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a numbing fear « Previous | |Next »
October 7, 2005

PosterA2.jpg Could we interpret the national security state (Fortress Australia) as a national insecurity state that is based on a numbing fear amongst the population?

Does this cultivation of insecurity make Australians more conservative and ever more fearful?

The sense of insecurity is everywhere these days, is it not? So is the talk about "protecting and defending".

Is not the spin from Canberra these days all about danger being everywhere, and that it can never be eliminated? So our best hope lies in a government strong enough and pugnacious enough to keep us safe and secure. Peace through strength is the message.

This elevation of terrorism into the biggest threat to civilisation does rely on a script written in terms of the politics of fear. This is an old script: in the post-Second World War era there was a continuous promotion of fear of the 'other side'. The fear of communism underpinned Cold War ideology, and this was associated with a fear of nuclear war and mutually assured destruction. Since the 1990s we have been living with political campaigns structured around the fear of crime and fear of immigrants. Fear is everywhere in Fortress Australia.

Today the narrative of fear has become so widely assimilated in Australia that it is now self-consciously expressed in a personalised and privatised way. This politics of fear captures a sensibility towards life in general; one that expresses a diffuse sense of powerlessness before threats; threats that can pop up anywhere and everywhere in our everyday existence; threats that evoke the spectre of violent death, our death.

What happens to us in this climate of fear? Does a numbing fear meant that we withdraw into our shell? We have become more conservative. Do we become fearful of change? We have become more distrustful. Do we lose our self-esteem?

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:51 PM | | Comments (17)
Comments

Comments

The tech industry calls if FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt), it is to paralyse decision making so that the existing system is maintained even if it is inferior, imperfect or non-functional. It enforces a dependancy where it is not necessary. Politicians use it for the same purpose.

Probably should add, in the political world it is used not only to paralyse decision making, but to introduce uncertainties into political change that are deemed to risky. Whether true or not.

Cameron,
yeah I thought along the same lines.
Yet the Howard Government is proposing radical change in terms of industrial relations legislation.

That's what stumped me.

Gary, By political change, I meant "party-in-power" political change. I think it is geared to maintaining power and a majority in government. It also leaves them open slather to pursue their ideological legislative agenda.

Cameron,
you write that politicians use fear, uncertainity and doubt:

....to paralyse decision making so that the existing system is maintained even if it is inferior, imperfect or non-functional...[and] to introduce uncertainties into political change that are deemed to risky.

Fair enough. That is Tampa. Does that account for the introduction of the GST? Or the Hawke/Keating Government's opening up of the Australian economy in the 1980s?

You then say that this fear style of governance functions:

...to maintain power and a majority in government. It also leaves them open slather to pursue their ideological legislative agenda.

That covers mandatary detention. I do not think that 'ideological' fully captures Howard's industrial relations reforms, which will eventually transform Australia's labour market.

Howard's reforms are shifting IR from a state based system to a national one. Why would that be seen as an ideological legislative agenda? It is much needed reform is it not?

The shift is also a movement from a centralised system based around national wage cases and organised labour to one centred on individual workers bargaining — collectively or (preferably) separately — at the enterprise level.

Does not the shift from the award system to the individual Australian Workplace Agreement or contract reflect the shift in the workforce from blue collar worker to the independent contractor?

Gary, The goal of a party is to win government. FUD from political parties is consistent with this goal. The paralysis is also to create a false dependancy on the incumbent government (the belief that your safety, economic security etc is tied to that government)

Part of Howard's legislative agenda has been to increase the size of the state and its economic burden on taxpayers. He is the most taxatious Australian PM ever. This has been used to create a new middle income dependancy on government. First house grants, child care handouts, even money for having children!

Howard is not an economic reformer. Telstra and IR about the only ones that have been focused on, and they have not been done well. Bit like his tenure as Treasurer with Fraser.

The other ideological aspect of the Howard years is the grain of nationalism. Howard's government has made many changes, obstructions, or just loud mouthing toward establishing a unitary nationalism that does not include the states or any constitutional progressivism. Whether anti-federalism, the Culture Wars, or obstructing the Republic, this has been a constant. Howard is hostile to any cultural identification structures external to unitary nationhood.

I also dont recall the FUD being so heavy as it has been in the last ten years. The media probably has a role in that explosion.

Cameron,

Your Howard sounds like my Bush. Both are big spenders and big government.

The one difference that I can see with this "compassionate conservatism" is that Bush spends up big whilst taxing less and so runs big budget deficits. Howard, in contrast, spends up big whilst running budget surpluses.

One study of fear based politics is the BBC's documentary "The Power Of Nightmares: The Rise Of The Politics Of Fear" which I found quite illuminating (especially if you view Howard's tactics as an imitation of neocon tactics in the US):

http://www.archive.org/details/ThePowerOfNightmares
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0430484/

There are all sorts of borderline tinfoil theories I could come up with as to why this new Fortress Australia is being created (most of which revolve around my study of peak oil) but instead I'll proffer one related to the IR legislation (and this isn't a strongly held belief of mine, just a casual observation) - what if the purpose of modern day conservatism is to in effect recreate a feudal social structure - the larger mass of people being led by an alliance of an "aristocratic" elite and religious leaders ?

