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Trickle Down – the assault by language from Donald Trump to Simon Birmingham

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As an artist my life is about asking myself a bunch of big questions. They’re not new questions and they are probably not that big to anyone except me, but they’re my questions. Often one of those questions can lead me to ask another that on the surface seems completely unrelated. as it did the other day when Federal Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham,  cut 478 vocation courses from those eligible for student loans, of which 57 were arts related.

We’ve taken a bit of a kicking in the arts of late,  and it got me thinking about the value of culture in my country which in turn led me to ask myself this. The Donald is President, Britain has exited the EU and Australia has become the largest net exporter of liquid natural gas in the world, so what do these three things have in common?

To help me answer that question I began to reflect on a quote from Peter Weir’s beautiful film Dead Poets Society where the late Robin Williams’ character tells his students to “…avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy”.

“A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys – to woo women – and, in that endeavour, laziness will not do. ” he tells them.

While I agree that it is perhaps a little loose with its theory about the origins of language, it is a quote that nevertheless contains a number of potent truths. The most obvious is that language, and more particularly, English as a result of it being created by linguistic bower birds, is incredibly rich.

Words, so innocent on the page, take on a profoundly different character when purposefully and articulately employed in the public arena.

Yes, it has given us ‘sad’ and ‘morose’ but it has also lovingly filled the space in between with words like ‘sorrow’, ‘woe’ and my particular favourite, ‘melancholy’; the lugubrious, reflective ennui which I often find myself indulging in for no good reason other than because I can.

It can be paradoxical too in its richness as it is with ‘loneliness’ and ‘solitude’, two words that both describe the physical state of being on one’s own yet; the former expresses its profound emotional pain and the latter celebrates its rather selfish joy. And so it goes.

What the Dead Poets Society quote also alludes to is that language has great power. Words – so innocent and seemingly inert on the page of a dictionary take on a profoundly different character when they are purposefully and articulately employed in the public arena, a place where they have the capacity to both unite and divide us, to cement accord or inflame dissent.

If you combine an authority over language with a knowledge of history and an understanding of human behaviour what you then have is an influential toolkit with which you can alter the course of a country, or indeed, an entire civilisation. But if you get the mix even slightly wrong and add a bit of arrogance or ignorance to the pot you can, and more often will, inflict great damage.

Common sense begins to collectively seem less sensible when there is a cognitive distortion between rhetoric and reality.

Historians tell us this has occurred on numerous occasions but perhaps the most cautionary — and reasonably topical example given the centenary of ANZAC– of how a command of language, an insight into basic human behaviour, egoism and a misreading of history can wreak havoc came in August 1914 when a seemingly optimistic and largely prosperous civilisation decided to collectively commit suicide.

World War 1 would ultimately result in the death or wounding of 38 million people and one of the key players in the carnage was language, language used to create a condition for which English, with all its richness, has a special word: ‘hegemony’.

Hegemony is the forceful articulation of fundamental concepts that become so deeply embedded in common-sense understandings that they are taken for granted and beyond question. Not any old concepts will do for this to occur. Whatever is being proposed must appeal naturally to our intuitions and instincts, to our values and our desires, as well as to the possibilities that seem inherent in the social world we inhabit.

For Britain and her dominions, WW1 was a strangely appealing fait accompli; victory was assured and it was backed by value-laden rhetoric like “King and Country” “The might of the British Empire” and “The Filthy Hun” — and it worked a treat. Australians signed up in their droves, often walking hundreds of miles for the opportunity to be popped on a boat, sailed half way around the world, join in the common sense and be slaughtered.

But as the common sense begins to collectively seem less sensible, when there is a cognitive distortion between the rhetoric and the reality, a hegemony can start to unravel and the symptoms of that unravelling can be found in words. Plain language gets tossed out and a linguistic cat and mouse game begins where phrases are used to disguise, rather than illuminate action. Perhaps the most striking example of this collapse in meaning during WW1 was the use of the word ‘wastage’.

Even during the quieter days on the Western Front, allied casualties from shelling in trenches to men waiting to fight were a staggering 7,000 per day. At a point it became obvious that the truth of those numbers was unsustainable and new term had to be found to account for the deaths and injuries. The reports stopped quoting numbers and instead simply read “normal wastage”.

