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Playing Chess With Pigeons

By Loz Lawrey

I’ve been hearing terms such as “postmodernism”, “neo-marxism” and “the left” bandied about by right-wing commentators ever more frequently lately, so, in order to clarify my own understanding of the meaning of these verbal brickbats, I’ve been doing some googling.

I’ve always thought of myself as a leftie, and proud of it. A communist or socialist? Perhaps, though if a label must be chosen, I prefer the term “progressive”.

But am I a postmodernist or a neo-Marxist? “Yes and no”, said Professor Google. “You are and you aren’t”, because these terms are extremely difficult to explain and many conflicting, often contradictory definitions exist.

That’s the trouble with “isms”. Their actual meaning is loose, fluid and subject to interpretation.

According to Google, “communism” is “a theory or system of social organization in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.”

Now to me, that doesn’t sound too bad. In fact, if I had to select a recipe for social organisation, welfare and cohesion, then some version of communism or socialism would be my choice. An inclusive “best for all” system which makes everyone a winner.

When right-wing pundits use the term “communism” however, it implies evil of the worst order.

Communism is portrayed as the enemy of capitalism, of “freedom” (however we define that), of our first-world right to selfish greed and exclusive self-advancement.

Former Prime Minister John Howard once described the very idea of a banking royal commission as “rampant socialism”. I’m still trying to make sense of that statement. I think he meant that a royal commission would be a bad thing.

Conservative politicians regularly conflate communism with unions and social activism generally.

What are these forces working so hard to drag the sensible centre of politics and governance towards the far right, those barren lands where chaos and deregulated anarchy prevail?

What does “the right” actually want? From where I’m sitting, it looks like a vision of dystopia, a post-apocalyptic disaster zone where a few mega-wealthy “winners” lord it over a population of starving, miserable, downtrodden losers.

I may be on the wrong planet. The problem may be me. I do acknowledge the possibility. Or, I may simply be ageing and struggling to accommodate a changing world, one in which my “givens” no longer apply.

You know, old-fashioned concepts such as: Decency should guide us. Empathy is good. Inclusion is essential. Racism, misogyny, bigotry and religious zealotry are destructive and anti-social. We should care for each other and support our most vulnerable etc, etc….

There’s a meme that regularly circulates on Facebook: A picture of a pigeon on a chessboard knocking the pieces over, with this caption:

“Arguing with conservatives is like playing chess with a pigeon: No matter how good you are at chess, the pigeon is just going to knock over the pieces, crap on the board and then strut around acting like it won.”

At times I myself have tried unsuccessfully to argue with that pigeon.

I can confirm that it’s a complete waste of time. Don’t even bother.

It’s as if Planet Earth is inhabited by two tribes, with the members of one wearing blue-tinted spectacles and members of the other red. Both tribes are looking at the same world, yet seeing completely disparate landscapes.

Language is difficult. If I say “table”, do you visualise a round, square or rectangular one? Large or small? Made of timber or otherwise? Perhaps that’s why they say “a picture’s worth a thousand words”. At least when we look at a picture we are seeing the same thing.

“There’s a war on empathy” commented singer/activist Billy Bragg on a recent visit to Australia. Who could disagree? Well… possibly “left”-hating conservatives who approve of Australia’s inhumane treatment of refugees?

At the time Malcolm Turnbull was entreating us not to get “misty-eyed” over his regime’s ongoing human rights abuses.

Is there a war on thinking? Anyone observing the toxic outpourings from the Murdoch media, the shallowness of journalism, the decrease in literacy or the Coalition’s defunding and dumbing-down of the ABC might think so.

Right-wing attacks on universities as cauldrons of “leftism” make one wonder: what is the “right” afraid of? Is it “leftism” or thought itself?

Might it be that universities are in fact incubators of ideologies of empathy and social inclusion precisely because they are centres of thought and learning?

I ask again: What does “the right” actually want? What is the conservative vision? Is there one? If there is, I’m damned if I can see it. Perhaps I’m wearing the wrong glasses.

I know I can describe the kind of world I would prefer to live in, and it’s a warm and friendly place, where people actually care… I’m guessing that makes me a stupid old leftie hippie.

Conservatives are well-practised at criticising and condemning, but whenever I ask one to articulate their coherent vision for a better world all I get are insults such as “leftard”.

In other words, crap on the chessboard.


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  1. Joseph Carli

    Excellent piece Loz…these are the layers we need to add to the depth of discussion…for while we here on these blogs cannot make policy, we can by using our posts and commentary give clues to those who do make policy what and where we ought to be heading.

