The Problem in March

Written by Lee Kavanagh.

In Australia, as in every country today, worship of State power pervades political discourse. It effectively blots out all viable solutions and prospects of change. This is why the March in March did not fundamentally reject the power of the Federal government, but questioned the wisdom of such power being handed to Abbott and the LNP.

Consider one stance on display at the march: No Cuts to Education!

What is the objection, in this case? Do the protestors object to one man being granted such enormous influence over the education of an entire country, or do they simply take issue with Tony Abbott being this one man? Give Greens leader Christine Milne the same power to waste Australian children’s formative years and see that she does not spend any less money doing so. Would there be marches or would the protest movement wither and die? When Julia Gillard, upon taking power through the internal politics of her party, claimed the right to decide what foreign languages every single child in the country would be taught, and which schools our money would be given to, where were the mass protests?

One of the problems is that we, as a country, believe that there is a single mode of education, and one curriculum to be taught during this education, to which every child in the country must be induced to learn. The problem is that the mode of education is absolutely not up for debate, and the curriculum is the dictate of the reigning party. The problem here is that the wisdom of a national curriculum is entirely unquestioned. The problem is certainly not that Tony Abbott has now been given the reigns.

The single greatest flaw of the protest was the failure to realize that their disillusionment was the invariable result of the system they endorse. The Federal election merely determined which part of the electorate was to be disillusioned. This is the system we have set in place: We shall all throw our lot in together. We shall elect one party to do with all of us as it pleases. And we shall expect against all common sense that the possibility of satisfaction exists in such a fundamentally flawed system.

We shall expect against countless years of hard experience that the disillusionment of the Marchers in March isn’t built in to the system they seek to control.

I will defer to Auberon Herbert, a British parliamentarian who recognized this dilemma well over a century ago. Herbert urged us to “think carefully what this conflict and what the possession of unlimited power in plainest matter of fact means…If I win, I can deal with you and yours as I please…if you win, you in the same way can deal with me and mine, just as you please.” He continues: “What results, what must result from our consenting to enter into this reckless soul-destroying conflict for power over each other” is, of course, “the maddening dread” of how we shall be dealt with if we lose.  Herbert advises us that this dread, which can be seen in the lead up to any democratic election, is “the worst of all the counsellors that men can admit to their hearts.”

This is manifest in our political discourse, and in the profoundly negative, scaremongering campaigns that our major parties ran in the lead up to the last election. It is manifest in Greenwell’s sinking “dread” – he even uses the same word – and in a March “trapped in its own fear and not prepared to… push beyond the fractured system in place now towards the future.” The protestors have been hoodwinked into entering this reckless conflict, because if they don’t Tony Abbott wins. Think again of education. If it is compulsory for all children to participate in the education system presided over by the Federal government, then who can afford to build an alternative system? They must seize control over that system into which all children will be herded, or else forfeit the minds of their children to the LNP.

In a reply to Greenwell’s article, ‘On the March in March: Failings and Contradictions,’ an anonymous critic demonstrates the simultaneous naivety and arrogance of those who enter into this conflict when he says that “what we wanted was“Abbott gone” for that would make way for a political party to enact the change desired by the community, for the Abbott Government will not.” First of all, and this is a problem Greenwell alluded to, which political party would that be? Dissatisfaction is better measured as a percentage of the population than in decibels or protests, and there were objectively more dissatisfied citizens under Julia Gillard than there are now. Ask a pollster, not an activist. Secondly, notice the false narrative of consensus. When they refer to changes “desired by the community,” they evidently mean their community. They can’t be referring to the broader Australian community which, remember, voted Abbott into office.

The simple fact is that we do not agree. We never have and we never will. We have different ideas about how to educate children, about the most effective means of providing welfare, about how much we should spend on the arts and how much we should spend on the sciences. We disagree about everything. Where there is no meaningful consensus, no good will come of the tenuous democratic ‘consensuses’ of our elections. Where two or more sects of our society have different ideas about what is to be done, there are only two possibilities: Either they are all allowed to institute their ideas, or we must choose between them. Either all may seek political satisfaction in their own way, or most will be sacrificed to the strongest. Either we foster diversity or we impose uniformity. If we impose uniformity through government, we can expect no less than the visceral despair which was on display at the March in March. It is non-negotiable. It is literally embedded in the very notion of democratic consensus.

Tony Abbott is a problem, but he’s not the problem.

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