Our previous post has concluded with the affirmation that the Liberal Party is a primary cause of the serious crisis that has now befallen the Borough of Queenscliffe. Of course this is a serious accusation. Can I back it up?
Many of my fellow citizens in the Borough will ask: “What crisis?” My answer, along the lines of the previous post, may well bring forth the following rejoinder:
Well what do you expect? They are after all, all politicians!
So, what am I to say when that is said? Am I to walk away, shrug my shoulders and let the matter drop?
Actually, there is something political I can say there and then – it may at least give some cause to pause. I could say:
And our Mayor’s election platform insisted that he wasn’t a politician!
To highlight this fact is not to indulge a “cheap shot”; this is an important clue to the crisis we face. Our contradictory political situation needs analysis and this contradiction should be front and centre as we carefully unravel the various responsibilities that have formed, and are shaping, our political lives – this anomaly is central to political beliefs that are basic to this crisis.
Readers will also notice I have avoided names. The names can easily be found by a diligent search of the web. I have spoken to the person concerned and told him I am willing to discuss the matter with someone else present. But here I prefer to talk in terms of offices, positions of public responsibility. It is a crisis and it is shared; the mistakes that have been made which have deepened this crisis are not solely the errors of one person acting alone, no matter how unencumbered politicians of Liberal persuasion view themselves to be.
_ _ _ _ _
Readers who have followed the discussion on this site since late 2016 will know I have identify various “offices” contributing to this crisis:
1. The Borough of Queenscliffe Council
2. The Returning Officer for the Council Election
3. The State Electoral Commission
4. The Victorian Parliament
5. Victoria Police
6. The Ice Police Task Force in the Geelong Region
7. The State Member for the Bellarine Electorate
8. The Liberal Party (Bellarine Peninsula Branch).
In this post I simply wish to make a point about what I consider to be the deep failure of the Liberal Party, the 8th on my list. And when we have understood their failure in this matter, we might have begun to develop a new idea of what a political party might be and how it should conduct its affairs, and be seen to conduct its affairs, in relation to LGAs in this polity. There is one step that should be taken immediately by the Liberal Party; I leave that till the end of this post.
I narrow the focus to the Liberal Party even though I believe the Borough Council seriously erred when it failed to raise an objection to the suitability of the person who is now Mayor, not only to be Mayor, but to be a Councillor. The failure to disclose party affiliation during the election campaign was bad enough, and I grant that it may have been an oversight. But to then simply do nothing when, one week later, the incumbent of the Mayoral Office is appointed President of the Bellarine Liberal Party, simply confirms the Council’s deeply disrespectful attitude to the Borough’s electors. Everyone in the Borough who has looked into it knows that the successful Candidate’s subsequent appointment as Liberal Party President disclosed an electoral deceit. By failing to address what is still a scandalous state of affairs (that, by the way, has not been redressed by the President’s subsequent resignation from the party post) the Council has undermined public trust in itself. The Council owes a public apology to the electors of the Borough.
The nomination of the Senior Sergeant in the Geelong Police – who is head of the Police Ice Task Force for the region – must have been endorsed by the Borough official who had to verify the eligibility of candidates. The State Electoral Commission must have also given approval and has still not made any public comment about the election of the said candidate and his failure to disclose his political affiliation as part of his election campaign. The Victorian Parliament, it would seem, has legislated or gazetted changes to regulations that allow serving officers of the Victoria Police to stand in local Council elections. At the very least the political parties have not helped electors know why this has been allowed. We have also heard nothing from the State member as to how the Victorian Government views the deceit as perpetrated upon the Borough’s electors. We have not heard from Victoria Police as to why it is that the Police Code of Conduct has not been violated by that failure during the election campaign. There seems here to have been a significant blurring of what constitutional jurisprudence would call “the separation of powers”, the separation between law making and law enforcement. Do not the police have a code of conduct provisions that forbid gaining office by deceit (even if it were an unintended oversight)?
