With the hysterics over Q&A (and the ABC in general) having died down a little this week, I feel it is time to have a bigger picture look at what the government is trying to achieve with its constant attacks on the ABC.
For this we really have to investigate the unfortunate continued adherence to the concept of overt nationalism. Nationalism, as any student of the 20th of Century can attest, is something more sinister than just a fondness for the country the one resides in.
When we hear a proclamation from the Prime Minister of “Whose side are you on?” towards the ABC, there is a fundamental perspective of advancing a mindset that breaks the world down into competing teams; “goodies and baddies”, to use a phrase the PM could comprehend. This is a worldview that cannot fathom or tolerate anything that isn’t combatively “team-based”. Not a perspective that views humanity, a cooperative humanity, regardless of its diversity, as a whole.
The “team”, within this attitude is a form of security; it is a conformist nation, a conformist and orthodox political grouping, or indeed an ethnicity. When there is no obvious delineation between these concepts an aggressive confusion towards the world is born.
At the heart of this is continuing desire among some sections of society to require an enemy to justify their own worldviews. (The flipside to this is that anti-fascist groups need racists to justify their own existence, as we’ve witnessed last past weekend).
This confusion exhibits itself in the constant paranoia the comes from not being able to comprehend the world’s inherent pluralism; both cultural and intellectual. When confronted with pluralism, the response is to double-down on this team-based worldview. One may find the analogy with ISIS a little too much to stomach, but both ISIS and aggressive conservatives share a similar psychological perspective. The former may exhibit this with wanton violence, but the idea of pluralism being deemed an existential threat is a common perspective to both.
It is fine, albeit distasteful, for people within civil society to advocate such a worldview (so long as they don’t resort to violence to advocate their position), but this becomes problematic when members government (custodians of our, supposedly mature, political discourse) attempt to foster and give credence this worldview (George Christensen, I’m looking at you.)
When a government, and in particular the Prime Minister, asks media outlets to play for “Team Australia”, as he has asked of the ABC, then the governing party’s interests is deemed to be synonymous with the national interest. Here we are developing a political culture that is fundamentally illiberal, and somewhat frightening.
A public broadcaster who is a government mouthpiece should be an anathema to anyone who claims to adhere to broad liberal-democratic principles. We should rejoice that we live in a society where our public broadcaster has the ability to be be critical of the government. Attempting to bully it into “towing the party line” would be a massive detriment to our society (not to mention a large step toward authoritarianism).
There is an inherent danger in politicians fostering this this kind of nationalism in an era of increased global integration; breeding insularity instead of a broader world understanding does the public no favours. Or course, facile nationalism is too easy a temptation for politicians, it’s seen as a default vote-winner. Yet it is a very lazy way of making persuasive arguments, no politician has the foresight, or courage, to see that rising above this lowest-common denominator could be electorally advantageous.
Ultimately we should want Team Humanity and Team Australia to be on the same page. This is a perspective that the nationalist can’t comprehend, groups who by their very difference are deemed a threat is still their standard perspective.
But the idea of cooperating groups, across national boundaries, becomes a greater norm each day. Nationalists are struggling with the globalised world, and the more they resist this phenomenon the more they will be find anguish with the rapid, global changes taking place in human cooperation, and movement.
Furthermore, and quite ironically, it also shows a fundamental lack of understanding of the ideas of Adam Smith that the Liberal Party claims to subscribe too. Smith made the observation that individuals and groups pursuing their own ideas and innovations were by default a benefit to the nation (and humanity) as a whole. The economy (and society) did not require an overarching paternal hand that dictated what was best of the nation (and subsequently the world). Increased national prosperity would be, counter-intuitively, an organic process, formed from both self-interest (not to be confused with selfishness) and voluntary cooperation, not command and control (of which overt-nationalism subscribes to and well as “the Left”).
The concept of Team Australia is not only a threat to those who don’t comply to a conformist version of what “Australia” is (or “was”), but it also inhibits the prosperity of the nation (and the globe) as a whole.
While nationalism itself has a sinister underbelly, there is something more cunning going on with the government’s constant attacks on the ABC.
The Coalition and its supporters in the media know that by constantly attacking the ABC its staff will subconsciously resent them, and this, despite all attempts at professionalism, will seep into the ABC’s content. The Coalition are aware that this is a natural human reaction, they are actively trying to create the “lefty lynch mob” of their paranoid fantasies.
Even with modern conservatism’s claim to adhere to (elements of) philosophical liberalism, this is a smoke-screen. Conservatism has attached itself to ideas of a minimal and constrained state not out of any ethical ideas about restraining state power, but as a camouflage to strangle funding to areas of the state that it finds culturally distasteful.
If the ABC seems to support ideas that conservatives find distasteful, it is only because these ideas have reached a critical mass of public acceptance.
It is here, conservatism’s modern attachment to liberalism has come back to bite it in the bum. Traditional conservative philosophers would stress the importance of “organic change” rather than revolutionary change. Yet, in the present era, “organic change” moves at a revolutionary pace. Ideas that would previously take several generations to disseminate now reach a critical mass, or dominant opinion, within a decade. And ironically for conservatives, this dissemination of information is due to great advances in technology that capitalism has created.
While the Liberal Party claims to be the custodians of the liberal tradition in Australian political discourse, its rigid conservatism trumps this on most policy issues.
Exercising power as an agenda-based government is still its firm priority. The adoption of liberal economic ideas (its fondness for crony capitalism aside) has saved modern conservatism from descending into all-encompassing authoritarianism, yet the temptations of power lust still lie within the modern right.
The Coalition’s rhetoric is still designed solely for their agitated partisan base. Oppositions have some more ethical leeway to behave in such a manner, but when a party forms government they need a broader vision and more restrained and responsible rhetoric. This government has failed this test of governing maturity. It has been noted often, even among Coalition supporters, that this government still behaves as an aggressive and puerile opposition.
As happened a few weeks ago in Melbourne, an ultra-nationalist group turned up outside the ABC’s Southbank offices, comically roasting a pig on a spit. This was undoubtedly influenced by government’s rhetoric towards the ABC. While groups such as these are perpetually threatened by the modern world regardless of the situation, the government needs to accept some responsibility for turning their paranoid sensitivities towards action.
In a media landscape as small as Australia’s, and with its increasing “Foxification” – where organisations provide content to reinforce the worldviews of their readers/viewers – the ABC actually does offer a much needed outlet for voices who exist outside partisan narratives.
In this media environment, sober or inquisitive analysis is deemed soft on a subject, or even to condone it by partisan warriors. Hysterical condemnation is seen as the only line of approach. Both political cultural teams of conservatives and progressives are guilty of this kind of response. Often non-partisan writers have no other outlet bar the ABC within the Australian media landscape to publish their work.
This may be something that conservatives (and maybe even some progressives) find distasteful, but the ABC serves an increasing important service. And that, as a self-proclaimed market-enthusiast, I do have to concede as essential.