August 24th 2002

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Embryo experiments: are there any limits?

ALP's problems deeper than pre-selections and branch-stacking

Zimbabwe: Mugabe aggravates drought crisis

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Dizzy with success / Angry amnesiacs

EMBRYO EXPERIMENTATION: Consuming our unborn is indefensible

LAW: High Court judgment deepens native title confusion

General Cosgrove was wrong on Vietnam (letter)

Why the stock market plunged (letter)

Snowy River plan damages Murray basin (letter)

Infrastructure savings (letter)

COMMENT: Whose voice can be heard?

VICTORIA: Public forces backdown on Victorian sex zone plans

POPULATION: Time to set the record straight

COMMENT: Can the ABC be saved from itself?

ECONOMY: The Reserve, interest rates and inflation

ASIA: Taiwan's banking system under siege

BOOKS: Baby Hunger: The New Battle for Motherhood, by Sylvia Ann Hewlett

BOOKS: American Scoundrel: The Life of the Notorious Civil War General Dan Sickles, by Thomas Keneally

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Dizzy with success / Angry amnesiacs

by Max Teichmann

News Weekly, August 24, 2002
Dizzy with success

If you were a visitor from another country, or another planet, obliged to spend some time in Victoria, you would assume this is some kind of one party state, with a token opposition and a media so supportive of the ruling political elites and their values as to be one with them; or one of them.

So you would be unprepared for the information that this Government had only been in office for three years: that the forlorn and woebegone collection of by no means dynamic individuals called the Opposition, had ruled with confidence for the previous seven years, and had, under one name or another, bestrode the Treasury Benches for most of the political history of Victoria. What happened? What is going on, you might ask a passer by?

He could say that you are watching a phoney war; to be followed by a phoney election. The Opposition, or enough of them, didn't want to win, irrespective of how the Government behaved, or how irritated or ambivalent the electorate might be with respect to the existing Government: its structured chaos and its South American style fiscal profligacy and questionable deals. Not to forget its social engineering philosophy with respect to drugs, prostitution, sentencing, gambling, clobbering the police, massaging the judiciary, and so on. No ... the present Government should stay and we, the Opposition, will help, by criticising them as seldom as possible and then, ineffectually.

There are persistent stories of the State Liberals being split into two factions - the Kroger Group and the Kennett Group. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Noddy versus Big Ears.

'Tis said, the groups hate one another more - much more - than they do the Labor crowd and Labor's media friends. That is, a provincial version of that long and immensely destructive feud between the supporters of Peacock and those of Howard. Called Wets and Drys. Labor could scarcely believe their luck. If in fact the Victorian Libs are stalemated thus, heaven help their supporters and the voters.

A certain pathology in the Liberal Party's public behaviour is obvious. Candidates cannot talk about party policies unless their statements are cleared by head office. Trouble is - too many final policy decisions have not yet been made, either through sloth or internal divisions. Here we are, a few months from an election and the Leader just finishing an extended three weeks study tour. What was he studying? MPs superannuation schemes? But there seems to be no one in charge. No one to bite the bullets as Bracks' people go from one planning or administrative disaster to another. Odd shadow ministers react with counterpunches, often accurate, but rarely followed up, and even more rarely taken up by "the party" - wherever it is, or whoever it is.

State Libs are reaping the harvest of past follies in pre-selection networking and in assembling a class of minders, helpers and office boffins of a kind that did Labor such damage. Boring, faceless MPs and candidates, and branch memberships that are depleting, ageing, and enjoying even less practical input than do Labor branches. The party seems disorganised and incompetent - it could be a Western suburban takeaway, The Lo I Kew.

New candidates are especially disadvantaged, being treated like mushrooms. They get little help, little insight into policy resolution or electoral strategy and wonder why they were asked to run in the first place. To keep up appearances, seems to be the answer.

Most unfortunately, this is not an election the conservatives can afford to lose, and if Labor has a mandate to reform or even to abolish the Upper House, they can then impose a gerrymander that will shut out any future opposition. Combined as it would be with a proportional representation voting system, to revive ailing mendicant small "parties". Does anyone doubt that this is on the agenda?

So what should the conservatives be doing in this short time left to them?

Obviously leadership is a key element and the Liberals have been deliberately left with leaders designed to keep the seat warm for Kennett and his old gang. And if the Libs won't let them return, then the pay back is to abort the conservative chances to make a new start.

So ... now that things have been set up for another Bracks' victory, we have the Herald Sun floating a call for the return of the lost leader, the man on the white horse, viz. Jeff, now of Radio 3AK and the Depression Institute.

But what is his present public appeal? At 3AK, his program jumping from time slot to time slot is sinking ever further through the ratings basement. The print handicap people must surely be ahead.