There may be an explanation from these offices that will shed light on what is a complex and messy business. And yes, people in public office can make mistakes. So, can people in their running for public office but we also haven’t heard an apology yet from the elected councillor.
Electors will know that members of the police force, not least members who are front line with respect to the problems of law and order in relation to drug usage and the illicit supply thereof, are subject to peculiar tensions. But this is precisely the point at which I wish to discuss the Liberal Party contribution – what it has done and what it has failed to do. It has acted publicly in a way that simply cannot pass without comment.
A Liberal Party that was sensitive to the seeming intractable problems that pertain to the interface between drug use and law enforcement, would never seek to gain political advantage by an opportunistic blurring of the distinction between law-making and law-enforcement. If a Senior Sergeant has joined its ranks, it should welcome him and forego the temptation of using him for election purposes. Their contribution as a political party would be much better served by encouraging said new member to simply take his place among the party membership and offer his advice about public policy when it is relevant to do so. And given this particular police officer has regional responsibilities for the Victoria Police Ice Task Force, should they not be persuading him to concentrate on that very important police work, without distracting him with managing party political business?
I would also suggest that the Liberal Party, as part of their adherence to appropriate constitutional and jural principles, should positively discourage any police officer, and especially senior police officers, that have become members of their party, from trying to gain election to local councils while still serving – even if as in our case regulations do not prohibit it. It should be part of their party’s overall political philosophy that law enforcement should not be blurred with law-making. And that’s the principle they have seriously violated by their effort to piggy-back on the (compromised) election of one of their members. Instead, they opportunistically tried to add to that important police officer’s load by trying to engineer him into the front-line of an attempt to unseat the sitting member (who is police minister) at the next State election.
Their actions actually show a party unfit for public office. And let’s have no more ambiguous nonsense that LGAs should be apolitical!
Let’s hear the truth from the Liberal Party in an acknowledging its own contribution to the deceit that was perpetrated in the Borough election and that as a party it is committed to truthfulness at all levels of our public governance!
Remarkably this disreputable political party, which has treated one of its own paid-up members in such questionable ways, is proposing next week to hold a “law and order” forum nearby in Drysdale. The advertising invites us to “come and have our say”. “Only the Liberals will make Victoria safe again”.
Of course there is a “law and order” problem facing us. But the Liberal Party’s wheeling and dealing speaks too loudly of a political ethic that borders on wall-to-wall disrespect, and that is not irrelevant to the ethos that spawns law and order concerns – there is the Liberal Party’s disrespect for the separation of powers principle that one might have thought was part of the Liberal’s view of public governance; there is in this sorry saga elements of disrespect for the Victoria Police, disrespect for the integrity and good standing of the Borough of Queenscliff. There is the Liberal Party’s continual ducking and weaving when it comes to speaking truthfully.
The Liberal Party has completely avoided dealing with the flawed LGA election in 2016 that had significant consequences for one of its own members. As I said, that failure may have been the Candidate’s mistake, but if it were a mistake to fail to mention party membership, why should the party reward him with the regional party presidency and thereby further compromise the Borough Council’s standing?
As long as this Liberal Party fiasco continues (see p.2), such actions as we have recently witnessed in the Bellarine Peninsula from them simply suggest that they are beating the “law and order” drum to distract attention from their party’s lack of political principles, from their party’s persistent pragmatic manoeuvring, a failure as a party to be seen in the inadequate support and advise rendered to a new member, and a total failure to insist upon a measure of political discipline by one of its prominent members who, as a senior police officer, is obviously keen to make a contribution to life across the Bellarine.
The electors of the Borough of Queenscliffe deserve a full and frank apology from the Liberal Party for their unscrupulous destabilising of local government.
In a further post, “Local Government, Public Justice and Community Health Care“, we will discuss how this same deep political crisis has manifested itself in the ongoing regional dispute following the vandalisation of innovative and creative local initiatives in aged care. This series of posts aims to explore the complexity of local politics and indicate how it is being shaped by legislative and political developments further afield, beyond any one LGA’s area.