All sorts of Liberal policies and tactics seem to fit this theory (although I've got no idea if this is intentional or just an unintended side effect of fear and wedge based politics combined with a strong desire to keep Mr Murdoch etc on side).

Gary, On the borrow and spend of Bush, he has to deal with voluntary voting and money influenced electoral performance. As a consequence he has to keep his base satiated. Hence the tax cuts.

Howard has it easier there, money is not as big an issue in Australia, and the electorate has compulsory voting, so his base is more diffuse and doesnt have to be bought directly. Electoral bribes in the weeks preceeding an election are more effective; and a device all parties in power have used.

Big Gav,

your new conception is corporatism. It has strong conservative Catholic undertones.

Kevin Andrews, the Minister of Industrial Relations espouses it along with 'choice.' He is is interested in achieving in harmony through the corporation.

Big Gav,
Thanks for the link to the Adam Curtis 'Power of Nightmares' doco. We sure need a serious critical analysis of the post-9/11 geopolitical world for television. I understand the doco has been made into a feature film and it was shown at Cannes this year.

This bit caught my eye from the archive org:

"Both [the Islamists and Neoconservatives] were idealists who were born out of the failure of the liberal dream to build a better world. And both had a very similar explanation for what caused that failure."
I see the puritan Christian strand of the religious right as a mirror image of a Jihadist Islam----not the neocons and Islamists. Contemporary liberal society is hollowed out, full of spectacles and spin, tabloid nastiness, freedom as naked self-interest, consumerism and little social cohesion or ethical life.

However, I agree that both the neocons and Islamists use fear as a political weapon. The Curtis argument--- that politicians such as Bush and Blair (and Howard) have used a new force that can restore their power and authority - the fear of a hidden and organised web of evil from which they can protect their people---is spot on. In all three nation states the media, security forces and the politicians have worked to exten the state's power in this way.

A review of the Power of Nightmares in The Guardian.

Do you think we will we see it here on SBS? It will make a welcome change from the current TV and its theatre of confrontation that avoids any serious analysis of what the modern world is like after September 11.

Cameron,
I appreciate that Bush's big tax cuts are an appeal to his core or base in the Republican movement, and that his compassion is reserved for upper middle and wealthy Americans.

But what of fiscal discipline, individual respsonsibility and small government--are these not core Republican values? Is not Bush trashing these?

The Bush mode of governance ---spend more tax less---has jettisoned budget discipline, and is indifferent to the long term implications for the US economy.

I cannot see that this strategy of compassion for the rich and big spending lays the basis for creating a permanent Republican majority and ensures their control of the levers of power.

Gary, "his compassion is reserved for upper middle and wealthy Americans. "

Disagree with upper Americans. My wife and I are doing pretty well for ourselves and came off $1000 better in the year for the Bush tax cuts. Unless you had ten kids and were a day trader, the tax cuts didnt reach the middle classes at all. They were also tempered by county and state taxes going up. His compassion in that area only extended down to the ultra-wealthy.

"But what of fiscal discipline, individual respsonsibility and small government--are these not core Republican values?"

Nope. They are the rhetoric of a party out of power. Reagan was just as woeful as Bush in reigning in spending. I think simple graphs show that fiscal discipline is tighter with Democratic Presidents.

"I cannot see that this strategy of compassion for the rich and big spending lays the basis for creating a permanent Republican majority and ensures their control of the levers of power."

It has worked well enough to get them the House, the Senate, the Presidency and the majority of judicial picks (7 of 9). American Republicans suck at governance, but they know how to get elected.


Cameron,
okay.

Just to highlight the contrast between Bush and Howard. Howard has not been nearly as crude in reallocating resources to the rich. In the last round of clamour for tax cuts, it was the allegedly conservative Treasurer, Peter Costello, who made the case against cutting taxes for the highest earners, sometimes against Labor politicians.

Gary, No, butunder our electoral system Howard doesnt have to buy the rich, or make the rich dependant on his government controlled largesse. Bush does.

In Australia you have to buy the compulsory voter, and make them dependant on government. This is being done by advancing the middle income welfare state. They are being kept in a state of asset rich, and cash poordom, so that they are dependent on the function of state to maintain their lifestyle. ie child care.

Once the perks are ingrained, and people have changed their spending, saving, and household income around it; any change to that is greatly destabilising. I pity the next populist government that tries to remove some of the middle income welfare. It will not be popular, even if it is the right thing to do.

Cameron,
you are right.

The Howard strategy up to now has been tax cuts in the name of prosperity plus subsidies for families and children in the name of family values. This strategy of fairness has helped to keep him in power.

Will it be difficult to keep this going in relation to the IR reforms? This looks to link middle class welfare to a low wage economy.

The latter strategy has been to place increasing pressure and discipline on the less skilled unemployed population to enter the workforce without proper retraining and reducing the bottom marginal tax rates. You take the 60-80% tax rates in the hope of gaining meaningful on-the-job training.

Now we have the move with the IR reforms to reduce the minimium wage and work conditions without transfer payments lifted in return for cuts in real minimium wages.

But the more wages are cut, the closer they come to bumping up against welfare benefits and the less incentive people have to take jobs. To address this, the Government would have to cut benefits or reduce tax rates and ease means tests for those on welfare.

Will that kind of reform happen in the name of fairness?

SBS were going to show "The Power of Nightmares" but then the bombs in London went off.