The things that come out of Mark Latham’s mouth

It is only with the most heartfelt insincerity I rue my failure to locate a copy of Mark Latham’s newest book. I should have loved nothing less than a weekend spent with what publishers describe as a “curated collection of the best previously published articles from the former Labor Leader”. But, oddly, the well-publicised text that promises to bravely reprint all the true hypocrisies of “the left” is tricky to find. It is not available for physical delivery from one major retailer in under 15 business days, and another estimates waiting time of two-to-three weeks. Alan Jones may have last week launched the thing with ceremony, but Outsiders appears yet unavailable for purchase in digital form.

You don’t get to say that Latham he is damaging or dangerous while arguing simultaneously that all things he opposes are benign.

Mr Latham’s publisher was similarly unable to provide an advance electronic copy—this is not uncommon—but kindly invited Daily Review to pop over and grab an old-fashioned book in time for deadline. And, you know, I woulda were I not (a) now unable to read printed books due to crap old eyes and (b) the sort of Politically Correct Safe-Space Snowflake disinclined to take a train and two buses to pick up columns we have already read.

So. Let it be plainly said before Latham says it for us all. (1) Mine is exactly the kind of lazy, lefty, feminist, victim attitude that is The Problem With This Country Today. (2) This is not a book review. Rather, it is an effort to consider thinkers like Latham, their prominent passions and how these have come to change and function within Australian, and Western, public life.

I want to do this without being too directly combative. This is not to take the former First Lady’s lofty advice to “go high” when they “go low”. I do not spurn low and vulgar argument. I do, however, believe there is only defeat in playing a game where the rules are essentially set by one’s opponent. You don’t get to say, as many of Latham’s critics do, that he is damaging or dangerous while arguing simultaneously that all things he opposes are benign. This is just cultural pugilism where one guy hits with, “your published ideas are harmful and will bring down the nation!” and the other guy punches back with, “Your face is!”

There is no way to assess the “damage” done by Latham’s mouth, just as there is no measure for harm done by his perceived Political Correctness Gone Mad. Between you, me and any person who would rather not spend all of their time fretting about the effects of public speech and cultural tendencies, who fucking knows, and maybe we should spend more time worrying about other stuff.

This is not to say that “free speech” is a trifling matter. This is not to say that it is not both injustice and brute obstacle to democracy itself that there are those with a great deal to say who never get to speak. How do we address this problem of unequal, ergo not truly free, speech? Do we keep defending the “right” of whoever we happen to fancy, even though this is a right they exercise loudly and very often? Perhaps we might occasionally think about what prevents so many from speaking.

As offensive as many found Latham’s comments, he was correct in stating that mental ill health disproportionately afflicts those in the arse end of the income distribution.

Here are some suggestions: illiteracy, poverty, incarceration, broken local infrastructure, institutionalised racism, poor health. In other words, what we might consider as a new political priority is “a fight for the crude and material things without which no refined and spiritual things could exist.” This particular fight is one that Latham has shown some conditional and imperfect interest in, before naming himself The Outsider. As offensive as many found his comments in an Australian Financial Review column of 2015, he was correct in stating that mental ill health disproportionately afflicts those in the arse end of the income distribution. This is a fact. Now this is my opinion, and sorta Latham’s: in becoming a cultural preoccupation for a well-to-do knowledge class, mental ill health is largely discussed in non-economic terms. This is a very poor way to publicly discuss a problem for which poverty is a very clear risk factor.

So, he didn’t say this well. So, he couldn’t resist putting the boot in to all vulnerable flesh he could find in Australian media. So, his fight for the “crude and material things” seemed to be largely eclipsed by spite. I was not convinced upon reading his column that Latham gave much of a hoot for the truly marginalised, and fairly convinced that he felt most sorry for himself. “I am marginalised,” has been his central message for some time.

I get this. It is a human temptation to think of oneself as hard done-by. It can be irresistible for the political and media classes. Not only is it very easy to believe that public ignominy is far worse than private abuse—I have now learned it is not, and I give no sort of flip for the “Twitterati” that so upsets Latham—it is a very simple matter to turn your perceived hurt to elite advantage.

Perhaps you have noticed how many professionally amplified people, including Latham on the cover of his book, claim that they are at great risk of being silenced, and do so to applause. Liberal feminist women recount attempts to quash their speech, in very public spaces. Parliamentarians who wish to impose the cultural values of an earlier age on their constituents sell themselves as “anti-establishment”. Billionaires persuade voters in key counties that they have not long enjoyed establishment friendships, but are also marginalised and ready to be “your voice”. Progressive politicians receive sympathetic space to defend their travel spending because “grumpy old white men” oppose it.

The self-pitying postures of an elite knowledge class fill many in the West with the shits. This is a powerful cultural divide. Here is what Latham doesn’t get: he is one of the elite.

