Christian, I reckon that’s about as basic an ethical/moral yardstick as anyone would need – do no harm.

    Working from this understanding I could reasonably surmise that any religious or spiritual leader practising or condoning outrageous moral behaviour is being motivated by something other than the pursuit of spiritual growth. Either that, or they are misguided or willfully ignorant, in which case they have no business being spiritual or religious leaders, and again I would surmise they are motivated by something other than the desire for spiritual advancement.

    There is a problem here: you’re assuming that observance of the Golden Rule rules out bad behaviour/guarantees good behaviour. But I can imagine an abortion clinic bomber appealing to this Rule to justify his actions, on the grounds that he would expect the same treatment if he worked in the abortion clinic. I can also imagine a fire-and-brimstone preacher who pickets the funerals of homosexuals similarly justifying his actions on the grounds that he would expect the same if he were homosexual. The Golden Rule doesn’t prescribe or proscribe any particular kind of action or behaviour as such–it is simply a demand for consistency: “Don’t be a hypocrite,” rather than (necessarily) “Do no harm.”

    As for “loving thy neighbour”–I’ve had several discussions on my own blog with a Christian fundamentalist who believes that the “loving” thing to do is to teach students all kinds of disparaging and pseudoscientific nonsense about the “homosexual lifestyle.” A Christian ministry that tries to “convert” homosexuals to heterosexuality calls itself Love In Action. And what about the Christian, featured recently on Friendly Atheist, who advocates spanking as a form of parental “love,” and operates an online business selling wooden paddles so other parents can emulate his “loving” behaviour?

    Again: loving thy neighbour as thyself will neither rule out bad behaviour nor guarantee good behaviour. All it really prescribes is that when one acts, one does so with the noblest of intentions.

    Hence, while I agree that many wingnuts do act out of selfish motives, I don’t think this applies necessarily to all species of wingnuttery. Nor do I agree that growing beyond narcissism will make it impossible for one to conceive of harming others. It may be that one believes that a “greater good” is served by persecuting homosexuals, imprisoning women who have abortions or enforcing religious indoctrination in public schools–all of which constitute harm.

  12. AV says:

    Sorry–I seem to have messed up the links in that comment.

  13. slim says:

    Much food for thought, AV! Let me mull it over and see if I come up with a suitably thoughtful response.

  14. Dave Bath says:

    Slim/AV : The “do unto others” is weak with the “Stoics dilemma” that how people treat you doesn’t affect you at all, how you treat others does.

  15. John White says:

    Australian Values, Australian Gold

    I live in a nation of ghosts and spirits, of Anzac martyrs and rural massacres. The damp soil of Gippsland, the haze of her mountain ash – I was born here; but if you think that being Australian is a birthright, you do not understand my country. My country is wattle and blood.

    Melbourne is all around me, the ferns protecting William Ricketts, the river whose Yarra water draws up the clay, the bindi-i in the summer grass, and the two-dollar buskers and cafes edging the wide streets.

    The magic of my land whispers deeper than prawns on barbies and bikinis in utes. I have lost patience with displays of bloody-minded jingoism. Posts are for football, not for displaying the flags of patriotic insecurity.

    Leaving Bendigo in 1916, my great grandfather’s mining lungs could not contend with the poison air of the Somme fields. He died on a hospital ship, never to return. He had marched under the flag and sung the anthem; they were rags and noise compared to the children he left orphaned at home. The entrepreneurs of war lied to him, but his intention was true.

    I am a part of the Australian community. Do not glibly say “one nation”: our country longs to be as one.

    We slag on the vacuous slogans of politians and the questionnaires of immigration bureaucrats. Our parliament mound infested with termites. They rejected our values when they took office shaking the hands of the perentie clans, their business mates. Leadership must be earned. Our Kelly sons went way too far in their war on the authorities, but we felt the injustice that took them to the edge.

    Nor do we fear religion. We have been inside temples and churches, listened to humanists and prayed in mosques. Our feeble attempts to understand the transcendent only gives us affection for our fellow peoples, and a desire to depose the little kings of racism and fear that threaten their peace.

    We celebrate our failures. Peter Lalor’s wounding at Eureka stockade, the betrayal of Nancy Wake in resistance France, Albert Namatjira despondent in prison; these people are our characters. To be ‘true blue’ is not the ashes of success; it is to have integrity.

    We demand a fair go for all humans, for family and friends and especially strangers. We barrack for the underdog (even at times for Collingwood!). We want to hear the stories of the refugee children, to decide for ourselves. And we know that it is never too late to engrave a treaty, to admit our past failures.

    For I am an Australian, my culture the bastard child of indigenous and intruder civilisations. Not until I acknowledge our rainbow heritage can I know who I am. Only when I understand that this ground cannot be bought and sold am I truly at home. The home that I love.

    Coburg, June 2007

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The Dog’s Bollocks

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The Dog's Bollocks: "Bollocks" is one of my favourite words, and this is now one of my favourite blogs and I've only been reading it for five minutes. – John Surname

This is the person who tried to analyse Hayek. This is actually a person who needs a shrink. – JC

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