The other day, Pavlov’s Cat drew my attention to this piece on why bullies bully, particularly in schools. The tl;dr version? Telling kids that they’re all that produces narcissistic, entitled little monsters who think the world owes them a living. Contrary to the mythology, bullies have high self-esteem, not the opposite.
Well well well (three holes in the ground) as my former partner used to say. Who’d a thunk it?
It is always nice when research happens to confirm common sense observation (oh, the sky is blue? And that’s because of the ozone?), because very often common sense and science are at considerable variance. I put the piece on bullying mentally to one side until I encountered (via Kieran MacGillicuddy, so a gentle tip of the hat to him) this piece by writer Christos Tsiolkas. I recommend you read it, even if you are not a creature of the political left, and at the same time make allowances for the author’s periodic lapses into hyperbole (at one point he strays dangerously close to arguing that only the current economic boom is keeping Australia from race war). Tsiolkas’s piece is also about bullying: bullying people whom you purport to represent because they won’t sing from the same songsheet as you. Those people, of course, being working class and lumpenproletariat Australians.
It contains such wonderfully acute observations as the following:
The historic tragedies and outrages of Left totalitarianism are enough reason for any of us who still identify as socialist to choose inquiry over conviction, to favour the nuances of contradiction and doubt. ‘Political correctness’ is a phrase so over-indulged by conservatives that its very use now seems trite and banal, but 20 years on from the culture wars we need to acknowledge the truth that strident identity politics and postmodernist obsessions over symbols and language led to a straitjacketing of feminist and socialist thought.
Jove on a pony, an admission that trying to do well for everyone without consulting them results in mountains of corpses. That identity politics is completely barmy to anyone not within that particular charmed circle and leads to people enjoying an extra ground of suit on the basis of race or religion (as happened in both the Bolt and the Catch the Fire cases), thereby undermining the rule of law. That this kind of crap is going to take time and effort to unpick. Amazeballs.
[W]e who are left [...] must learn to argue, assemble and agitate from an understanding that we were, and continue to be, history’s ideological losers. Even though the global economic crisis that began in 2008 has re-energised critiques of capitalism, we continue to have questions rather than answers. It would be an act of almighty hubris to not be humbled by the stagnant and malignant torpor of the welfare state or the failures of planned socialist economies.
Next thing, he’ll be quoting ‘bad’ Peter Saunders and the Centre for Independent Studies on the failures of the welfare state…
Part of the smugness I am identifying includes a tendency to disparage membership of the Australian Labor Party, even, at times, trade unions; to see involvement with these organisations now as always inauthentic or politically expedient. It is not that I don’t understand disillusionment with the labour movement but I question the assumption that working outside it is automatically politically superior.
This paragraph made me want to stand up and cheer.
Disclosure time: I am a former Shoppie. That is, a former member of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association. I was a member for 5 years, too. Now the Shoppies are hate figures for many people on the progressive left, with their ‘old Labor’ conservatism and hostility to abortion and equal marriage. And as readers of this blog know, I am in favour of both (abortion and equal marriage). So I disagree with my old union. But when I was a member, the Shoppies made sure I worked in a pleasant, air-conditioned environment at reasonable pay for not very difficult work (I was at Myer). Their shop floor representative was a decent, jovial fellow who listened to both employees and management and negotiated with real skill. He also kept confidences, a trait that is surprisingly uncommon outside the legal profession. There is a reason there were no gossipy stories about my 5 years in the employ of Coles-Myer in the papers or on the teev during the controversy over my first book. My high school, university and fellow literati failed to protect my privacy. The Shoppies did.
And that, friends and neighbours, is what a union is supposed to do, nicht wahr? And, may I ask, is any of that so very bad or dangerous?
I don’t believe the international crisis in the movement of peoples across the world can be addressed without also rethinking the limits our nation places on population. Or are we to feel pity for the asylum seeker but resist the building of infrastructure and an economy that allow her the opportunity and empowerment of work? It is my sense that the Greens have not yet begun the work of understanding such contradictions and of beginning to address them.
