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Tag Archives: voting

Donnie Does Dallas!

Yep, well, I have to admit it! I was wrong!

No, not about the Trump victory. Although I did think that Hillary Clinton would win, I’d never be absolutely certain of anything in an election where a large number of people don’t vote.

I was wrong about Russell Brand. For those of you with long memories, you may recall a few years ago when the comedian was guest editor of “The New Statesman” he was asked why should anyone listen to someone who’d never voted in their life. Russell, never one to take a backward step, insisted that he didn’t need to vote because, as he explained: “I don’t get my authority from this preexisting paradigm which is quite narrow and only serves a few people. I look elsewhere for alternatives that might be of service to humanity.”

This spawned a movement that was bigger than “Kony 12” on social media with many going “Yay, Russell, you’re right. They’re all as bad as each other. We should all stop voting and that’ll force them to get their act together.”

Now at the time, I remember trying to point out that one could actually walk and chew gum at the same time. I suggested that maybe it was possible to vote once every few years without necessarily having to place all one’s faith in the political system; that in between one could still attempt to change the world and have whatever revolutions one wanted. Some of Russell’s fans were outraged and tried to prove me wrong by telling me that Russell was a genius and very funny and he’d had a hard life and consequently this meant that he was completely right and so I should just shut up! I was also sent several photos and videos of his supporters actually chewing gum while walking, which made me feel that they’d missed the point.

However, several assured me that it was only when people realised that voting would never improve things that people would rise up and join Russell in his revolution and they too would take such radical steps as editting “The New Statesman” and demanding that people stop looking to politicians for the answers.

I rather naively thought that there were differences between the parties. While in Britain, it’s true that Tony Blair followed Bush into Iraq, but whatever the faults of the previous government, I’m sure those who had their support cut under David “The pig consented” Cameron wouldn’t be telling us that there’s no difference between the parties. (Yes, yes, I know that the disabled should just get better and stand on their own two feet even if they don’t have legs, and that I’m just another one of those bleeding hearts, so you needn’t bother commenting!) Anyway, he’s gone and Britain has a new PM to manage the Brexit – another time when some people can pat themselves on the back and say that they neither voted for nor against it because voting never makes a difference to anything.

But it’s the past week that I feel has proven Russell knows best. With nearly fifty percent of eligible voters not casting a ballot in the USA, we can stop disparaging Americans for the election of Trump. When you add the non-voters to those who voted for Hillary and the other candidates, it becomes clear that only about a quarter of the population voted for Trump. So one should feel a whole lot better. They’re not all crazy over there. Some had the sense to realise that it was better not to vote at all. Imagine if they’d voted for Clinton instead, they’d feel respsonsible for all the bad things she did.

Donald, on the other hand, may turn out to be a pleasant surprise by not causing the destruction of the world. As Malcolm Turnbull told us the other night, we shouldn’t think that Trump meant everything he said on the election campaign trail. Sadly, Leigh Sales didn’t ask him if his reason for believing that is that he, personally, didn’t mean the things he said on the campaign trail, but Ms Sales seems to have trouble asking Malcolm anything more difficult than: “Did you pick out that tie to bring out your the colour in your beautiful eyers?”

Ok, Trump is going to build a wall. But before you start to worry about the illegal immigrants just remember that they usually use tunnels to get across the border, so it probably won’t stop them. However, as he’s going to insist that Mexican government pay for it, it will provide jobs for the Mexicans when he rips up the free trade agreement.

Of course, his views on climate change have caused some concern. Previous presidents have announced that climate change is a terrible concern, then done nothing about it. Many are concerned that having a president who’s sceptical about climate change may lead to him not only not doing anything about it, but actually failing to make any promises to grow concerned about it at some time in the future.

Then there’s a lot of concern about his protectionist policies. Imagine if he does start a trade war with China. Imagine if China goes into recession and the whole world stops producing all those things that we desperately need like the latest model iPhone with the added feature of being a different shape than last year’s – we’ll all be stuck using technology that’s no different to the person who didn’t update at the first available opportunity and it’ll be harder to tell which are the cool people.

And, of course, let’s not forget that people are afraid that his election will act as encouragement to various racist and extreme groups, but, as Shane Warne said recently, there really is too much political correctness lately and it’s turning all the celebrities into boring people. According to Warne, famous people should be able to say what they like and other people shouldn’t criticise them. Yep, if you’re not famous you should just shut up because it’s really hard to listen to criticism when you’re a celebrity, but minority groups and any supporters should just cop it and keep their mouths shut.

