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What the Left just doesn't get

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If I were your Queen, I would perform a coup upon myself. I would unseat not only My Majesty but any instrument suited to the purpose of mass control. Before I invite former subjects to loot the palace, burn my effigy and sit down to an Afternoon Tea of the Oppressed, I will make my last decree. You will all be asked to shut it with your “debates” on free speech.
Free speech. Free speech. We must diminish/amplify/no-platform/fine/reward free ruddy speech. Free speech is, apparently, the alpha and omega of every flipping argument for or against Positive Social Change. Some want speech free and some call for its regulation. Whether “libertarian” or “left”—terms that have come to signify very little beyond a particular approach to speech—every sod is banging on about it.
Today, we are again defending or attacking one man’s “free speech”. Again, it’s Steve Bannon. Again, we fail to interrogate the assumption common to both “libertarian” and “left”: speech is not only the measure of a just society, it is the very means to this end.
That Bannon, a former investment banker and current one-percenter, has been “disinvited” from a literary festival is of urgent interest to many. And by “many” of course we mean those whose survival or power depends almost entirely on speech.

It is baffling that speak so very much about literary festivals. Who gives a shit about the literary festival? Well, you and me.  Especially me.

Political leaders, business lobbyist and leaders, journalists, social media “influencers” and entire media corporations hold forth on Bannon. Just as such people held forth on Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a name would not be known so well were it not for an incident at a literary festival.
Literary festivals. LITERARY FESTIVALS.
I am very grateful that the literary festival provides me with such frequent cause to say, “Hey. Literary festival. Go and fuck yourself.” A pointless suggestion, as this is already the core business of the literary festival, which—excepting NYWF and a handful of others—exist not to defy class antagonism, but to sustain it.
This is not a case against literature, speech, freedom or any one of the many “festivals” ostensibly dedicated to their maintenance. It is a case for an understanding of power that includes things other than speech.
The view that the products of media and the contents of our speech are of central importance is argued by the “libertarian” claim for Bannon or the “left” claim against him. The obverse is true for Yassmin Abdel-Magied. These arguments may appear very different to you. To me, they appear minted on each side of a single coin.

Steve Bannon claims that the “left” project is regulation. And you know what? He’s mostly right.

Let’s say Steve-o doesn’t speak and Yassmin takes his place. Let’s say that all festivals for literature and ideas are either regulated or willing to adopt a cultural diversity quota. Or let’s say that The New Yorker never again invites anyone other than Germaine Greer, Dirty Steve and Whatsit the Pointless Alt-lite Turd to attend its swanky events and fill its eminent pages. What happens next? Will a true social shift occur?
Yes. People will overwhelmingly answer yes. This is the popular and almost uncontested view. It is not only the self-identified “left” that believes that in regulating speech, they regulate us toward a better world. It is the hidden belief of ostensible “libertarian” Steve Bannon, too. 
Bannon claims that the “left” project is regulation. And you know what? He’s mostly right. But that “left” seeks to regulate little more than speech. These folks may believe in a more equal income distribution, more affordable housing, healthcare, education etc but they also believe that the route to this is expression. It is with such great and unexamined faith that they see expression as the way to solve the problems of the material world, they do not often consider the problems of the material world. These will just be fixed when we fix expression.
We fight, from both sides of the same coin, to fix literary festivals, turns of speech, other people’s and language etc. Leaving aside that legislating or urging for the legislation of “improved” language is very likely to shit a lot of people and make the “left” appear exactly like the middle-management busybody it has largely become, this is thinking that requires if not immediate revision, then at least some understanding.

You of the putative “left” must consider the extent of your faith in the power of words to change the world.

Please. You of the putative “left” must consider the extent of your faith in the power of words to change the world. You are obliged, at the very least, to admit to your position and defend it. You can’t just go about saying, “Words are important” and “language can hurt” and be satisfied you have made a case convincing to me or to yourself. The belief that the beginning of everything is The Word is an old one. It’s a common one. It is now and has been for the longest time a very prevalent view.
It is also a controlling view. Which is to say, it’s not the view of the truly powerful, but the view they want you to think they hold. Does Steve Bannon really think that free speech is fundamental to life as we know it? Of course he fucking doesn’t. He does not believe but knows as fact that it his defence of speech and freedom that will conceal his true project.
This guy does not give a single shit for the disenfranchised white working class etc. The aim of his “libertarian” appearance is the accumulation of power. For this one-percenter, it always has been. As a Goldman Sachs investment banker, Bannon committed to the work of advancing neoliberal regulation. Neoliberalism, the principle that continues to guide the West, is not just a thing that naturally happened. It continues to depend upon regulation…I won’t bore you arts farts but I will say that laissez-faire is planned and planning is never laissez-faire.
Goodness knows what sort of regulation that knob-end is planning. What he says is that he’s anti-globalisation and anti-regulation and anti-state and pro-freedom and pro-free speech. None of this is true, and all of it is language borrowed from the Left. The five of us Left are strongly opposed not just to fascism, but to imperialism, AKA the imperial state and its capit…..