  2. Phil

    Yep. No doubt about the tribes on the right – they sure know how to strut amongst their own shit.

    Patriarchy, like capitalism, is in crisis. Perhaps this is what makes tribes on the right so prone to aggression and hate.

  3. Kaye Lee

    What does the right want? I’ll give it a go.

    They want protections for religious freedom but no more mosques or women wearing funny clothes or men praying in public places.

    They want the nanny state to stop telling them what to do about pool fences and bike helmets.

    They want children to be able to set off their own fireworks again. A few kids losing fingers or their eyesight is such a small price to pay and letterbox manufacturers could use the work. It would be a great way to keep our firefighters skilled up during the winter months.

    They want the right to avoid paying any tax. If you need money, get it from those welfare bludgers living it up on the aged pension and from the people who can’t afford an accountant.

    They want any profitable government business to be privatised so “mum and dad” investors and nurses can improve their share portfolio.

    They want coal, coal and more coal because North Queensland jobs are more important than Hunter Valley jobs and besides, wind farms make you sick.

    They want more money for private schools because rowing sculls are expensive.

    They want to help the Indigenous population by taking away any need for them to make decisions about their own lives and by kicking them off their traditional land either because foreigners want to mine it or it’s just too much of a hassle to provide them with water and electricity.

    They want women to look pretty, keep the house nice and keep their opinions to themselves.

    They want lots and lots of war toys so they can go play with Saudi Arabia.

    They want the right to offend and humiliate people who look different.

    I could go on but I am getting a headache from frowning too much.

  4. John O'Callaghan

    I have a friend who is a true conservative,but everytime i bring up even a mild criticism or opinion on a conservative policy,or maybe we could talk about trying a more progressive method to achieve a certain outcome,he just says…. i dont want to talk about it or no we are right and you are wrong, it is a kin to him putting his fingers in his ears and you know!…. la la lala lalalalala ….. our mob are always right and we have all the answers,and if something happens to go wrong he will always blame the progressive.

    In a nut shell… they are always right,the progressives are always wrong,so why even question us when we are always right?… Conservative logic 101 !*!*

  5. Harquebus

    Yep. Socialism is the only political structure that has the potential to reverse current trends. If only we could expunge the capitalist elements that have taken up residency in socialist organizations. The ALP being one that could use a good clean.

    I have posted this link before, a few times. My apologies for the repetition. I try not to.

    “Social life is always egalitarian, in that there is always a low tolerance among a group’s mature males for one of their number dominating, bossing or denigrating the others”
    “In his survey of ancestral type societies, Boehm found that, in addition to murder and theft, one of the most commonly punished infractions was failure to share.”
    “following the 2008 bubble-burst, the adult males of the tribe not only did not punish the crooked banksters for costing trillions to the US economy, but rewarded them with million dollar bonuses and billion dollar bailouts. They were not just too big to jail. They were heroes.
    Lesser citizens were outraged. A wild silverback buffoon lumbered forward, beat his chest and promised to “drain the swamp.” This alpha male behaved like he was a good ol’ boy calling the tribe to a backyard barbecue, where they were going to roast them some Goldman Sachs.”
    “In a rational tribal society mature adults would have publicly ridiculed, tortured and killed Newt Gingrich, John Boehner, Ted Cruz, Mitch McConnell and Lamar Alexander. An overwhelming majority of the tribe would have cheered the executioners.”
    “We got bombed by the Klan, had horses shot, were harassed by the District Attorney. It only made us stronger.
    We tribed.”

    And something that I have read recently.

    “In fact, the people of these societies having almost entirely no concept of power, control, domination, and subjugation was a significant factor for the ease with which Europeans conquered these lands.”
    “But absence of centralized power does not mean being without leaders, only that the leaders do not have authority over others.”
    “The principle of consensus… was based on the belief that ultimately the interests of all members of society are the same, although their immediate perceptions of those interests may be different. This thought is given expression in an art motif depicting a crocodile with one stomach and two heads locked in struggle over food.”
    “It took a lot of work and time to settle disputes or get things done, because literally everyone is involved in decision making; but things did get done, in a way with which everyone was happy.”

    “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.” — John Kenneth Galbraith

  6. Freethinker

    Excellent article Loz, perhaps our ancestors come in the same “space ship” because i am feeling the same as you.
    What really depress me is that many of people that are seating in “the fence of ideology” are doing what ever they can in their social status to go the the “Blue Tribe” because they like to have and not much to share.