But whatever, it’s worth remembering that Trump will just be a figurehead. He’ll be surrounded by people to advise him and to assure him that he really is the president and that there’s nothing wrong with appointing Incitatus to be the next Supreme Court judge.

 

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Talkin’ bout a revolution

Russell Brand – sometimes comedian, sometimes Christian, always a showman – is calling for a revolution. Russell’s Revolution is not about guns and bombs, it’s not about the people rising up to throw off the shackles of an oppressive government. Russell’s Revolution comes in the form of a willing disengagement from the political process, most clearly displayed in a refusal to vote. (Presumably in a country like Australia, with mandatory voting, he would be willing to settle for donkey voting.) Working in a variety of media, including an editorial in New Statesman magazine and a widely viewed interview with Jeremy Paxton on BBC’s Newsnight, Brand has pitched his message to the young and the disenfranchised. In doing so, he has hit a nerve. There are any number of copies of the video available on the web; the one I linked to has almost 9 million views in a little more than a week. Brand’s polemic has spawned a popular Facebook page, innumerable news and opinion articles, and a new kind of global conversation about politics. We should be so lucky.

As always several days late, Fairfax news has published an “article” about the phenomenon. The article serves as an introduction for those in the wider world – probably not the young and the disenfranchised – who may not have come across this particular strident voice for reform. The kind of people this article is presumably aimed at are the ones who might have little respect for anything which challenges the status quo. The article reads as a quizzical realisation, written on behalf of forty-year olds everywhere, that “People are listening to this guy, and we have no idea why.”

Well, I am forty and I feel, as this is the Independent Media Network, that I can give at least as considered an opinion.

Russell Brand’s basic contention is laid out in the first few paragraphs of his editorial.

Like most people I regard politicians as frauds and liars and the current political system as nothing more than a bureaucratic means for furthering the augmentation and advantages of economic elites… I don’t vote because to me it seems like a tacit act of compliance.

The editorial is well worth reading. It’s amusing and insightful, and it’s attacking the wrong target.

In his Newsnight interview, Jeremy Paxman asked: “You want a revolution to overthrow elected governments, but what sort of government would you replace it with?”

Brand’s answer is illuminating. “I don’t know,” he replied. “But I’ll tell you what it shouldn’t do. It shouldn’t destroy the planet, it shouldn’t create massive political disparity, it shouldn’t ignore the needs of the people.”

The problem is that what Brand is actually complaining about is not democracy. He is, instead, complaining about capitalism, and in this he is not the first.

Like socialism, democracy as a concept is good, it’s effective, it’s egalitarian and it works. It provides all citizens with a voice in how they should be governed. It is inherently equalising; whilst minorities of sexual preference or colour or social class may find their specific desires thwarted by the views of the majority, equally the rich, the powerful and the venal should find themselves constrained. Democracy gives us a chance as a society to force those at the top of the tree to support those at the bottom (force, because it is unlikely that this will happen without enforcement). Democracy is a good system of government. As Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried.”

In practice, democracy is poisoned by capitalism.

Like the USSR’s dalliance with communism, like (dare I say it) China’s current dalliance with communism, any system of rule is open to abuse and corruption. The motivations behind corruption may be simple power – people gravitate to the corridors of power for all sorts of reasons, and the lust for control over your fellow man is a common and powerful driver. Or they may be for personal gratification and gain. In western democracies, the lure of profit that can spring from being in a position to influence the laws can turn many an honest politician into a bottom-feeding snouter.

It is an arguable contention, but supportable, that in our modern western democracies, rich interests have too much of a say; that the power of the rich can secure access to soapboxes and propaganda by which the opinions of the elite can influence the opinions of the poor; and that challenging the rich, the big corporations, is done at a politician’s peril.

When Russell Brand talks of our systems of government ‘destroying the planet’, provoking ‘political disparity’ or ‘ignoring the needs of the people’, these are behaviours driven by the interests of the rich and powerful. Against these forces stand integrity and idealism, and these are qualities eminently frangible. It is not fair to say that all parties in our political system are equally complicit in the continued subjugation of the downtrodden; the right and the left have very different approaches to the problem of power. (Where each party falls on the left-right spectrum I leave to the comments.) Both sides of politics, beholden to the votes of the people every three or four years, argue that they have the best interests of the whole at heart. The traditional preserve of the left is to talk about services, supported by the idea of taxing the rich in order to support the poor. The right relies heavily on the idea that when you allow the powerful to benefit, all boats will rise.

“Trickle-down economics” – the idea that improving the lot of the rich will result in an improvement for everyone – is an argument employed by the rich. It has little basis in fact. But it is so often the primary argument the electorate hears that enough will be convinced to give the conservatives another go at the reins.

