A Eulogy for John Howard.
Four hundred and sixty thousand Iraqis and nearly four and a half thousand Americans are dead and John Howard is alive. They died as part of George Bush's ham-fisted misadventure into Iraq, a conflict that continues to echo though the middle east. They died ostensibly because Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, but that was a lie, and even at the time, we knew it was very possibly untrue. John Howard committed himself to making this war happen, and it did, and now those people are dead and John Howard is alive and old, and probably relaxed on a sofa somewhere. John Howard does not regret the Iraq misadventure, in fact, he is incapable of seeing it in the very terms terrorists have described it – a cause celeb for violent anti-Imperialist terror. John Howard has suggested that if we had simply stayed in Iraq, we would have stopped ISIS before it started. In his mind, perhaps, the glorious Australian military runs door to door, like an episode of 24, punching out baddies, and Iraqis fawn over them for giving them their liberty. In every other reality, the reward of the Iraq war is unclear, but the cost was blood.
Reza Barati is dead and John Howard is alive. Barati was beaten with a pole spiked with nails, then while on the ground, had a rock dropped onto his head. He was under Australia's care. He was asking us for help. He was killed while under our protection, while waiting for his asylum to be processed. His name joins others, as the cost of keeping refugees from reaching the mainland is paid in more blood. John Howard is not the only one guilty of developing Australian refugee policy into the machine of cruelty it represents today, but he was instrumental in it. He intuitively sensed that the simmering racism in the darkest parts of the Australian psyche was his friend, so when he told everyone that refugees were monsters who threw their own children into the ocean, it was met with cheers.
It may be easy to forget now, but the movement to rebrand Australian refugee policy as a 'cruel to be kind' measure of saving lives is a recent invention; John Howard preferred the dominating cry, that we would determine who came here, and how they came. It was a policy of Australia's right and power to deny our land to those who sought our help. You could say it worked – under these policies less people die on the way to Australia. Now, they die elsewhere, an ocean that claims greater numbers of Asylum seekers every year. But they don't die in our ocean. Only we may determine who dies, and which ocean they die in.
John Howard is alive, and this is therefore probably one of very few eulogies that you will see for him in these times. However, when John Howard dies, the sentiments here – that he was a liar whose deceit was paid in blood, that he appealed to the ugliest, most racist and cruel undertones of Australia – will become unpalatable. Without fail, he will be routinely praised, for the gun thing, for the way the stability of his regime contrasted against the haphazard uncertainty of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd-Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison circus, for his convictions.
And John Howard has convictions – that homosexuals should remain second class citizens whose relationships are never granted the legitimacy of heterosexuals. That workers rights should be routinely disassembled and that not even science could prove that the climate was changing. John Howard is alive but he will be dead long before the headlines scream of disasters too obviously connected to the human changing of climate to any more be denied. But under John Howard, some wealthy people stayed wealthy a bit longer by putting off action on climate change. We could see then what cannot be unseen now, that a debt was being accrued that would again be paid, this time by future generations, in that same currency of blood. They sold the future for the convenience of exporting coal a little longer. They knew, or they could have known the cost of this policy, had they the courage not to lie to themselves.
John Howard is alive, but when he is dead, the sentiments of this eulogy will never be seen again. His praises will ring. His cruelty will become determination, his racism a common touch, his assault on workers a dedication to 'economic responsibility.' John Howard is alive, but when he is dead, let him die. Let his savagery, his ugliness, his military fetishism, his xenophobia wash away into the oceans and dilute until nothing can be seen. There is nothing in him worth celebrating or keeping. When John Howard is dead, let him die.
Cancel culture is stupid and you’re stupid for believing in it. Unless you’re a wealthy famous person or a corporation, this doesn’t really affect you at all, and if you think either of these groups cares about people like you and me, then reapply part two of the first statement. The thought that any of this matters at all is bogglingly idiotic and you should calm the fuck down and reflect on why you’re wasting your time getting hot and sweaty over it.