  7. Anthony Element

    These terms are usually bandied about as through they were specific points sitting somewhere in a social landscape.
    They’re not.
    Each term is part of a spectrum. It used to be simple; communism sat at one end and free market capitalism sat at the other.
    Then we came to realise that inside these terms are many spectra.
    I have friends who are to the Left on economics but to the right socially and could be anywhere culturally, depending on the issue, e.g. Receptive to socialism and increased taxation, very anti women’s rights yet pro SSM, while shoulder shrugging about Australia Day.
    Therein lies the confusion about the meaning of the terms.
    When used as perjoratives, they’re given absolute and overarching meanings.
    Which, I suppose reflects a loss of subtlety in contemporary discourse.

  8. George Swalwell

    Absolutely splendid piece of perceptive analysis of the
    present beliefs, attitudes and actions (or lack of action)
    of Australia and Australians.

    Reading daily reports from the Guardian and the ABC, I
    often feel I’m not only living outside Australia, but almost
    on another planet/ alternative universe.

    The disappearance of empathy, fair wages, inclusiveness,
    care for the old, the sick, the handicapped dismays me
    As for the hard-hearted treatment of the indigenous – it
    only a little better than the callous punishing of refugees
    on Manus and Nauru.

    Has the Australia I one knew gone for ever?

  9. guest

    Postmodernism is hard to define and is expressed, supposedly, in umpteen different ways. And Modernism is hard to pinpoint as well. They are philosophical constructs which suit the needs of the adherents. When was an age not modern and when was there a time when a postmodern period of time did not succeed it?

    The idea of progress over time is part of it. Walter Benjamin described the situation as being like the angel of history with his back to the future being overwhelmed by the wind of progress. (1970)

    Marx and Engels (Collected Works, VI, 1970, p.487) describe modernity as:

    “Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relationships, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses, his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”
    So Post-Modernism is seen as a challenge to Modernism, its beliefs, its language, its technology and means of production,its relationships, its ideology, etc.

    So we see here in Oz the Modern Age belief in the value of burning coal and the reduction of alternate technology. Yet the use of renewables is progressing across the world. Modernity is inthe process of changing as Post-Modernism points out, but the ideologically conservative are stuck in the past.

    We saw it in the postal vote for Marriage Equality. The Conservative Modern relied heavily in some 38% of voters on a definition of marriage gleaned from an ancient book which made that definition “traditional”. Yet we know that lGBTIQ people have existed all along and their sexuality has been explained by psychology over the last century. Science fights with tradition.

    So Newtonian physics of itself was inadequate, but nuclear physics has gone beyond that.

    In the workplace, artificial intelligence threatens “traditional” work practices – but promises new ones.

    What has to happen is the questioning of the status quo, the kinds of things listed by Kaye Lee above.

    And it is not just pure socialism which will be successful. Communism has a way to go to perfect the workers’ paradise. So does Capitalism.

    And just some kind of “tribalism”, harquebus, will be sufficient either. Rampant nationalism. will do it, nor will fragmented tribalism which betrayed to Palestinians.

    As Marx and Engels said, it is matter of facing our “real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind”. We have but one planet and its people are not to be slaves to “the born to rule.”

  10. guest

    Sorry, errors in my second last sentence (edit time expired): “…will not be sufficient…will not do it…”

  11. wam

    The post modern conservative worker is unaware of past modern conservatives but very aware and frightened of past socialists. It is time to trash the loonie left and right.

    Not sure the bilcolm’s have the guts to redefine or even castle??

  12. Möbius Ecko

    The postmodern conservative, and sadly many progressives, think Genghis Khan and Hitler were socialists, so they attribute just about every mass murdering authoritarian in history to socialism. In this Stalin gave them the perfect flagpole to hoist their flags of condemnation and fear of the “left”. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve have Stalin thrown at me in conversations where conservatives are praising to high heaven the magnificence of their ideology, and you dare make the slightest attempt to shift that misbelief a fraction.

  13. Steve Laing

    I also think that it links to support of a sports team, where loyalty is unquestioning. Too many Australians are bought into that paradigm, and follow it slavishly. Ford vs Holden. Both shite, but supporters will mindlessly follow one, and bag out the other, despite evidence to suggest one actually do better. The only solution? Ban the teams. Until we have a political system without parties we will continue this nonsense.

  14. guest

    OK, Steve, no teams. No sports teams, no competing car brands,…no political teams….no competition at all. How will this work?

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