Regardless of which side of politics you favour, however, all can see that our politics is broken. The argument is about degree. Whether you’re talking about the tendency of the right to remove any constraints that prevent the rich from subduing the serfs, or you’re bemoaning the latest revelations of cronyism within the left, modern politics is driven by the capitalistic system. Corruption, infighting, backstabbing, pandering and political inconsistency – these are driven not by public good, but by pecuniary self-interest. The corruption of politicians will occur as long as capitalism drives people to greater wealth, as long as it encourages people with wealth to even greater excesses, and as long as there’s a buck to be made.

By conflating democracy – a force for great good, rule by the people for the people – with capitalism – the benefit of the few at the expense of the many – Brand spoils the reputation of the one and gives the other a free pass. He is turning people off the one part of our current society that might possibly have a chance of addressing the very disparity he rails against.

In calling for a revolution, Brand has no alternatives to offer. “I don’t know,” he says, when asked what he would replace it with. As history has shown, time and again, overthrowing a system of power without having clear ideas of what should replace it leads to bad outcomes. Ambitious, grasping people will always seek to fill the holes; nature abhors a vacuum. If you replace your democracy, what you get will perforce be a government by the few at the expense of the many. In the current world where capitalism has so much sway, the likelihood of this coming to a good outcome is pretty much nil.

The need for some kind of revolution is evident, but it’s a revolution against capitalism and consumerism, rather than against democracy. Do I have an answer, an idea for a replacement? I do not. Democracy in my opinion is still the best form of government. Does this mean an overthrow of the capitalist system is required? Possibly, possibly not. Capitalism has some benefits that should not easily be dismissed; it is in untrammelled capitalism that we find the problems.

What we ideally want is a democracy that is free of the pernicious influence of capitalism. We live in a world which is not ideal, where power provides benefit to those who hold it, and it is unlikely we’ll see this kind of reform without a significant upset. I don’t know what kind of upset could bring about this change – it’s probably not going to be Russell Brand’s army of the disengaged. One thing I do know, however, is that Russell Brand does not have the answers. Do I have an answer? No. But until I do, I won’t go calling for any revolutions.

 

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We Can’t Afford to Waste Money on The Arts, We have Submarines and Planes to Buy!

“It’s important to note, especially for parents, that there just isn’t a straight line between what you do at school and what you go on to do. I argue in my new book it’s like being on the ocean. You keep correcting your course according to things that happen to you. And we end up writing a resume, which makes it look like it was a plan. There was a study by a professor at Duke University looking at the degree majors for leaders in 500 companies in Silicon Valley. Forty percent were in math, science, or engineering, but 60% were in the Arts and Humanities

It’s a really important point because the education system is being strangled by this culture’s standardized testing. It’s leading school districts to cut arts and humanities programs. There are lots of kids now who never get to pick up an instrument, never get to perform in a play. There’s a nationwide project called Art on a Cart, where people push these trolleys with crayons and papers because there’s no art in the schools. They go from school to school pushing the cart, do some art with the kids, and then move to the next school. Because there is this perception that somehow these subjects aren’t relevant: We’ve got to get the kids through the tests so that we can get competitive again economically.”

Ken Robinson

So when I heard that a couple of people were not only ignoring St Russell’s example in refusing to vote but were actually attempting to start the Australian Arts Party. I decided that it might be a good idea to interview them to see why they felt that they needed to do this rather than join the Facebook group supporting Russell’s Revolution. (That group sure looks like it has a lot planned to change the system!)

In order to be informed, I thought I’d brush up on the Liberal Party’s Arts Policy so that I could ask them why they needed to start a whole new party when they have so many points of similarity with the Liberals. So I tried Wikipedia. Nothing relevant there. Of course, I’ll try the Liberal Website.

Page 1 page 2 page 3

Mm, I can’t seem to see it. Let me know if I missed it.

Well, perhaps, I should find out what the Arts Minister’s been saying since the election. Who is Minister for The Arts? Oh, that’s right, it’s the Attorney General, George Brandis. Well, that shows how important Abbott regards the Arts – he’s given it to the same person who manages one of the most important portfolios, so that he can also manage Arts in this country. As Attorney General, he should have plenty of spare time. Oh, he’s made some statement about a decision on the royalty re-sale scheme when the review that Labor set up is finished.

Yep, I’m beginning to understand why some people may feel that there needs to be an Arts Party. I began by asking them that very question.

Why do you feel the need for an Arts Party?

“After the last federal election I, and many of my friends, felt incredibly disaffected with the state of Australian politics. It felt like inspirational thinking and positivity had disappeared entirely from this country’s leadership. Instead, unrelenting negativity appears to be the best way to gain power for the big players.