How do we stop shareable racism of the type founded, commissioned and overseen by Bannon? Send Sarah Ferguson to speak with him? No.  

Look. Yes. Back to the plot: Language is important. Everyone should use everybody else’s preferred pronouns and refrain from the use of bigoted slurs. This stuff does serve to maintain power and yes we will fight the “free speech” with which Bannon made his newest fortune as the chair of Breitbart.
How do we do this? How do we stop shareable racism of the type founded, commissioned and overseen by Bannon? How do we end that disgrace? Send Sarah Ferguson to speak with him? No.  
Ferguson did interview Bannon. She failed to ask him why he so effectively spread so much propaganda. She then failed to ask him how. And these are questions the “left” never asks of anyone, including itself. Not a single question about his techniques as a propagandist. No interest whatsoever in how the Breitbart factory produced and distributed so much deceit and obscenity in such a short time.

It is the view of the “left” that bigotry is largely the result of bad people reading bad books and watching bad TV.

The “left” believes, as Ferguson does, that if we all speak better more equal words, we will all live in a better, more equal world. The “left” does not see, as Ferguson doesn’t, that the exchange of commodities plays such a vital role. It is the view of the “left” that bigotry is largely the result of bad people reading bad books and watching bad TV. And, sure, that shit does not help. But if you can’t see, if only in the case of Breitbart, that the greatest problem we have is NOT the people who read it and not even with the “free speech” commodity it sold. The problem is the power that built this shitpost factory.
Bannon does not care for free expression. He cares for power, and the prick understands how to seize it far better than your typical artistic director, ABC TV journalist or Prominent Advocate for Social Justice. Literary festivals. Pronouns. Positive role models on TV. This is the labour of the “left” and the only part of power it cares to govern. Now, even those products of the “left” have become so fantastically oblivious to the reality of power, it’s likely to lose all its festivals, too.
We can only talk about the best and freest way to talk for so long. We can only accept the sponsorships of the finance sector with our eyes closed. We can only ignore the reality of the commodity and all the pain and power it produces until we have none of the crude material stuff that keeps us alive.
In sum, the “left” may consider even the slightest move to the Left. If I were your Queen I would push you. Before performing a coup.

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18 responses to “What the Left just doesn't get

  1. Steve Bannon is a fatuous loudmouth – the left doesn’t want to sully their hands with dealing with him – on the other hand his cohort long ago decided to fucking “deal” with us – sadly we have to be just as bigger pricks as him (to survive) and I personally intend to be … no prisoners

  2. I watched Sarah Ferguson’s interview with Steve Bannon – or was it the other way around? I concluded that he considers Donald Trump will fall by the wayside after the US ‘mid-term elections’ – and Steve Bannon intends himself to pick up the baton and run with it. By developing a fusion of the extreme Right and the extreme Left! His current tour of the world is to incite a global(ist) nationalist movement in every country he visits – that is, encourage ‘nationalist movements’ everywhere. Then take that back to the US as the basis for his ‘United States first and foremost’ message! The guy is subtle and intelligent – the complete reverse of DT. He hides that behind his rough exterior. ‘Expect the unexpected.’

  3. The world really changed for me when it became accepted practice to call female actors, actors, rather than actress, because actress is so deme… Oh, I don’t effing know why.
    I’ve always found pitchforks and burning faggots (the small stick kind, no homophobic slurs here) were far greater instruments of change, and turning ploughshares into helmets, if enough people do it.
    I’m at a bit of a crossroad. I can’t stand the right and the left makes me wince. #disenfranchised, I’d say, if I were on twitter.