Here’s one thing Latham is right about—or at least, was half-right about the last time he tried to whine about something bigger than Mark Latham, i.e. the nation, with the 2013 publication of his Quarterly Essay. The concerns and self-pitying postures of an elite knowledge class fill many in the West with the shits. This is a powerful cultural divide. Here is what he doesn’t get: he is one of the elite. As is Trump, Cory Bernardi, the falsely rebellious Tony Abbott, the Devines and Bolts and Kennys who all claim to speak upon behalf of the marginalised, the no-nonsense, the real.

Sure, these pundits have their audience. Just as knowledge class progressives have theirs. But both groups have become interdependent and are absorbed far less in a fight for the “real people” they claim to represent and much more in a self-involved league of Who Hurts Most. This is the message on “both” political sides now: I am right because they say I am wrong. This is not argument. This is no route to justice. This practice is boring and irrelevant to the lives of many, and has, even on the alt-right side of things, about a year of shelf-life left in it before a final and cheap, “the true enemy is political correctness! These are the real bigots!” begins to sound as meaningful to consumers of media as GDP.

Where does this guy get off claiming that he is still, or has ever been, silenced and oppressed?

National GDP tells us very little about the lives of most citizens, and increasingly offers us only the success story of the elite. Latham tells us even less of mass struggle, preferring largely to describe his own. And, yes, I agree with him when he says that the elite preoccupations of what he calls “left” feminists are absurd and intended for consumption by the few. Even setting aside that eminent ladies who write about elite problems of the boardroom or the newsroom or the Senate sit just slightly to the “left” of Mussolini’s seafood fork, where does this guy get off claiming that he is still, or has ever been, silenced and oppressed?

It is perhaps useful here to remember that Latham was once a theorist of the Third Way—basically, Blair, Clinton and the idea that you could promote a refined society while making sure that just a few people had all the crude material things. So, these guys, inspired by sociologists who truly believed that the starting point for full social participation by an individual was more cultural than found in the material world, let the rich get richer. They argued against the welfare state—and, under Clinton, effectively killed it—and said a lot of super nice stuff about inclusion while, oops, throwing loads of people of colour in profitable prisons. Yeah. That whole privatisation thing didn’t work out so well for black Australian women.

This guy who championed globalisation—the borderless movement of finance and labour—now can’t stop himself from imposing restrictions of the cultural kind.

This is useful to remember for two reasons, the first being a bit petty. His new book blurb promises an author who “refused to bend his knee to the leftist fads of the day.” LOL. Tell that to Anthony Giddens, Sunshine. I cannot think of a worse “leftist fad” in history than the Third Way, save for Stalinism. The second may be more instructive. This guy who championed globalisation—the borderless movement of finance and labour—now can’t stop himself from imposing restrictions of the cultural kind. He keeps saying what is and isn’t “Australian”, as though we ever had that identity confidently worked out. It is almost as though the global contradictions of the Clinton and Blair eras are now playing out in his head.

There are decades of bad policy inside Mark Latham. He has the hair and some of the nationalism of White Australia Policy-era Labor. He has advocates like Alan Jones, the moribund force of both AM talk radio and the Libs. His economic views are kind of AWOL, but we know he has a good deal to say to the libertarian David Leyonhjelm, whose opposition to a minimum wage has now prodded him  into “rethinking my position”. And from all of this failed policy junk, he believes he can build a sound solution. And communicate his unstable handiwork by means of invective, and by calling himself an opponent of the “mainstream” in the pages of our most mainstream publication.

If only our speech was free. If only we would fight for the conditions to allow it.

Just how “damaging” Mark Latham might be is not, for mine, the most interesting question. How damaged and fragmented even a former politician’s understanding of politics can become is worth more investigation. Sure, Latham’s understanding appears to us as the most incoherent. But there are so few in Australian public life now who offer much in the way of a political understanding. It’s largely “Political Correctness has Gone Mad” or “We Need More Political Correctness, Especially For Ladies in Boardrooms”.

If only our speech was free. If only we would truly fight for the conditions to allow it. If only we would be crude enough to speak about the crude stuff of organising a good life for all. Then, we could be refined, perhaps even spiritual.

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28 responses to “The things that come out of Mark Latham’s mouth

  1. Thank you Helen.

    Latham ‘spoke’ to me in the early days (and in some ways still does) but I’m glad for your link regarding the Frankfurt school of Economics in your article.

    Your link summary “a fight for the crude and material things without which no refined and spiritual things could exist” is *exactly* my problem with the left of centre politics today.

    The material is assumed and the rest will follow.

  2. RIP MARK LATHAM. What can put on this useless bastard’s tombstone when he finally shuffles off this mortal coil after many millions of dollars wasted on his lifestyle choices and travels which the taxpayers is still funding following an ignominious parliamentary career. “Just another labor rat” along with the likes of Billy Hughes, William Holman and Joe Lyons. Latham is without principle. He pretends to speak for the downtrodden but sticks the boot in to so many ordinary folk. Champion of globalisation and free market economics. Low wages. Earning and learning? What about jobs. Where were the positive employment generating and educative reforms to guide the country forward. Heaven knows how he was different to Howard. In fact it was due to his, that’s right Mr Latham, His poor performance in the 2004 federal election that gave control of the Senate to the conservatives and ushered in WorkChoices. we are still suffering this legacy.