As the four-month long assault known as Third Ypres came to an end in November 1917 (remembered by Australians as The Battle of Passchendaele), the combined German and Allied losses in that little patch of southern Belgium were estimated to have been as high as 1,000,000 dead or wounded. Field Marshall Haig’s dispatch read “Normal wastage”.

If language is anything to go by, the wheels of the neo-liberalism hegemony are falling off.

The word most often used by historians to describe the mood of the people at the end of WW1 is ‘disenchanted’. It is now widely accepted that what they were disenchanted by was not so much the carnage but rather the realisation that language no longer meant what it was supposed to mean. What was spoken of as a great victory in hegemonic terms from behind a benevolent mask of wonderful-sounding words like ‘freedom’, ‘liberty’, ‘choice’ and ‘rights’ was in truth a profound, painful and devastating loss at the hands of naked class power. The people had in effect been betrayed by language.

So what does all this have to do with The Donald, Brexit and gas? Well it may be 100  years later but the basic hegemonic formula remains the same and we live with one now.

It’s nothing as cataclysmic as WW1 and not nearly as noisy. It’s something rather more benign, so much so that many of us don’t even know what it is. It’s been around for about 40 years and it’s called neo-liberalism, the economic savior of a generation.

Like WW1, it was born out of an apparently intractable crisis and so seemed inevitable. Political parties of the right, centre and left all bought into its philosophy, they knew no other way of thinking or doing and so it became “the common sense”. For a while it worked well. It transformed the way we do business but then it fell into the hands of ideologues and, like communism under Stalin, it become a shadow of its former self. And, if language is anything to go by, the wheels of the neo-liberalism hegemony are falling off.

In the United States the power elite kept telling the people that trickle-down economics would create opportunities for all Americans, that this trade deal would do this, this one that. They told them that austerity was common sense and privatisation was inevitable, that the concentration of private wealth was good fortune and that rising inequality, student debt resulting from the decline in social funding for education, the loss of well-paying manufacturing employment due to globalisation and declining working-class incomes and social power where a fait accompli.

At the same time they kept telling them how great their country was. But their language, much like ‘wastage’, simply didn’t match the reality. The common sense no longer made sense and so along came The Donald to fill the “meaning vacuum”.

Trump told them how it really was. He pointed out that several decades of neoliberalism had left their country’s infrastructure in ruins, that working class wages were stagnant, that the trickle down had failed to create anything much other than billionaires and that the richest country in the world had more than 20% of its people living below the poverty line.

He told them what they saw, that America wasn’t great and then forcefully articulated what they wanted to believe, that it could be again. So what we have is perhaps the greatest irony of the century, a divisive, misogynistic, messianic nihilist who is one of the most visible beneficiaries of neoliberalism leading the most powerful nation on earth away from another betrayal and into a new age. The sentiments that surround Brexit, though subtly different are fundamentally the same. The language of politicians purporting one thing while the reality that people saw in their streets was something completely different. Betrayal.

In Australia we’ve had several announcements in the last weeks that exemplify a similar disconnect. The first was that we are now the largest net exporter of LNG in the world, something that we should all be immensely proud of. Although a deal done by our leaders means that we will see no real benefit from this windfall for at least six years and even then, very little will go into our pockets.

In fact, in the same way that we subsidise all our mining based on royalty deals sealed  in the 1960s, it has come at a net cost. And to add a bit of icing to the cake, this innovation in policy has led to Chevron, the gas field operator, cutting 1200 jobs in WA since hitting full production while its share price has grown by 20% in 12 months.

Change and continuity. Innovation, jobs and growth. Sound familiar? It is unsurprising then to discover that in this age of trickle-down and common sense austerity the three richest people in Australia have a greater net worth than the bottom 10% of the population. You would hope so because, as was announced just two weeks ago, those 10% and an additional five percent are living below the poverty line. And amongst those three million Australians are 731,000 children.

The government’s response to these figures was to reassure us that it is“…very committed to finding ways to encourage people to look after themselves”. Doubtless each one of those quarter of a million children are profoundly grateful. Two minute noodles anyone?

Of course in the arts we have known about this language disconnect for quite some time although we persist in playing our own cat and mouse game with governments in spite of it. Every day it seems we open our doors to hear someone tell us how important ‘Arts and Culture’ are to our society while we watch them take a little more public funding away. Then we busily try to make art that is excellent.

