Lazy Luddite Log

28.9.16

A Bucket Of Dim-Sims

Like many others, I have been perturbed by the return to our Federal Parliament of the One Nation political party and its celebrity leader Pauline Hanson. I'm lucky to belong to none of the demographics Hanson targets with derision. And yet as someone who campaigned in opposition to One Nation 'back in the day' I feel a sense of loss. In this post I will discuss that feeling and hark back to a small campaign I facilitated in the late 1990s.

My feeling of loss comes in part from a tendency to cast our lives in fictional terms. In story-telling the heroes get to vanquish the monster and, with any luck, it never comes back. Midnight Oil even referred to Hanson as a vampire in the song White Skin Black Heart. In reality, however, our political opponents are just other humans who think and act differently from us. We share a society, and sometimes even workplaces or extended family groupings, with them. And sometimes if we look more closely we find that we share opinions too. Many who oppose the xenophobia of One Nation nonetheless object to Globalization. Many who oppose One Nation likewise object to the dominance of seemingly distant career politicians. In both these instances they occupy common ground with One Nation. However, as satirist Pauline Pantsdown has noted, Hanson is every bit the career politician, and now she has returned.

Another factor in my sense of dismay comes from the polity I live in. Rarely do ideologically peripheral groups get elected to Australian legislatures to the extent they do overseas. If I were the citizen of another representative democracy (including many peaceful ones I would be happy to live in) then I would be more accustomed to my parliaments having a token smattering of everything from communists to fascists. I could wave my hand dismissively at them as mere political decoration. But with the return of One Nation to the Senate it seems Australia has gone mad. The media love this controversy and amplify everything Hanson says. And once that happens persons of conscience have to respond and take a stand. The alternative is allowing prejudice to be given a veneer of respectability which in turn makes overt and damaging bigotry more commonplace.

Back in the late 90s one of the ways I responded was to propose an on-campus information campaign to the then Monash Democrats. We felt that an antidote to the absurd and divisive claims of One Nation was the sharing of statistics. Rarely do the newspapers that report political statements also then list facts to confirm or contradict those statements. Our One Nation Is Full Of Shit sheets were stuck to the walls of toilet cubicles on campus and we encouraged hand-written comments from those reading them. We took our information from an Australian Democrats pamphlet which in turn drew heavily from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I have lost the original sheets we produced but I did recently come across transcriptions I made of the various comments received. I will share some here and then make a few observations.

"Will the Member for Oxley please give me a bucket of dim-sims and a shit-load of soy."

This is the most flippant and seemingly neutral comment we got but it has also stuck in my memory the most. It refers to Pauline Hanson having been a fish-and-chip shop operator before she got elected to the then House of Representatives division of Oxley. I however think of how the dim-sim can represent Australian multiculturalism. These ubiquitous snacks were inspired by finger foods introduced by Chinese-Australians, mass produced by the Greek-Australian owned Marathon Foods, and enjoyed by Australians of all backgrounds. This small story illustrates how culture constantly cross-pollinates and regenerates and how pristine and enduring monocultures are a fantasy.

"[ABS and Census figures are] government controlled bullshit!"

A growing number of political commentators say that using facts in emotive political debates is futile because ones opponents are completely set in what they feel. This quote shows an extreme instance of this. Some deny that there is any common ground of fact over which we can argue. All you can do is ask them why they think the truth they rely on is any more trustworthy. Or better yet move on and find more productive settings for debate. Look at the next comment.

"Thank goodness we now have some hard facts! One thing Australia does not need is the 'enemy within' syndrome. Hanson is not just racist she is dangerous! I want a copy of this!"

In political debates there are many who are stuck in between - lurkers and waverers and those who agree with you but lack confidence - and they have power too. Even if you never convince a rival you can still sway others or give them the tools they need to engage in debate themselves. Seeing something like this quote made me feel that our work was done.

"Oh! So Australians are dumber. In your next issue could you please write some more about migrants being better than Aussies."

One Nation provoke fear and envy by saying that migrants take our welfare or our jobs or both. Successive Australian governments have favoured skilled migrants who are well-placed to take jobs. But they also contribute to the economy as entrepreneurs and consumers. Past figures have shown that migration has a neutral to positive impact on employment. We had shared statistics to show that migrants contribute to the economy. This quote however shows the sensitivity of someone prone to insult. Possibly they had experienced hardship and were looking for simplistic solutions. Everyone wants those...

"One Nation are irrelevant - it's a right-wing civil war - Lib/Nat versus One Nation - the Left should wait then move in - read more Lenin."

Honestly what can one say to Bolshy stuff like this? They are so lost in doctrine as to lack any sense of what is happening in the here-and-now. And while they watch it is marginalized groups in society that suffer from the emboldened expressions of bigotry that One Nation as a parliamentary party provoke. With hindsight we know that a lot of the One Nation rhetoric was borrowed and polished by the Liberal/National Coalition. One Nation lost ground but are back. I think they will falter another time but it has nothing to do with hoping that others will do the job for us.

* * * * *

My prediction of One Nation faltering comes in part from my suspicion that a handful of ego-driven maverick senators with peculiar perspectives will eventually turn on each other. Extremists are like that. They have difficulty coping with a massive cosmopolitan society and they will also be challenged by the differences that inevitably exist within a small group. That kind of person wants things to be just so and once they discover differences among them the cracks will form. This happened to One Nation back in the late 90s. But have they adapted as a result of past experiences? I'm skeptical. The first speech in the Senate by Hanson was a regurgitation of her first speech from the 90s. She still talks of Australia getting 'swamped' and only changed the group to be scared of. Surely after decades a person would want to express things differently just from a sense of personal development. Nope - I think One Nation will face similar problems because the past they are stuck in includes the past history of One Nation itself.

My other hunch is that those of us who cherish a cosmopolitan society will continue to challenge what One Nation say. For Hanson 'freedom of speech' is an empty catch-phrase. I remember how she insisted on scripted interviews thereby effectively stifling the speech of journalists. We however can remember that free speech only works if it is universal. If they say something then we can say things too. Cite facts. Use personal anecdotes. Express your opinion. And if you are intimidated by a seeming rise in bigotry then seek help from others. Society is moving long-term in an exciting and positive direction but in the short-term that is provoking desperation among those resistant to change. We just have to keep talking, whether online, or in person, or even on toilet walls.

Cross-posted here.

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