Our democracy under threat all around

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Three Guardian articles I perused this morning encapsulate the dangers faced by liberal democracy on three separate but contiguous fronts: China’s deliberate and continuing exertion of global influence, transnational corporations, and the bipartisan march to the extreme right by all major parties.


An extract from Jonathan Pearlman’s ‘The March of Autocracy’ in Australian Foreign Affairs, which he edits, gives us the cowardly advice that we have to adapt to China’s rising influence.

I realize his subject is international relations, but the extract appears to ignore entirely that we have already adapted, by permitting our major political parties to adopt autocratic policy positions themselves.

And from such positions it’s hard to lecture China on anything at all.  We have our own concentration camps, surveillance culture, mounting social inequality, absent environmental policy, authoritarian control of our lower socio-economic classes, and crony capitalism.

Maybe we don’t yet execute citizens, but if the continuing war crimes investigation is an indicator of things to come, we also have our own death squads, perhaps as the blueprint for the secret police Peter Dutton so desperately wants to command.

We would have less to fear from the Chinese if we were not, ourselves, on the path to totalitarianism.
We would have less to fear from the Chinese if we were not, ourselves, on the path to totalitarianism.

So, how do we engage with China without the hypocritical lectures on human rights?  How do we address militant nationalism when we are headed in that direction ourselves?  Can we really lecture China on racist repression of minorities when we have successive governments, in concert with major news media, demonizing ethnic minorities with darker-than-white-Australian skins, or Muslims, or women altogether?

I’m wondering how long it will be, if it hasn’t already happened, before Australia hosts American nuclear weapons, or manufactures its own as the only affordable military deterrent to China’s vast military expenditure we simply cannot match?

From my vantage, we would be infinitely better off negotiating with China if we still had liberally minded politicians in the mould of the Hawke and Keating administrations.  At least then we could have combined pragmatism with practical lessons on a non-threatening egalitarianism and a social openness when engaging with China.

Transnational corporations

Irish journalist and eminent academician John Naughton writes that Western governments have been incompetent and profligate in failing to regulate the technology giants who exercise virtual monopoly powers.

This is undoubtedly true.  But what lies underneath that incompetence?  It is again the march to the extreme right of all major political parties, along with the absurd faith in neo-liberal economic ideology, which has seen all corporations, not just in technology, get away with blue murder.

In Australia we had a banking royal commission, opposed by the right wing government of the day for years, which uncovered monumental crimes and frauds.  Not a single prosecution has resulted.  Because neo-liberal ideology says that ‘private enterprise’ is sacrosanct, and must not be curtailed by public benefit regulation.

From that position, is it really logical or even tenable to impose regulation on technology giants who merely emulate the white collar criminality and corruption already rife at every layer of private enterprise?

Targeting technology giants but allowing white collar crimes in conventional businesses is not a sound strategy.
Targeting technology giants but allowing white collar crimes in conventional businesses is not a sound strategy.

Naughton asks the very pertinent question: what does democracy want from technology?  Not how will we adapt to technology?

What, in other words, does democracy want from tech giants, not the other way round?

… the argument that the government should have been making was not about payments for linking to news outlets but that a vibrant, functioning democracy needs independent journalism capable of providing reliable information to citizens. Given that the social media giants have polluted the public sphere with disinformation, hatred and lies, and destroyed a business model that once funded good journalism, the companies should be subjected to a tax used to support that same good journalism. A bit like the BBC licence fee, in other words. It is the price they have to pay for the consequences of their ultra-profitable business models and insane profit margins. And for the privilege of being allowed to exist in a democracy.

Naughton skirts the issue that so-called news media are themselves responsible for some of the pollution he mentions.  None more so than Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation, so conspicuous in inciting neo-fascist social division, and even an attempted coup in the USA.  Acting in much the same manner in Australia and the UK.

Under the chairmanship of former Howard treasurer, and continuing Murdoch sock puppet, Peter Costello, the Australian Nine Entertainment newspaper and television conglomerate is not far behind in those stakes.

I doubt we will manage the relationship between technology and democracy competently while we cannot even remember the reasons for regulating all private enterprise: because unregulated capitalism is inevitably an autocratic influence that leads to totalitarian political formations.

March to the right

An older article by former discrimination watchdog Tim Soutphommasane, reminds us how deeply Trumpist neo-fascism has infected our Coalition government, and the ALP opposition, by pushing it further and further to the right.

Soutphommasane rightly points to Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation as being the principal catalyst for the neo-fascism in the USA and Australia.

Most egregiously, News Corp has made it part of its business model to indulge race politics. Sky News has provided a reliable platform to far-right figures (and I’m not even talking here about the network’s nocturnal presenters). The Australian has frequently resembled a poor man’s Breitbart, with its tabloid stable mates contributing their share of race-baiting. Even the ABC has its moments, as when Four Corners not only interviewed Trump strategist Steve Bannon but also flagrantly exonerated him from any racism.

These past four years have exposed a blind spot within Australian media, where many seem to believe that racism has its place within the democratic contest of ideas. There’s a misguided belief, not necessarily in the validity of racism, but in the notion that fascism or white supremacy deserves to have a platform. If only to expose it to the supposed disinfectant of sunlight.

But where has that led us? Such complacency has only created the conditions for extremism. In the US, the example has been clear. In Australia, in the absence of our own civic carnage, we’ve barely recognised the damage that has been done. For example, many commentators seem to have written off the Christchurch terror attack as an aberration from across the Tasman, without any scrutiny of how our own political and media culture radicalised the Australian white supremacist who perpetrated it.

Where to from here?

Neo-fascism in Australia is not street thugs, but people in business attire walking the corridors of power.
Neo-fascism in Australia is not street thugs, but people in business attire walking the corridors of power.

Worse than all the nightmare visions described above is that we voted for this vandalism of our democracy.  We, Australian voters, did nothing to protest or curtail our march to the right.

And we did it because we adopted the mean-spirited selfishness that was the mantra of John Howard, and every Coalition leader since.

We think that so long as we are white, ‘relaxed and comfortable’ and not directly affected by racism, sexism, poverty, immiseration, wealth concentration, and Chinese expansionism, these just don’t matter.

We think there is no neo-fascism because there aren’t jackbooted brown-shirts marching in our streets.  We don’t recognize they wear business attire and are already marching through the corridors of power.

We just want our Netflix, our Facebook, and our delivered fast food, no matter that the delivery riders starve, and corporations plan the downfall of our democracy for their own profit.

Maybe, then, we deserve what we get, which will be Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.

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