Then we say, “but cultural industries contribute $8 billion to the national economy” and they say, “oh that’s great, we need the cultural industries to drive our innovative new economy”, and then they take a bit more money away, and on it goes.

This confused common-sense has left our peak arts advocacy body, the Australia Council, so moribund in managerialism that I’m not sure they know what art is anymore. It’s the same cognitive distortion that has left arts workers in this country at a loss to explain what they do, or where they fit in — if in fact, they fit anywhere.

But then there was Simon Birmingham and it all became clear. First up, he put on his long pants and firmly denounced the rorting by the private sector of the vocational education system. This is what I call a double-handed grab back, when a neoliberal ideologue takes credit for stopping something his colleagues started. He followed that up with a piece of classically parodic hegemonic artistry when he explained that the courses had been jettisoned because they were not a part of our economic future. Well Simon, you’re on very solid ground there, they are in fact no longer a part of our economic future because they are, thanks to your cuts, no longer.

Arts is a “lifestyle choice” and that means it goes into the big BBQs and outdoor furniture section.

Then, thank goodness he let the ideological cat out of the bag. The point Simon was really making is the one I have suspected our politicians have being trying to make for a few years but haven’t quite known how to do it. It took the British a while to arrive at “wastage” so I’ve been patient waiting for this euphemism and Simon at last delivered. We really don’t need these courses, because they are, as Simon said “a lifestyle choice”. The arts and culture are a lifestyle choice which in hegemonic terms means they are not something we need and that means they go into the big BBQ’s and outdoor furniture section. Finally some clarity.

We don’t need beauty, we don’t need reflection, we don’t need understanding of who we are, or what our purpose may be in life. We have no need to collectively reflect on the past or imagine our future, because the past, as I have shown, has nothing to teach us and we know what our future looks like.

It’s bright and it’s rosy but there are no jewellers, actors, dancers or journalists. It will be economically rocky initially, but if we knuckle down it will be bounteous — and Chevron may even drop a few dollars in the pot.

There will be no beauty except that which is mass produced, but it will be full of other trickle down goodies, mostly made in China. It is populated by university educated automatons who paid off their higher education debt by pole dancing and who work on casual contracts and then go home at night and watch re-runs of Australia’s Got Talent from their hot-tubs. And to think you can choose to do anything else is un-Australian, particularly if you don’t have wealthy parents who can indulge you. In other words, don’t dream. Beauty, dreams, personal dignity and all the things that make us human are at stake.

Well I don’t know about you but I’ve had enough. The common sense just doesn’t make sense anymore and it is incumbent on artists and anyone who feels powerless to say so. We need to stop responding to this hegemonic nonsense in its dysfunctional language and find a new way of talking about who we are and what we do that makes some sense in not economic but simple human terms. For too long we have been encouraged to turn away from treating the public realm as place for social improvement, compassion, understanding and change.

By turning our backs on our values and replacing them with individualism, we have succeeded in dissocialising civic pain, stifling ambition and are slowly ripping the soul from our society. And now this government, not satisfied with privatising everything that hasn’t been nailed down, has taken the extraordinary step of privatising one of the few things we have left, hope.

“There is no such thing as society,” Margaret Thatcher said, “only individuals and families.” For the Iron Lady it was a dream, but if the last few weeks in Australian politics are anything to go by, it is fast becoming a reality. No more carping on about what the arts are worth please. Let’s start showing people.

46 responses to “Trickle Down – the assault by language from Donald Trump to Simon Birmingham

  1. I think that is the clearest enunciation of what has been worrying me about our modern world and the poison of neoliberalism and trickle-down economics that I have ever read. I fear for our future. Keep fighting Neil.

    1. Viki Wright Rivett says:
      November 13, 2016 at 9:13 am
      Agreed. What shall we do?

      Learn to speak Demotic:

      There is a word Australians are familiar with. That word is “bullshit” and we all need to start calling out the self-serving, neoliberalist drivvle for what it is. “Bullshit”.

      And speak it. And get your mind to think with the same terse accuracy.