Or (in other words), ‘Dear Greenies, public policy is hard, and you are currently making a mess of what could be a decent Labor government because you believe in the economic equivalent of pixies’. Also: entitled, narcissistic greenies, you are not all that. You’re really not.
The toxicity of progressive bourgeois smugness can be ascertained by how contemptuous is the language used to define the behaviour and expressions for working-class and welfare-class lives. The danger of this smugness is clear in how few working-class and welfare-class voices are given space to articulate an alternative Left politics to one founded either on identity politics or categories of morality. The ‘cashed up bogan’ is condemned for wanting to live in a McMansion on the outskirts of the city. The ‘aspirationalists’ are castigated for wanting to send their children to a private school rather than the local high school. The worker stood down from a power plant in the Latrobe Valley is mocked as a ‘redneck’ for questioning the promises made by environmentalists about the creation of ‘green’ jobs. That condemnation often comes from progressives living in the unaffordable inner city; that castigation from former university radicals who do not recognise the cultural capital their children are privy to; and the mockery from people who have no first-hand knowledge of the humiliation that comes from receiving the dole in the age of ‘mutual obligation’.
Conservatives (like Andrew Bolt) and classical liberals (like Sinclair Davidson) have been saying this for a very long time, and it is no doubt very familiar to readers of this blog. It doesn’t need any further commentary from me, other than the observation that he is absolutely right, and a note that Legal Eagle cancelled her Age subscription because so many of its columnists articulated exactly the views that Tsiolkas flays. She is far from alone, as we know from that newspaper’s circulation figures.
Another danger of confusing morality and politics is a Left and progressive acquiescence to state intervention in controlling and modifying behaviours. The fines, curtailments and punishments dispensed by state institutions are, I would argue, more harshly experienced by, and enforced against, working-class people.
The reaction against such intrusions, therefore, should not always be regarded as reactionary and conservative. Even if its guise is ‘the nanny state’, supposedly holistic, green and progressive, the state still enacts the laws and regulations that control, discipline and imprison people. Such state control increasingly utilises progressive rhetoric to further encroach on liberties – an example is the use of feminist language in suspending the Racial Discrimination Act to enable the Northern Territory intervention.
Yes. THIS. Someone on the left has finally said it. Conservatives won’t: they love the nanny state just as much as the lefties. The only voices raised against the micromanaging of people’s lives were, until very recently, classical liberal voices. One of the Labor candidates for Lord Mayor of Sydney, Cassandra Wilkinson, gets it, and found herself in the awkward position of being a liberal without a party. She plumped for Labor, but describes her discomfort with both sides beautifully:
[T]he Liberals are turning into what Labor has long accused them of being: a Tory party.
The Liberals now support high taxes to pay for what were once regarded as Labor social goals: Medicare, family payments and pensions, environmental protection and maternity leave. And since Work Choices is “dead, buried and cremated” it’s hard to see what serious differences exist on economic policy except for the carbon and mining taxes.
Simultaneously, Labor is busy turning itself into what its opponents have long accused it of being, a party of clumsy big government socialism.
Labor opened up the “bonsai” economy, engineered the national electricity market, created sustainable funding for higher education through HECS and significantly unwound centralised wage and price setting. It’s now in a coalition with Greens and agrarian socialists busily re-nationalising communications infrastructure; building an internet firewall to decide what we can see and say online; and writing volumes of new environmental, financial and industrial regulations to tell us how to run the businesses that generate the taxes that make it all possible.
Tsiolkas’s essay impressed me so much that I decided to review the book from which it comes, Left Turn, which is edited by two prominent lefties, Antony Loewenstein and Jeff Sparrow. But then I thought better of it. I am a classical liberal leavened with a dash of conservatism. I don’t have a left-leaning bone in my body. I really don’t. And I don’t want to engage in the same bullying rhetoric Tsiolkas’s piece skewers so skillfully. The book needs a review from someone who is of the left, who will take its claims seriously and address them thoughtfully. Fortunately, one of our regular (leftie) commenters, Dave Bath, has been sent a review copy by the publisher and has agreed to write a review for skepticlawyer.com.au. Dave is an on-call IT specialist, so doesn’t have a huge amount of spare time, but his piece will be available in the next few days.