    He hates identity politics which is more than fair enough but creates constantly new identities for himself and his imagined followers who range from the economically and socially libertarian to the authoritarian Far Right fringe. Not statesmen material at all and that is what Australia needs and deserves. To be fair Rudd is a reasonably close second but Latham’s career in and out of parliament are indicative of the sordid and rotten and depressing political process which lies outside the ambit of Razer’s excellent piece.

  3. I find it comical that Latham presented himself to the right via his efforts on Sky TV. Naturally they only too willingly accepted him as a backhander to the left but what a lousy deal for them. He is such a figure of ridicule without any wit or wisdom and has become a puppet of those he despised in his early years. If Latham didn’t have someone, anyone, to publicly despise he would have to do it by himself without an audience .

  4. HELEN: You have been sentenced to read, while locked away for a long weekend, or by using a kindle, the collected opuses of Mark Latham or Tony Abbott. The choice is yours-which one. (you cant opt for a mixture of both.)

  5. Mark Latham thinks he can do with words what he could do with handshakes….. Dominate. He is just as successful with words as handshakes. To wit. Zip. God knows how he became leader of ALP.

  6. I remember reading “The Latham Diaries” many years ago. One part of the book stays with me: Latham saying that he “wasn’t sure he wanted the job” (of Labor leader/PM). I thought that was a comment that exposed poor character in someone who had the opportunity to lead the nation (something that requires a certain level of committment, one would have thought).

    You had your chance, Mark. Give it a rest you sad bastard.

  7. Emotion and thought are intimately connected. it has been suggested that all thought begins with emotion. Mark Latham is a very emotional guy. His thought reflects this. Given he receives his generous pension, probably worth about $100,000pa now, for doing nothing more than sitting on his date, perhaps he could do a bit more sitting of the meditative kind to still his mind and increase the clarity of his thought. Ultimately, who knows, he may even be able to let go of the self. Then he could begin to provide something of real value.

  8. It is hard to think of a more tragic sinking of an intelligent mind into the deep wells of one’s own self pity and loathing of the very people Mark Latham sought to lead…

  9. Helen, I always enjoy your writing – it’s so good!!! Mark L? Don’t know what happened to him, but he is increasingly irrelevant – perhaps he should sacrifice a goat to the climate gods?????

  10. ” I cannot think of a worse “leftist fad” in history than the Third Way, save for Stalinism.”

    Agreed, as smarmy and unctuous as any political movement, and just as dangerous as any of the extreme ends. Latham would do well to explain that he either still believes in it, or he did believe in it but doesn’t now and why, or he was just bullshitting the whole time.

    But coherent and non-abusive argument is not his strong point.

  11. while we are on the subject does anyone know if we the taxpayers are again paying for the Monk’s travel and jollies trip to the Old country..

  12. Life is full of surprises.
    First time I’ve ever had a book reviewed by someone who not only didn’t have a copy but admits she can’t read books!!!
    What planet does this shit come from?
    Mark Latham

    1. Mr Latham. I am the author of this article. This article, to address one of your questions, is not labelled as a book review. It is not intended as a book review. The article explicitly states in its third paragraph “This is not a book review.”
      In its second paragraph. to address another of your questions, the article explicitly states my inability to read physical books due to low vision. Electronic books, now widely available, present no problem at all. I encourage you to consider publishing your next work in both physical and electronic form. This tends to produce more royalty revenue.
      To answer, “What planet does this shit come from?” That of an increasingly typical Australian. I earn the median Australian wage, own no assets and have no job security. We can’t all be as lucky as you.
      We may, however, look at those macro-economic and social views gaining currency, such as your alt-right flavoured sort so popular in the present, and describe their flaws. It’s us that will suffer the rise of such thin ideas, after all. Not you.

    2. Like it says, it’s from planet The Problem With This Country Today. Talking of shit, why no mention of the ladder of opportunity?Anyways, stop whining, you won’t do better anywhere else. She sorta says you’re not a total deadshit.

  13. Correct me if I’m wrong but he is still on the public purse via his parliamentary pension? It is easy to be a free thinker when you don’t have to think about how the bills will be paid.

  14. thank god Whitlam is dead, he being responsible for the curating of this being. Though I am not sure if I feel this because he mentored him or what he has become.

  15. I commend you Helen (I think) for giving Mark Latham yet more air time. Isn’t it about time though we just accepted that the man is best ignored?

    1. You really nailed me with your humour there, Sunshine. It’s always a great comic move to repeat a punchline.
      I made a joke about myself, and then you made it again for me!

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