Yet looking closer, there were signs of hope in the system. The fact that our democracy can tolerate many voices is actually a sign of its strength. Small fringe parties were appearing, offering new voices and, sometimes, new ideas. As we’ve seen over the last couple of elections, small parties and independents can also have a completely disproportionate amount of influence in this country’s management.

We’ve got parties for sex, science, animal justice, bullet trains, drugs, mining, smokers, shooters and fishermen… but no voice for Australian art and creativity! So we decided to do something about it. We want to see a co-operative and solutions-based approach to running this country now, and a bright future for our children to inherit.”

Who exactly are you?

“If you’re talking about who I am as one of the founders, well then my name is PJ Collins. I work by day as a multi-platform product manager by day (an interesting mix of creativity and technology). In my spare time I love telling stories through the short films or plays I write or direct. I live in Kingsford, Sydney, under the flight path, with my beautiful wife and two daughters that I love to bits. You can find our more about me or watch some of my films in the links at the bottom.

If you’re talking about the Australian Arts Party, then we’re currently 130+ people who believe we need a fresh positive voice, not only for promoting and encouraging arts and creativity, but also for shaping Australia’s future. Once we find, at least, another 400 people who agree with that aim, we’re going to officially register as a party, and start to actually be the difference we want to see, in how this country is run.”

What’s your response when someone suggests that we can’t afford to give money to the Arts, or that if the Arts can’t pay for itself, why should we subsidise it?

“I don’t actually think that “giving” is the correct word – when the state funds Australians to focus their energy on turning ideas into new intellectual properties, it’s really acting as a venture capitalist in our creativity. I think the main purpose of paying taxes is so the state can invest that money back into our combined development and future as Australians.

These creative investments often also produce spectacular financial returns! There are many many examples of this – too many to list here. The other returns, of a strengthened community, and Australians thinking deeper and more united, is a less tangible outcome, yet even more important (in my humble opinion). Creative expression reinforces the bonds that hold us together, by tapping into our ideas, skills and cultures, to move and inspire us as a people. It acts as a mirror for us to share emotions and to better understand each other and ourselves. I make the odd film and direct the odd play, I spend most of my time in the audience like everyone else. Being in the audience and participating is just as important as being on the stage or the screen.

Finally, as for the ‘big money’, we spent 0.93% of the 2013 budget in supporting community events, culture, creativity the arts and the organisations that administrate them. So that tiny sliver of the cash pie also includes a lot of things other than actually funding Australians to be creative and artistic directly.”

How did the idea come into existence? And also, a lot of people feel the need to do something politically, but never get past the “we should” stage. What motivated/helped you to actually put a plan into action?

“The idea was born over a few beers! Then I canvassed the idea to as many friends as I could to get their feedback. The response was overwhelmingly positive – “That actually sounds like a good idea PJ!”

I think the idea has actually been discussed thousands of times over the years by people across Australia, the only difference is that Nick and I decided to actually get off our arses and do something about it. Why? Well the idea felt good and the time is always right to create. One of my favourite sayings is ‘It’s not a dress rehearsal.’ I like putting that motto into action.”

What do you hope to achieve? Both your general aims and what will make you feel like it’s been a worthwhile exercise.

“Our clear vision is to bring a positive, humane and cooperative agenda back into our federal and state politics. We’re not interested in adding to problems, instead, we’ll work as hard as we can to find solutions that benefit everyone. We want hand ups not hand outs. We want every Australian to have to the tools and opportunity to develop and improve themselves through their entire lives. To be the best we can be in every sense.

In the short term of course, we need to find enough people who agree with this vision to help us become a legitimate voice in this country’s politics.

I ask anyone who’s read this far to please show their support by signing up as a founding member on our Indiegogo campaign page. That support costs as little as $20 for a three year membership. In the meantime we’ve announced creation of our foundation committee who have already started preparing our first policy document. You can also read more about our principles and values on our website of course.

There’s no clear end to the movement we’re trying to create here. We want to be a voice for reason and possibility ongoing in our national political conversation.”

Anything else you’d like to add?

“Well only that Australian creativity is truly a primary industry that creates wealth purely a drawn from our imagination and hard work. We’re not digging it out of the ground, we’re using our minds, our greatest natural resource. The future of Australia will be depend on the quality of our ideas and creative thinking far more than the size of our mines. And if you agree with that, then join us!”

If people would like further information, or to contribute to the formation of the party see links below.

Links:

http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/the-australian-arts-party

http://theartsparty.org/

https://www.facebook.com/TheArtsParty

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