J.K Rowling is stupid too, and her opinions are bad, and as a result she is getting yelled at on the Internet. People have been saying stupid things and getting yelled at over them on the internet for a long time, but apparently in the case of J.K Rowling it’s some kind of crisis of free speech. This only applies to J.K Rowling of course, or Milo Yianoppolis getting banned for being odious, or @Glinner or whoever. It does not of course, apply to you or me; we plebeians are expected to simply fight down here in the mud. Down here in the world of the working class, if you say [Stalin was good actually] or slag off a minority (because you're an asshole) you get yelled at and that’s just how the internet works. It is only when a big name steps into the public discourse with the finesse and complexity of a drunk auntie at a Christmas gathering, and is told that they’re being a huge loser, that we are apparently in a crisis of free speech.
This crisis of course is entirely to be attributed to some vague group of illiberal activists, who, with the big scary tool of Cancel Culture, are busy tweeting mean things and cancelling people which means… uhhh… anyway, it’s bad, apparently. But what under no circumstances should we do is point out that, for example, the Twitter algorithm is designed to promote engagement at all costs, which often means dangling opponents shittest tweets in front of each other like pieces of red meat. Nobody should point out that the entire purpose of this is to make profits and sell adverts, because then we’d have to ask questions like ‘should a handful of private companies have gigantic power to control the public discourse’, or ‘should we have mechanisms to hold massive companies publicly accountable’ or ‘should companies be collectively owned by normal people instead by a handful of weird billionaire nerds and a gaggle of evil bloodsucking investment bankers’ or ‘is Peter Thiele actually a vampire and should we send an army to his lair to destroy him?’
Of course, I am being terrible disingenuous here. It is not just Twitter where the idiotic spectre of Cancel Culture hangs out. Tech media companies such as Netflix have taken the steps of removing material apparently because they're scared that they might hurt the feelings of the snowflake avocado toast generation. We are again asked to believe that episodes of 30 Rock with blackface, and the life work of Chris Lilly have been taken down because the shadowy, vaguely defined cabal of illiberal Cancel Culture activists have been successful at their goal of destroying all challenging discourse. We are asked to believe this and you probably do. Because you’re stupid.
In fact, there is another possibility; that Netflix has only one agenda; making money, and has no other moral convictions. Because it is run in very large part by Capitalist monsters who have very little familiarity with – shudder – ‘normal people’, they have in fact, no idea what must be done to keep the normals appeased and giving them $6 a week. So when they develop a vague awareness that some kind of important social change is taking place, it's not shocking that they stumble around and haphazardly, arbitrarily apply some kind of action. Reasonable people can disagree on whether this was a good choice, but at the end of the day, we should never lose sight of the fact that it's a cynical exercise in optics. After all, if Netflix cared about ethical behaviour, they'd pay their damn tax.
Again, this abrupt change in programming is probably a little bit cringeworthy (and certainly frustrating for people who need to watch the fat naked black lady fighting the fat naked white lady sketch from Little Britain in order to sleep at night). But is it substantial? Significant? Important? Noteworthy? A crisis? For CEOs and celebrities, sure. But for the rest of us? Why do you care? Just do what the rest of us do when Netflix takes stuff down, and torrent it.
Again, if there are questions here, surely they are not so much about these imaginary illiberal Cancel Culture activists, and far more about why we allow corporations and the people who own them to accumulate massive power controlling the limits of discourse and the material conditions of their employees.
If you’ve been paying attention to the news media, you know that not only have the Cancel Culture death squad killed Chris Lilly, J.K Rowling, Little Britain, @Glinner, Jeffery Star, 30 Rock, Louise CK and Elon Musk, they’ve also made Alison Brie of Bojack Horseman apologise for voicing a Vietnamese American character. Of course, they could not actually ‘Cancel’ Bojack Horseman because Bojack Horseman was already literally cancelled, not long after animators unionised. Somehow, shows that are literally cancelled are outside the purview of Cancel Culture however, and the power of massive corporations to literally cancel things because they affect the bottom line in ways unrelated to the public discourse, is good actually, or something.