  2. Thanks
    Some of us just can t articulate our feelings this well but it feels really good reading this
    Renaud C wollongong

  3. Thanks. Neil, I’ve been tweeting about the damage done by Neo-liberalism for several years. It is ideas that run the world and Neo-liberalism is one of the worst. Going back to Milton Friedman and his “reasoning” you can see that it’s greed dressed as economics.
    The key way forward is to use other, better ideas, to opppose the Neo-cons who push Neo-liberalism. Research shows that the drive for equality brings with it a much more helpful set of ideas. The English speaking democracies have fallen behind in this regard. We would all be better off in o much more equal world. Such a world would reduce the resistance to the other important changes we must make. Climate change is a main priority being held back by vested interested entrenched in our current culture and defended by Neo-liberalism.
    People have to realise that they are not in a “what’s in it for me culture”, they are in a “what’s in it for them culture”

  4. Fabulous! Despairingly accurate. But as Banksy would scribe on Simon’s subway walls and tenement halls, ‘THERE IS ALWAYS HOPE’. Artists are continually trying to ‘play their hand’. It’s one of the reasons they are suppressed in their efforts. The voice needs to be a collective one if there is to be any impact.

  5. Great piece Neil. A shame the people who are suffering the most at the hands of Birmingham and Co will never read it. In fact courtesy of the sustained and coldly rational destruction of our education system, fewer and fewer could read it anyway.

    There is a word Australians are familiar with. That word is “bullshit” and we all need to start calling out the self-serving, neoliberalist drivvle for what it is. “Bullshit”.

  6. My sword shall not sleep in my hand – 70 arts course struck down from TAFE by idiots who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing. They say Australia is a sad country now – it’s our job to make it sad for neoliberal pocket lining scum. But please remember that even a Labor Prime Minister one Julia Guillard commenced the attack against TAFE – I’m so glad that this hypocrite miscreant that started the Labor lurch to the right got what was coming to her. There’s much worse for Shorten if he tries the same crap!

    1. Keating & Hawke started the lurch to the right. Economic rationalism was the wastage of the 80’s. Birmingham is merely continuing the work of Dawkins.

      1. Yes, and it’s a pity Keating, with his ‘gift’ for words, bought into the neo-liberal orthodoxy so thoroughly, that he fails to see the equality he spoke of the other day on the ABC , is more nostalgia than reality.

  7. Bear with me on this. There was an episode of “Yes, Minister” (orPM) where one of the characters expressed his view that the state Modern gallery in London looked like a block of public conveniences. Sir Humphrey Appleby retorted in righteous indignation that “we gave the architect an MBE so nobody would say that”.
    So it is with ANZAC commemoration. It has been elevated to such a sacred level that one would be churlish, disrespectful and downright un-Australian to call it what it was: cynical manipulation of sentiment with little, or no, care for the impact on the lives of the people (and their families) dispatched to be cannon-fodder in a twisted chess game.
    So thank you, Mr. Pigot, for taking the time to point out eloquently that betrayal is more easily perpetrated by “our betters” than our perceived enemies.

  8. Thank you Neil. Thank you for articulating so well the reason for the slow-mounting dread I’ve been feeling for the last few years. We are sleepwalking our way into collective disaster and we need the arts as never before to wake us up. But of course the hegemony prefers us to sleep on.

  9. A wonderfully clear analysis. We and the media have all been hoodwinked into focusing on the messenger al la Trump or Hillary and Turnbull or Abbot instead of debating the real decline in the “common wealth”.

  10. “Aux armes, citoyens!” Rouget de Lisle wrote his words post-revolution (or in mid-Revolution if you wish) – but remains timely for our days! And it really is time for an “Australian Spring” – no, wait, hang on – it is already the Spring! Thanks for this cri-de-coeur. Time to clean out the Parliamentary stables! Or is it the Parliamentary pig-sties!

  11. I wonder what it will take for commentators critiquing free market economics and its consequences pervading the world to look beyond their white selves and recognise/acknowledge the racism and other bigotry that appeals to the ‘working class’. Sympathy and empathy are extended while excusing bigotry, or explaining that such groups are only racist because they’re economically marginalised. Well I have news: people of colour also suffer the effects of free market economics, added to the doses of racism that come their way and exacerbate their marginalisation. Critiques are offered that class is all that matters so that material conditions can be improved. Identity politics are a distraction. Well, the invisibility of ‘whiteness’ is still implicit in the references to the ‘working class’ (as it is in this essay and comments). I find it shocking that the racism and other bigotry surrounding Brexit and Trump’s ascension are simply ignored. It is just as racist to ignore the existence of, and consequences for, people of colour, as it is to make overtly bigoted and inflammatory comments.

