LIKE MOST I WAS impressed and awed at the crowds who attended protests against Aboriginal deaths in custody this weekend. It's all I can do to walk on the footpath on the way to work. If you'd asked me on New Years Eve what challenges I'd be taking on this year, I wouldn't have picked agoraphobia, but here I am, and here we all are, walking backwards away from people, trying to avoid our bosses who like handshaking and slapping people on the back. I can only admire the fortitude of tens of thousands of people facing that, as well as the prospect of arrest, capsicum spray, and a beating. I can only groan as, completely predictably, the protesters' good faith in marching is seized on in bad faith by hoteliers, wedding planners, and other people interested in getting a profit.

But agoraphobia is where we are as a society, in the broader sense as well as the simple fear of crowds. Australia is genuinely I think scared of engaging communally in politics, and isn't capable of recognising the political (as opposed to the press gallery identifying instances of 'leadership'). In place of groups engaging in struggle for power, honestly and in the open, we have gestural nods to the past---I'm thinking here of the Prime Minister's disinterral of The Accord, second-time-as-farce---and simple media coverage of the horse-race of electoralism.

The great feature of the culture war in 2020 is the abandonment of the idea that people might want to gather together in good faith to obtain political outcomes. The nasty epithet social justice warrior on the political Right is a nod to this; it asserts that all one's opponents' ideals are either for show or insincere cover for other aims. The tedious continual return of conspiracy theory on the political Left, that all political ills are Murdochian and driven by profit (or worse and more disgusting variations), is a mirror image of the same certainty---that nobody believes in anything, and that genuine convictions are for gulls, suckers, and villains.

The most agoraphobic of all Australian societies was Joh Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland. Joh was Premier from 1968 to 1987, effectively ruling a one-Party State on the principles of support to 'development', anti-intellectual parochial philistinism, hostility to all kinds of social minorities (but especially Aboriginal people), and a tolerance at all levels for corruption. One-party States like his are politically agoraphobic, both physically, in that they are hostile to protests and organised groups, but also formally, in that all relationships to power cease to be communal, and become client-principal ones. It was a culture of providership as well as of brutality and corruption He was successful in a way that endures today, and the key aspects of Bjelke-Petersenism are also now key aspects of Australian political culture---including the increasing domination of one particular Party. Let's tick some boxes and see:

  • Welfare (or support from the State) is for the deserving; businesses, and your voters. There are by definition, no needy.
  • Abiding complacency and mediocrity in cultural life.
  • Demonstrations and physical gatherings are self-interested, dangerous, and to be punished.
  • The media who are paid to cover you can be brought to your side by pretending to folksiness, and savviness, and letting them be part of the kayfabe game of shared beers and insider-ness, while the rest should be dealt with by physical hostility and the force of law, and
  • Always, always argue in bad faith.


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