Thursday, April 7, 2011

A ride on a wingless bird

I know Rudd's utter incapability to deal with not being the life of the party is the big story this week, but I think it's been well covered. I think Grog's Gamut covered it best, seriously it's worth the read.

Late last year I read Slavoj Žižek's "First as Tragedy, Then As Farce" (actually, you could use that Marx quote on history to describe any vision of Rudd as PM again, but I digress). The premise of the book is that the early 21st century saw two events that signalled the failings and sputtering death (his implication, not mine) of western capitalism (and it's ideological trappings) - the tragedy being 9/11 (or September 11 for those pedants who don't want to use the US-centric term for their tragedy), the farce the financial crisis.

It's a good (and easy) read, regardless of your views. Žižek is a polemicist - I mean, in theory he's a philosopher, and critical theorist, but in presentation he's a Nietzschean madman; while he writes long, intoxicating flights of fancy with vivid analogies (that may or may not actually stack up), he rips into "the right" (read, anything right of his self described "radically left" position) without much actual thought for a solution to the problems he presents with the capitalism.

One of his central points is that the free market is a failure because no single "free market" has ever truly been "free". He points to agricultural subsidies in the American economic system championed by the same Republican party that argued for "trickle down" economics, among other examples in a similar vein. Ie. the thing that makes capitalism actually work in the biggest economies in the world is socialism. And he makes a compelling argument in this respect.

The problem is that while he's declaring the free market a failure on this basis - a bird that never truly got off the ground - he makes the argument that communism is the answer, and that far from ever failing, the problem is we've never implemented proper communism. Sure, I think Marx would agree with you on that one buddy, but the problem is, couldn't you make the same argument for capitalism, by your own reasoning?

Everyone knows that in real life, you don't get the model. You have to make compromises, and that's why you get things like Telstra involvement in the NBN (something that was meant to kill the current wholesale/retail monopoly), or to use an older example from the other side of the fence, basic food items (among other things) being exempt from the GST. It's the nature of politics, the nature of relationships, the nature of all human interaction.

But, maybe something worthwhile to take from those who lean hard to either side is that you have to know what you're aiming for to begin with.

There's been a lot written in the past few weeks about the imminent death of the "win at all costs" mentality of the NSW ALP right (see Keating's attack on the "shameless populism" of NSW ALP) , and factionalism as a whole within the ALP (including a very interesting post on open, monitored ballots in party decisions at the Drum), but it extends to the Liberal party as well (if anyone can tell me what Abbott's Coalition actually stands for apart from "win at all costs", there's a prize).

It's a mess. What do our parties actually stand for (beyond the next election? Is there a left or right party (even centre-left or centre-right)? Where is an ideology at all?

While the Greens do suffer and benefit from being able to write policies that will never be implemented (despite the claims of The Australian and Alan Jones), the amount of vitriol levelled at them for daring to have some convictions in a country where many champion the idea of "conviction politics" is sobering. (It should be noted that the Greens are more economically orthodox than either major party).

I'm not saying our major parties have to follow Žižek's lead (at all). But maybe a little vision of what, exactly, their version of an ideal Australia would look like would actually be nice.

Idealism need not be a dirty word, especially if you use it as a base for pragmatic discussion.

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