  12. The one thing that sustains one is to learn that there are those amongst us who can articulate what we belief. It removes some of the rage and despair we feel about the manipulation we have been subjected to for decades.

  13. Thank you. It is good to learn that one is not alone and gratifying learn that someone so articulate feels as enraged as I do about the decades of manipulation we have been subjected to by the mediocre leaders. As Leonard Cohen said “I can run no more with this lawless crowd ” let’s hope that the ‘crack in everything ‘ will let the light in. But right now I think that is wishful thinking.

  14. Arguably in the Anglo Saxon world we have “lost the plot” by divorcing science from the arts. Originally science was regarded as a branch of philosophy – natural philosophy. In continental Europe it still is. Scientists still study arts within their curriculum.
    By the same token, arts curriculum should include some maths and science (natural philosophy). As was stated on the portal to Plato’s Academy, “let no one ignorant of mathematics enter.”

  15. Good article. How ironic that our Liberal Party is moving towards a point encouraged by the likes of Stalin and Mao where useful art is exemplified by concrete statues and high stepping ranks of soldiers. And how the use of language has turned us into lemmings.

  16. The word ‘Betrayal’ says it all. The whole rotten edifice of trickle-down economics has been shown to be nothing but a scam hoisted on the populace.
    It has allowed the worst to gain much wealth and power, and the best to be cast to one side.
    ‘Betrayal’ days it all.

  17. I don’t have the required skills or diligence to follow the every-which-way course of politics but my feeling is that in Australia John Howard was the one who began undermining the inclusiveness and unity of our society. Once this was underway it was easier to divide and conquer. We began to have one Australian dismissing another because of their postcode (e.g. inner-city dwelling, latte-sippers) and thinking too much was elitist. Science was kicked down the ladder because it raised too many pressing issues and history was given a backhander for trying to tell the truth. The Arts were surely to follow and sure enough like a ham actor waiting in the wings, George Brandis rushed onstage with unseemly haste to restore the reign of ‘excellence’ (Euro-centric opera and the like) over the chaos of unbridled creativity – one couldn’t be sure what was happening out there. The other great divider of course is the sorely misunderstood concept of political correctness. My idea of which is to actually think about what’s coming out of my mouth (for my own dignity if nothing else). In the USA the terms ‘redneck’ and ‘white trash’ diminish a growing number of people who belong to an American underclass that has been manipulated for decades by politicians of all colours because their history of self-reliance and pride tells them to reject government help even if it means they are barely given an education and have no health cover. These people are the boots on the ground in war zones, the otherwise unemployed and deliberately forgotten who will be forgotten again by Trump. To use the term ‘white trash” denies millions of people the strength of their convictions and ignores the injustices done to them by their own country and yet, according to Joe Bageant, his own ‘rednecks’ will be among the first to defend ‘free speech’. The idea of arguing against racial vilification and the like is seen by some Australians as a left wing move to censor their thoughts. Well, maybe like a true blue Australian I’ve got a big head, a short stalk, like to be kept in the dark and thrive on bullshit but it doesn’t mean I have the right to refer hatefully to someone who has claim to a 60,000 year history and culture on this land and whom, like the vast majority of Australians, I know next to nothing about. I’m an average Australian who went to my local state and high school, played sport at weekends and watched my fair share of television. But I’ve also looked in other places for opinions and cultural input. For instance when I hear on Radio National about a book by an Englishman about a study into British politicians and the effect of their ‘public school’ education I get pretty interested because it helps to explain my world. When I think about the influence Rupert Murdoch has over the politicians running my country I wonder what my vote is in fact worth. When I hear my elected representatives struggle to have an original thought or put a coherent sentence together I turn away in dismay (does that sound elitist?). As we tread water in the wake of Trumps ascendancy you’d think there be space opened up for some clear and urgent thinking but it’s still the same old blame game, the schoolyard bickering and everyone diving into Trumpism to raise to the surface the version of the truth that best suits their own end. How does Barry Cassidy bear it week after week? Here’s my version: It’s over fellas, no one’s interested. Not in you Abbott who somehow thinks Trumpism confirms his rightness in promoting racism, fear and division and abolishing the ABC. Not in you Turnbull who wants to feed the rich and somehow, against all the evidence, still believes in ‘trickle down’ economics. Not in you Shorten unless you can take a just stand on refugee migration, education and health. Not in anyone who wants, not to clean-up the union movement, but to totally destroy it and not in free trade agreements that give ascendancy to multinational companies and denies governments, and therefore their citizens, their sovereign rights. Men and women of Australia (thank you Gough) what happened to ‘”A Fair Go”. Can we get that on a button, T-shirt, flag?