Likewise, sure, it sucks when people lose their jobs because they shot their mouth off on Facebook. But is that worse than when they lose their job for starting a Union? Or for no reason? Because they wouldn't stay silent over sexual harassment? Because they get sick and need time to recover? Nobody should be in the position of having to constantly fear for their ability to put food on the table, but if this has only because an issue for you since you read an article about some guy who was fired for sharing Hitler memes, then I'm sorry but you have absolute worms for brains. The precarious and dangerous position of working class people is a real issue, but it predates Cancel Culture by a couple of hundred years.
It doesn’t take too much scratching at the surface to reveal the true villains behind the mask of cancel culture at any point. Where companies such as Disney or Simon and Schuster have made the choice of ‘cancelling’ problematic elements, it’s been purely a financial calculation. Their power to control the public discourse is built on their massive, under-regulated power, and the undemocratic operation of a money-making machine. Where individuals are concerned, we should roll our eyes even harder – J. K Rowling, cancelled though she may apparently be, is still sitting in an armchair, pathologically incapable of logging off Twitter. She has yet to be dragged off to the Corbynist re-education centre by the Transgender Gestapo. And where Youtube personalities have been concerned, we have either seen figures engage in a self-directed process of self-reflection (Jenna Marbles) or engage in a clumsy PR exercise (Jeffery Star) or just keep going like a steam train (That Pewdipie keeps making content despite having enough of an association with White Nationalism to be memed on immediately before a massacre of Muslim people, should answer any questions you have about whether Cancel Culture has some kind of almighty power to destroy careers).
And statues and mosaics, and paintings… I’m not going to pretend like every discussion about public space in a University Campus or town square is filled with merit, but it’s possibly not insane that the public is itself involved in conversations about how public space functions, who it celebrates, whose needs are reflected and so on. Don’t pretend like you are a lifelong statue nerd. As always people are sometimes annoying and sometimes have bad opinions, but a crisis it is not.
Look; people have had stupid takes on culture since the dawn of time. If you want to yell at strangers for being wrong on the internet, go ahead; it’s good for the soul. If you’re a leftist and you want to review the effectiveness of your tactics, that’s good obviously, but stop listening to liberals and TERFs. And if you want to complain that people have stupid takes, or whatever, go with God. But I beg you, please engage your brain a little, and consider whether this constitutes a crisis of free speech that threatens the very fabric of public discourse. And consider whether a bunch of weird nerds on the internet with Garfield avatars are more of a threat to free speech than the continuing concentration of wealth into the hands of a couple of companies and fuckwits who own almost every tech and media platform on Earth.
“We don’t want job-destroying, economy-destroying, economy-wrecking targets and goals, which won’t change the fact that there have been bushfires or anything like that in Australia” - Scott Morrison
The greatest trick the devil ever pulled, as the cliché goes, was convincing the world that he didn’t exist. In many ways there’s an even sneaker devil that pulled the same trick; old Mr politics.
People accept that politics exists of course, but its domain tends to be underestimated. Things like taxes, welfare, laws and council regulations get to be politics, while things like weekends, free time, being involved in your community, or your financial stability, are regarded as being and depending on something else. Maybe we call it ‘market forces’. Often we call it nothing, and either claim that these things are indicative of individual choices, or maybe just the whims of chance. But don’t be tricked; these things are political choices.
