Saturday, November 06, 2004

Look, the US election was a close one, not a landslide, and only 37% of the US considers itself 'reborn', not the whole country! So let's not fall over ourselves jettisoning all we hold dear to fit in with some brand new social reality, eh? It's taken the neocons decades to get us where we are, and it's not yet entirely where they want us to be. 63% of the US public is open to secular argument and in Australia the number is doubtlessly more cheering still.

'Religio' used to refer to the social relations between people. Once you live in a social structure in which exchange has become the primary relation - in which, as someone once said, all that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind - you either wear it or tear it. One way of wearing it is to withdraw into a fondly imagined past, into the illusion that all can be made to share norms and relations out of which those constituents of the 'good life' the market can not provide (eg. meaning, trust, full mutual recognition, a more stable identity and, of course, meaning in life derived from a postmarket eternity) might be fashioned.

The Right has known this for a long time - and, having produced the angst, is best circumstanced to proffer the salve. It's sheer demagoguery (no different from ol' Milosovic offering his suddenly ex-Yugoslav, ex-communist constituency a Serb identity based on a selective history as Christendom's last stand at The Field Of Blackbirds) and it's all about ensuring that those privileged by capitalist modernity continue to benefit when capitalist modernity inclines the masses - as it will - to seek spiritual succour.

In 1982, conservative philosopher Roger Scruton proposed The Nation as the ideal answer to this New Emptiness. The Nation would need lots of help - not least by way of reinvigorated religion (proddie, of course) and an identification of same with the notion of The Common Culture That Made Us Great (this theme is precisely what definitively unites the scribblings of Sam Huntington, ol' man Kristol, and divers neocon acolytes, no?).

Ten years before that, Pat Buchanan suggested to Richard Nixon the declaration of a cultural war along precisely such lines. Josh Marshall recalls the note referred to 'positive polarisation'. It concluded thusly: "this is a potential throw of the dice that could bring the media on our heads, and cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half."

So that's my blog-length answer to Mark Schmitt's question as to why it is that all these 'values' we're hearing so much about don't seem to concern themselves with social justice any more. It was the Christian concern with social justice that helped produce the welfare state, and capital don't need no damned welfare state right now. It needs an orderly self-regulating society of worker ants and it prefers 'em sniffing each other's sheets rather than dwelling on those real conditions of life.

If it's moral to crush, disintegrate, bereave, incinerate and eviscerate hundreds of thousands of people in other countries and it is immoral to allow about ten per cent of our own number to marry those they love, then I invite you to deposit your morals where only your proctologist need pay them heed. If it's moral for the state to remove from half of our number discretion over their own bodies on grounds that life is sacred, then a president exceptionally inclined to execute people has some questions to answer. If it's moral to force crackpot creationism down the throats of our innocents but not to afford them the sort of sex education that has proven itself able to avoid a plethora of unwanted pregnancies, lingering deaths and sexually transmitted diseases, well, then morals can be immoral indeed. Just check your John Stuart-Mill to see how far we suddenly haven't got in nearly two centuries ...

So let's not have unity, eh? Let's not fall in behind our mandate-waving leaders. What this is really all about is whether we give up what's left of the material gains and formal rights bequeathed us by the generations of workers, women, gays and freedom fighters who bled in the streets to earn 'em. Half of Australia and half of America demonstrably haven't been taken in by decades of this tendentious moralising, and that's one sound platform from which to resume the task of putting things right, I reckon.

Big Capital and its pet theocrats own the White House now and it is time for us to recognise some of those real conditions; for example, that a corporatist, mercantilist, imperialist, pseudo-theological, intolerant, blood'n'soil-nationalist, culturally-exceptionalist, illiberal and brutal campaign - forty years in the making - has succeeded in capturing the world's driver's seat. It has paid too high a price in terms of treasure and global prestige to do this, and it must now bleed white both its own populace and much of the rest of the world to sustain its world-historic grasp for global control.

There's yer next coupla decades, right there.

Oh, and why is it so daft to suspect a dodgy election in '04? Lemme propose two possible answers ...

1) Because it is not necessarily valid to extrapolate from the past when diagnosing the present. So you can't say, "They stole the elections in 2000, then lied continually for four years, and then began lying about Kerry as soon as they finished lying about Dean, so they're cheating now".

Can you?

2) Because you can't prove it. Whatever the US electoral system's virtues, it seems accountability ain't one of 'em. Mexican election observer Oscar Gonzales has observed as much of the latest celebration of American democracy as he was allowed to, and even that was enough to allow him to observe that "one aspect of the U.S. electoral system that our observer delegation found deeply disturbing is the partisan oversight and administration of elections ... We were disappointed that touch screen voting machines – which nearly one in three voters will use this year – do not provide a paper trail ... we were distressed by the laws in eight states that permanently disenfranchise felons even after they have completed their sentences, laws that we felt create subcategories of citizenship ... there are no provisions in most state laws for non-partisan poll observation ... who represents the interests of the voting public at large, including the growing number of citizens who are registered as Independents? The lack of mechanisms for non-partisan poll observation has been dramatically illustrated to our delegation as officials in about half the counties we plan on watching on Election Day have denied our requests to enter polling places."

Greg Palast puts the case that a contrived 'spoilage' rate of between two and three per cent dramatically favours the Republicans and is enough to throw states still employing the Florida-2000 technology into question. Ohio was one of those ...

This is not to say, of course, that new technologies are any better. A full third of America's voting machines are worse. Anything without a paper trail is effectively unaccountable and consequently a fraud waiting to happen. And there already is some anecdotal evidence of dodgy computers turning out dodgy data. One machine accepted 700 votes, of which about 3000went to Shrubya!

The less generously inclined among us might suspect it was always meant to be thus. After all, it's not as if this hasn't been an issue for years. And the reason it remains an issue is that some have worked hard to ensure nothing would be done about it. "Congressman Rush Holt introduced a bill into Congress requiring a voter-verified paper ballot be produced by all electronic voting machines, and it's been co-sponsored by a majority of the members of the House of Representatives. The two-year battle fought by Dennis Hastert and Tom DeLay to keep it from coming to a vote, thus insuring that there will be no possible audit of the votes of about a third of the 2004 electorate, has fueled the flames of conspiracy theorists convinced Republican ideologues - now known to be willing to lie in television advertising - would extend their "ends justifies the means" morality to stealing the vote "for the better good of the country" they think single-party Republican rule will bring."

No wonder Kerry didn't bother insisting on a count - nor that FoxNews is so busily slandering those poor exit pollsters.

Shit, I meant to cheer myself up with this rant, too ...


He did the show on Sunday - fighting for what little breath was left him, but talking sense and substance right up to the show's closing minute, when Les Murray seamlessly finished a sentence for him just as JW's deathless enthusiasm finally threatened to take him a word further than his atrophied lungs would allow. I thought then it might be a moment I'd have to remember, and so it was. A big whole-of-face smile, betwixt and beyond the white lines (I played against him once in his Canberra City days), and just the bloke to have in the skipper's armband on your country's one and only gallop on the world stage.

What a bastard of a month it's been.
political economic and cultural observations in the register of dismal dilettantism

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