  18. Thank you Neil. A thought provoking (though troubling) article. Language and the arts play a critical role in our society and it is important that we talk about this.

  19. “Lifestyle choice” was a term first applied to indigenous people who chose to live in remote communities. It seems to me that this was more profoundly shocking than using the term to justify cuts to arts education. It comes from the same place however, and perhaps provides an opportunity for a broader and therefore more effective critique. I am grateful to Neil Pigot for his analysis.

  20. I was about to write ‘very’ but stopped myself just in time. Outstanding article, Neil. Poor language and PC – that dreadful incursion into free speech – are destroying our society.

  21. This must be one of the most powerful and convincing critiques of the use of language, neo-liberalism, and the effects of both on the lives of ordinary people that I have read – or will read. Superb! It has the same relevance to us residents of the UK (as it must also be highly appropriate to the citizens of the USA).
    Under Tony Blair, New Labour (note the name change) focused on the middle-classes, and was rewarded with three terms of office. But during its period of governance, neo-liberal New Labour left behind many ordinary Britons and the party – and many British citizens – suffers today because of this. To the chagrin of many in the UK, it is UKIP, Nigel Farrage and a right-wing Conservative Party that now falsely occupies the space that a social democratic movement should be in..
    Bernie Sanders held some hope for the powerless poor, the blue-collar worker and the unemployed in the USA election, but he lost out to a self-serving Democratic Party and its classic representative, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Donald Trump now claims to be the champion of powerless people. However, even at this early stage, it is obvious that this misogynistic, racist, elitist, rabble-rousing, deceiving, tax-avoiding billionaire property entrepreneur, who offered the north American people a “bonfire of regulations”, will bring nothing but a “bonfire of vanities” and will be a major disappointment to those who got him elected to office, not to mention the wider consequences for the world.
    As with Nigel Farrage in the UK, Donald Trump knows the power of language and how it can be manipulated for personal and corporate advantage. Too bad that many of their supporters do not, did not, have this cultural appreciation and a clearer understanding of how it can be used for duplicitous purposes.
    Again, thank you Neil Pigot for truth and inspiration.

  22. I want to cry – tears of joy for a beautifully written essay; tears of grief for what’s being done by this government.

  23. A terrific article. Thank you for writing it. With regard to ‘what shall we do’, what about more people with ideals & integrity getting into politics? Yes, I know this sounds simplistic, but if you look at our current politicians most of them are professional politicians who have been fighting & weaselling their way into parliamentary seats for years. They’re corrupt & compromised (or perhaps just worn out) by the time they get there. We farm out governance because we say we’ve no time to get involved & then complain that the people we’ve farmed it out to are no good.

  24. Hi all,

    One of the biggest pieces of bullshit is that our government can run out of money. When you issue the currency, float it on forex markets, don’t net borrow in foreign currencies, or guarantee those that do, you can never, ever default, because you can literally create money. This one particular piece of bullshit has neutered any opposition to the depradations we see going on around us every day. When someone says, “we should really do something about…” the first thing that gets thrown in our face is “how are you going to pay for it?”. When a government like ours wants to provide a comprehensive health care system, it needs doctors, nurses and hospitals. It doesn’t have to “pay” for it, like we do, because it makes the money. When a government like ours wants to provide a decent education system, it needs teachers and schools. The thing that limits a government from pursuing the public good is the productive capacity of its people, not its fiscal position.