Perhaps the two should merge. But it doesn't auger well for the Man on the White Horse ... Could we be looking at the Man of La Mancha?

The only reason why a Kennett candidacy looks even plausible flows from the Liberals' strategy of not issuing policies, not helping shadow ministers make themselves known, to build up their reputations and start to look like plausible alternative leaders.

The Victorian Liberal powerbrokers have failed - no, refused - to do this. Though this is the only reason for their being there. (They think it's to make sweetheart deals.) And new candidates are being treated as stop-gap, dispensable cannon fodder in seats which were/are winnable. A disgraceful scam by two warring groups with more links outside the party than inside it.

A Kennett takeover would undo all the reparative work being done in the regions and the bush - for the voters there see Kennett and his city hucksters as the Original Enemy. Worse than the unions. The Nationals should give him a wide berth.

When I think of these two big Victorian parties - Liberal and Labor - I remember a Norse legend about a competition between Thor and Loki, the evil one. It was an eating competition and each, at either end of a long table crammed with dishes of food, would try to show that he could eat more and quicker than the other. They started, then met at the middle. A draw. No - then it was seen that Loki had also eaten the plates, implements, and his side of the table.

I suppose Victoria is the table, but who is Thor, who is Loki?

What's left of the table might be past caring.

Angry amnesiacs

Raymond Watson's article "Stalin's heirs live on ... in Australia" (News Weekly, August 10, 2002) and Bill James "That other holocaust" (News Weekly, June 29, 2002) concerning the endless repetition in one disguised form or another of the original visceral hatred of Western values, institutions and, nowadays, people, and currently expressed under the guise of "real" Marxism (like "real" beer), global justice, etc, etc, reminded me of a little book by Sigmund Freud (1921). He called it Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego. He said that even those who do not regret the disappearance of religions from the civilised world (premature?) would admit that so long as they were in force, they offered those who were bound by them the most powerful protection against the danger of neurosis.

For "if he is left to himself, a neurotic is obliged to replace by his own symptom formations the great group formations from which he is excluded. He creates his own world of imagination for himself, his own religion, his own system of delusions and thus recapitulates the institutions of humanity in a distorted way".

This seems as good an explanation and a description of the Counter Culture and its program - and why it had to happen - as any I've encountered. It might also be as good a clue to the successive ideological contraptions and Religions of Humanity - one of which Robespierre actually had set up - which we have seen arise on the bones of the old order and the old thought systems from the French Revolution onwards ... as you are likely to run into.

So our confused, accident prone, contemporary Left - some calling themselves New Labor, as they may soon call themselves New Green - have not simply been in it for the money, status, identity, power - things I have frequently cited: for they moved into a home, a haven , which for many became a group delusional system which they feel is all they've got - inside. For they had destroyed or irreversibly devalued many things, many respected figures in their past. At least, in fantasy.

But a great many of their activities resemble the timeless reenactment and refashioning of dominant fantasies. And on the occasions when the group fantasies of extreme movements - destructive, genocidal, a total revaluation of values - do find expression in the real world (e.g., the Nazi revolution; or the Communist revolutions with social classes taking the place of races), the results have been horrendous. So much so that the radicals identifying with the philosophy and psychology of the original revolutionists were forced to go into successive stages of denial.

Firstly, these horrors didn't occur; then, the horrors and the numbers eliminated have been greatly and maliciously inflated; alternatively, they occurred as the result of criminal threats from outside (the hated West); or others are just as bad. What about the lynchings in Georgia?

Finally the current stage of denial. Yes, it happened. Done by an aberrant group who hijacked a lofty project and turned it on its head. But the original project - creative destruction and the revalution of values - is OK and we support it, and hope to bring it about.

The eerie similarity to the slow retreat of the Holocaust abjurers from denying the original crimes to a position of pragmatic realpolitik while still maintaining their basic hatreds ... is pertinent. And, the irresistible recurrence of groups with desires to trash the institutions - nowadays which include the family - revalue all values, define correct behaviour and punish those who insist on living differently, indicate the unconscious strength of these projects. Almost outside space and time - contemptuous where necessary of inconvenient facts: almost impenetrable to argument.

So we should expect such people and such movements to lurk as permanent features of our social existence. But when a major crisis in belief and unity - i.e., identity - occurs within the radical brotherhood (such as is occurring now) critics and diagnosticians might expect greatly increased intolerance and revengeful retributive acts. For it is like holding the mirror up to Caliban.

Which is why in Australia the green-pantheist love boat is preparing to take on board large numbers of ideological refugees from the condemned playgrounds of the left - as Cyril Connolly put it.

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