The extent to which the very fabric of our lives is political has been suddenly lifted out of obscurity with the international Coronavirus effort. Suddenly, it’s very clear that things we took for granted as ‘just the way things are’, are political decisions about the way our lives look. How often we go out, what we do, the jobs that are essential to our society, who we spend time with, whether a few bad weeks kills a business, or leaves tenants homeless, or bankrupts a family… these things can be, and currently are shaped by political decisions. The moratoriums and assistance packages currently being discussed by governments internationally should tell us not only that the current response to the Coronavirus is political in nature, but that the decision to allow businesses to fail, families to sink into permanent inescapable debt and to let landlords dump people on the street are also political choices, and not as we might assume, permanent unchangeable laws of the science of economics.
“Over 100 Democrats have signed up to support the $100 trillion Green New Deal. That's a beauty. No more cows. No more planes. I guess, no more people, right?” – Donald Trump.
We don’t need to go and depress ourselves with the nightmare visions of the post-climate change reality we find ourselves hurtling towards, but we can reacquaint ourselves with some of the greatest hits. The Australian bushfires, various international heatwaves, flooding in Indonesia and Canada, the increasing likelihood of the storms we already know and love, give a quick sample of intensifying weather. We can add the emergence of various health crises, characterised by an increase in tick and mosquito borne diseases, increased incidence of suicide, and the viral emergence of whatever is lurking under the rapidly melting permafrost. Finally, we can’t forget the classic detail of rising ocean levels reclaiming the land, leading to massive displacement of people and all the social and political consequences that entails. If you think the Syrian refugee crisis is big news, Baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
All of this points towards a horrifying vision of the future, where the social, political and even environmental fabric of our lives is so fundamentally disrupted, that we are entering a unrecognisable new world, where the securities and comforts of our current age are stripped away.
Of course, this future is another political choice. History itself is not being drawn inevitably towards a post-climate society. This future, if it arrives, is simply the result of the political choices we make to continue business as usual, to maintain our carbon emissions, to indulge empty decade-old fantasies about the new technologies right around the corner that will relieve us all of the burden of major change, to maintain the structure of our economy, to continue designing houses, work life, transport, cities, agriculture in the same way. The alternative of course, would be disruptive to people living now. It would mean many of us would have to experience doing things in new and different ways, and a small number of people – the Bezos, Rhineharts, and Bransons of the world - would have to surrender the massive wealth and power that ‘business-as-usual’ has helped them grip onto. To choose a present where these things are left undisrupted, in exchange for a future where our children and grandchildren die or suffer, is a political choice.
“We ought to be talking about the things that we can do and still maintain a strong economy, because we’re not going to be able to address it unless we keep a strong economy.” American Senator Mike Rounds.
To decide to weather the amount of disruption to the economy and to society required to avoid these consequences is indeed a political choice. It is a difficult one because it forces us to confront a dramatic reality; that we are telling older people that they ought to bear the burden of changes that will bring benefits they will never fully see. It is, like much of politics, a zero-sum game, where there are winners and losers. The level of disruption Climate Change mitigation asks of us is nearly unthinkable. Was nearly unthinkable that is.
Because of course, in our current moment we are presented with a similar zero-sum political choice; do we allow much of the economy to grind to a halt – or do we allow for large numbers of elderly and vulnerable people to simply die for the good of the nation? For the most part, even in this late stage of capitalism, literally sacrificing Granny and Gramps to the economy has proven too unpleasant a proposal for all but the most venomous international regimes (Brazil’s Bolsonaro being one particularly grotesque example). It turns out that you can make political choices that disrupt and upheave our lives, keep people home, restrict the economy, prevent travel, change the way we work, protect renters, save businesses from going bust, support vulnerable workers… the list of previously unthinkable political choices that are now manifesting in policies internationally continues to grow.
The political gatekeepers of the limits of political possibility are about to have a challenge on their hands; how do they continue to tell their younger citizens that the changes that would salvage their future are just too disruptive, when they’ve witnessed the flexible boundaries of the political imagination? With the world watching, new generations have witnessed just how far we can go for a good cause. It is difficult to imagine that young people will forgive governments who decide that their future is unworthy of these same bold political decisions.