    If you want some more technical details, start with this article:

    If you’ve gotten this far, thanks! Please read the above article, it’s well worth your time. If, after you’ve read it, you’re wondering if there’s a way to put this into action, head along to

    We’re a new party; so new in fact, that we’re not registered yet. But we’re getting there! If this looks like something you might be interested in, please check out our Facebook group (links on the website).

  25. Oh gosh. I’m going to be the sole dissenter.
    Sorry Neil, but you’ve drawn some extraordinarily long bows here. Comforting ones for your audience, I’m sure.
    But your assertion that hegemony is somehow the result of conspiracy is unsupportable. Indeed, there’s a new saying in response to the conspiracy theorist you’ve appealed to in your article – if it’s a contest between a conspiracy and a f**kup, it’s always the latter.
    To suggest that ‘disenchanted’ was the accepted descriptor of the post WW1 sentiment is simply not true. Devastation, grief and madness were the prevailing sentiments. Oh, and blessed relief.
    And to suggest there existed any concerted effort to build or maintain a prevailing hegemony is something that could only be done from the comfort of 21st century rose coloured glasses. A balance of power, yes. Hegemony, no.
    The fact was that Australians, in keeping with people the world over, were desperate to make sense of the carnage wrought by WW1 in whichever way they could. Only to be smashed by an almost equally lethal Spanish Influenza which killed another 20 million.
    Then, you seem to assert that neo-libralism is a construct that has been imposed on the world. By whom?
    Governments evolve to where technology, environment, population and macro-economics will allow them to go. No one pre-charted a course to neo-liberalism. No one even charted a course to globalism. Technology did that.
    And the only thing we actively and collectively got behind was democracy. Everything else was evolution, a happy accident or glorious opportunism.
    Then again, it’s deliciously easy to blame it all on the last ‘few years’. Those nasty libs. The cheers squad love it!
    But the facts are somewhat at odds with your assertion. Birmingham is currently correcting a system designed under Gillard.
    Oh, and while there may be some rightful disdain about the treatment of the arts under Brandis, the cuts are in line with a general cyclic ‘tightening of the belt’ that we get every now and then (remember ‘the razor gang’?).
    Your readers go as far as to suggest Howard was somehow the architect of all this. Seriously? Yes, he overstayed his welcome, but this was the government that saw unprecedented growth in low to middle incomes (yep, trickle down – tried to hire a plumber or electrician lately?) AND the introduction of a raft of new income re-distribution measures. You can argue about their form – especially some of the ridiculous efforts at middle-class welfare. But it happened. Not as part of some big plan. Or an attempt to build a neo-liberal hegemony. Just a run-of-the-mill attempt to retain office.
    My message is this. There’s no conspiracy. Just like there’s no ‘patriarchy. There are simply some people trying to make sense of (and influence in whatever way they can in the blink of an eyelid that forms a parliamentary term) the current prevailing circumstances. I know it’s fashionable to beat up on politicians (especially Liberal ones). But they’re as opportunistic (Trump), fallible (Trump), weak (Trump), breathtaking (Trump) and disappointing (Trump) as the rest of us. They are, sadly, very human. They certainly don’t have the time, wit or resources to intentionally create a new hegemony.
    But here’s the good news.
    If you don’t like it now, just wait a while.
    The pendulum will swing again. It always does.
    Then the neo-libs will be screaming. But you’ll be happy and claim the victory.
    As for me, I’ll simply shrug and keep doing my best. For me, my family and my community. You could too – as an artist and as an agitator for better funding. Just try to keep the bow short and the dogma on a leash.

    1. ‘Evolution’ is the Trump card for ‘I can do whatever the hell I want’ – survival of the fittest. Actually humanity only survives because of its collective ideas and actions – the community you speak of. Evolution HAS led to the ability for us to make conscious choices. We can gather together and make humane choices or we can be divisive and annihilate each other (and the planet). Artists do not have collective power because their value in society is undermined. We all agitate. We’re all social activists. That’s what artists do. But agitating for funding is harder than you may think. If artists received the recompense they deserved there would be no need to agitate for funding.

  26. Extremely articulated description of the frustration we all feel. Obviously my brother raided my gene pool!
    The unfortunate truth is that hegemony is the tool of choice for all our “leaders”, political or religions, with the only real goal to shift the balance of power in their own direction.

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