29 May 2011

Lateralist Politics - An Update

Those of you who check this blog from time to time will no doubt have noticed that it's been a while since I've posted anything. Let me explain.

It wasn't that I didn't have anything to say; it was actually that I had too much to say, and too little time in which to say it. Nothing much has changed, but I'm determined to make the effort at least once a week from now on. At least, that's the theory, anyway.

It's funny, but I started this particular posting with a view to surmising my thoughts on the last few months in Australian politics, and now that I've started writing, I find that very little is actually cutting through the foggy malaise. So many sensationalised stories; so little substance one can actually remember.

It's an important point, I think; in an age of instant news, the news media has worked hard to convince the populace that the news it has to present - in a virtually unending stream - is all of substance, and thus, worthy of our time. The more I think about it, the more I realise that nothing could be further from the truth. In reality, we are getting more and more about less and less. I can't even use the pithy reproach that style has replaced substance, because there is no actual style to speak of, either. There are, from time to time, extended (and reflective) comment pieces that appear on the websites of news media sites, but they are few and far between. And when they do, they quickly become smeared with reactionary comments by folk whose primary goal seems neither to understand, or even to be understood, but simply to register their presence, and the force of their pain. It's actually pretty sad.

In the last few months of Australian politics, nothing much has happened. Abbott has attacked, and made ground in the polls, and Gillard has defended. Neither has impressed. Abbott, despite being a rallying point around which the small-minded can gather and stamp their feet, he remains - and will remain - the very essence of unelectable for around half of the Australian population. Don't get me wrong, he's an impressive politician. It's just that when you're an opposition leader whose key weapon is being able to boil down a social issue into a vague but seemingly sage phrase, it's not unlike saying he's a good thug, or a talented thief. Anyone who says they do not think Abbott's primary strategy is to play upon the fears, ignorance, greed and prejudices of the electorate is either lying, or one of his constituents. And if you're in the latter camp, then I'm sorry. For you.

Gillard, whilst often unimpressive, actually doesn't do a lot wrong, other than fail to inspire anything other than loathing, amongst those in the electorate who were never going to vote for her anyway. It's funny, but people who really hate Gillard can't understand that for the rest of us - who merely find her irritating - the extent of their hatred isn't actually a compelling argument for us to share their views. (It actually just makes us want to stand well away from them.) The fact is, the Right are always going to hate the Left in a way that the Left can never fully reciprocate? Why? Because if we could, we'd be the Right, too.

But for most people, this is all bullshit, anyway. Truth be told, a high percentage of Australian people don't have particularly strong feelings about politicians. They've allowed their passions - if ever they were strongly felt - to wind down to, at best, a simmer. Why? Because there's no point to them, really. Feeling strongly about something, no matter how strong the feeling, is a waste of time, unless it's accompanied by actions. And the majority of people actually have things to, you know, do. Politics is a spectator sport, even for those playing, never mind the rest of us.

Which is why it's probably best to stay away from it. Better to do useful things, like read about issues, rather than politics. But I have a suggestion. Rather than read thirty stories that have less depth to them than the skin of a grape, why not read one or two stories that actually reveal to us the complexities and nuances of a particular issue? It'd sure be helpful. But there's a catch.

The catch is that if we allow ourselves to know a few things quite well, we're going to have to rely on other people knowing other things - different things - better than we do, and listening to them. This has become a bit of a problem for people. The internet has brought with it boundless information, but it has also brought with it the misconception that we are capable of processing all of it. We are not. Only in an age where a search engine has replaced research and learning could an idiot like Paul Murray (West Australian "writer") actually think his opinion on climate change is worth anything more than a warm bucket of piss. But this isn't the real tragedy; the real tragedy is that some poor souls listen to him, and consider themselves more informed for having done so.

That we've created generations of people who think being able to form an opinion is the same as being able to form an informed opinion is frightening. Don't get me wrong; everyone is entitled to their opinion, but how about we give the world (and its issues and problems) its due, and acknowledge that perhaps we don't know enough to be able to contribute much to the debate, other than, at best, carefully considered questions, and the ability to accept complex, and at times, necessarily inconclusive answers.

Whether we know it or not, or like it or not, our politicians and our media organisations are in between us and the knowledge and understandings we need. And both are utterly, utterly failing to deliver. And it doesn't matter which side of the political aisle you are on; both sides are failing us. If anyone should be held to account, and someone probably should, it's probably Rupert Murdoch. In actively politicising the media, he's made it impossible for people to access apolitical information, or to even be apolitically receptive to information. Anything from News Limited is immediately dismissed by the Left. Anything (bewilderingly) from the ABC is immediately dismissed by the Right. It's pathetic. People are left angry, suspicious, and comparably ill-informed.

So what's to be done? I honestly don't know. But I hope that one day soon, even if people are still grappling to understand the complex issues which continue to vex our society, they will at least understand that the current processes we have in place for merely comprehending the scale of these issues - never mind nutting out their solutions - are woefully inadequate. Then at least we might start asking for something better. And this last point is key; improvement must come from us. If we simply lapse into indifferent cynicism, then we've only got ourselves to blame.