  4. So is it ACTION you are calling for Helen?
    I agree that vacuous mouthings of oh-so-correct pronouns are with us to stay but is it simply bad language we fling at people like Bannon ( as you have very nicely done).?
    The Left in Australia is really an armchair cohort of self-proclaimed free thinkers existing in a completely middle-class comfort zone.
    Whatever happened to direct action.?
    There is no radical left left and no one seems to be interested in doing , rather than talking about, fairness , equality , justice and ….oh shit; hoist on my own petard.

  5. After a lot for of words going I’m never sure where, I’m left with the impression that the fake promoter of human rights and freedoms, Steve Bannon, is somehow a morally equivalent counterpoint to the flaky leftists, when in fact he is a slimeball paid propagandist for the vicious, divisive billionaire fascist putsch in the US. He is the moral equivalent of Hitler, Goebbels and Ghengis Khan. He is everything to be detested and reviled that has crawled out of the slimepits surrounding our disintegrating society and he is hellbent on destroying democracy and all the hard-won freedoms we keep fighting for. For Christ’s sake take a stand against evil in our world, because that’s what he stands for.

    1. Thats basically what Helen is saying. Here’s a man who knows propaganda and knows how to seize power (paraphrasing Helen’s point above). And he and his ilk are doing it far better than the Left, because they are basically focussing on terminology and literary festivals and making space for Bannon to peddle his propaganda (again, paraphrasing Helen’s point above).
      I think you’re in fierce agreement with Helen. The left are fiddling whilst Rome burns. And whats worse, they’re tearing down anyone who has the temerity to point it out.

  6. Such a self centered and superficial analysis one would be hard pressed to better. As usual.
    Consistently amazed that anyone takes this writer even remotely seriously.

    1. Go on, then. Tell us where Helen’s criticism of the Left’s focus on the expression of ideas fails. What is the point of turning up here just to say “you suck!” ?

  7. Thanks Helen. Someone has to challenge the shallow journalism at the ABC. I kept waiting for Ferguson to at least acknowledge the truth of some of Bannon’s points about the impact of globalization, Neoliberalism, so called free trade etc on the working class around the world. Most of his points were spot on, regardless of whether he cares about that or not (and we all know he doesn’t). But a starting point for understanding the appeal of the Alt Right to working class people is to at least acknowledge the accuracy of their analysis. Ferguson and most of the elite commentariat seem incapable of doing this. Keep up the good work.

  8. The main issue in Bannon’s Four Corners interview were the US competition with China on several fronts which have major impacts on the US in many ways. Trump’s trade war against countries with a trade surplus with the US, most notably with China, is negative for the US and the world but is potentially most negative for China. China is throwing its weight around militarily, economically and diplomatically and it has been stealing intellectual property shamelessly for decades. Responses to China’s actions and ambitions have been and are weak. Trump’s actions are not in the neoliberal playbook and counter to the great benefits of globalisation. I doubt Republican leaders are happy and I do not have a strong feeling that they will produce a benefit for the US. But they are a play that has some chance of restraining China’s expansionism.

    1. Well said Geoff Hindle. What Helen is so conflicted about is her natural desire to wield power to smite the fascists while maintaining the image of a ‘writer’, an ideas person, the Trotsky of the Party, making literary bombs for the useful idiots to throw.
      The problem with revolutions like the Trump insurgency is when the working class bogans get hold of the organs of power, very unpleasant things can happen. Hitler’s bogans on the right, Stalin’s bogans on the Left, Pauline’s bogans here in Oz.
      Helen’s other problem is that there aren’t enough useful idiots on the Left in Oz quite yet to take to the streets and do some damage.. They are largely confined to the Universities where they have captured the academic dwarfs who run them, and drafted in a bit of muscle from the militant Trade Unions to shut someone up with the threat of disruptive violence and ‘security’ blackmail.

  9. When was the last time you made a successful conversion of another’s thinking by simply telling them they’re wrong. Those who voted for Trump and made the difference (in which enterprise Bannon made significant contribution) were the traditional Democrat vote, the white working class… the disaffected. They have, at least in their minds and that’s what counts, legitimate issues; no job, no money and no vision for the future, and they’re angry. Telling them they’re idiots for doing what they did is fruitless. There concerns need to be acknowledged and responded to. Surely the left of the political spectrum, their traditional power base, can do a better job of that than Bannon and a cadre of billionaires? If not, I despair of our current political leadership.

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