BCW 10 June 2017.
There will probably be those who instinctively interpret Nurturing Justice as an attempt read the Bible in political terms. What follows is a “reading” of a seemingly innocent passage from Matthew’s gospel (“politically innocent” that is) that not only tells us that what is “on the page” is filled with political implications, but more importantly it indicates something about a Gospel-directed political involvement for us in this time. Matthew’s Gospel is characterised in toto by this leit-motif:
It is mercy I delight in, not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6 see Matthew 9:13).
It is the Gospel account of a tax-collector and I wonder whether it is actually written with fellow tax collectors, as well as other outsiders, in mind. The opening song of the Sermon on the Mount reminds us:
A blessing rests on those who are merciful; mercy will be shown to them (Matthew 5:7).
The Lord’s Prayer reiterates this:
Remit us the debts we have incurred against you as we remit the debts incurred against us. (Matthew 6:12)
Yes reading the Sermon on the Mount from a Tax Collector’s perspective might indeed deepen our understanding not just of Matthew’s response, but of Jesus’ teaching! A Biblically-directed Christian political option will need to avoid self-justification by conveniently dogmatised Bible teaching, and find ways to support merciful compassion in political conduct. And in this context I propose to consider
Matthew 4:23-25.And as he went around from place to place around the Galileean region, Jesus was teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. Because he was healing every disease and all kinds of afflictions among the people, his fame spread across all of Syria too, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, those having seizures, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.
We have to wait until we are right into this story, known as Matthew’s Gospel, before we learn about the call of Jesus to Matthew the tax-collector (9:9; 10:3). And when we, 21st century readers, come to that – not being in a position to ask Peter or John or those who were in touch with the apostles – we are prodded to go back and re-read the earlier parts of this extensive chronology and carefully note its nuances. We might even do a bit of cross-referencing with other Gospels to get a sense of what was going on and how it was that Matthew framed his account in the precisely the way it has come to us.
We note Matthew’s focus. Was he reliant upon the story of Joseph concerning the early life of Jesus? (see Chapters 1&2) And we then jump with him perhaps 25 years, plus or minus, to hear of the arrival of John in (3:1) to begin his work. And as if John is the MC of some still-to-be-disclosed event, we then learn of the arrival of Jesus coming from Galilee to be baptised. Matthew does not tell us what John is reported by Luke to have said to tax-collectors –
Quit this workplace habit of taking a bit on the side habit which has become a feature of your tax-collecting work – you are answerable in your employment to the Anointed of the God of Israel who is on his way! (see Luke 3:14-15).
Was the person Luke identifies as Levi (Luke 5:27-32) Matthew? Well we do not know for sure. But Matthew’s list of the specially selected twelve (10:2-4) certainly lists Matthew the tax collector, who Jesus had called to follow him (9:9-14). And by working our way through this we can suggest that this Gospel is intent upon majoring upon the message of Hosea:
It is mercy I delight in, not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6 see Matthew 9:13)
So what was Jesus to teach to the crowds coming to him, once he realised that Isaiah 61 and all the other prophets applied to himself? He had been prepared, Matthew tells us, (4:1-11) by the most agonising of privations and cruel suggestions – these started then before his ministry gathered any momentum in the wilderness for 40 days and nights and was continued right up until his dying breath (see 4:3,6,9 and compare with Matthew 27:40-44). Clearly, he had become aware of a temptation to use the mass appeal of his teaching to meet his own needs, to embellish his own grandeur. And so, he is depicted in all Gospels as one who is deeply aware of the possibility that his teaching, if deconstructed to function within the Tempter’s deceitful strategy, would wreck immeasurable havoc by capturing God’s elect in a net of slavery once more.
“Why not, it will only be for a time after all, but then by allowing yourself to inherit all the kingdoms of the earth my way you can take the next step and offer it all up to God, your Heavenly Father … “
And Jesus’ reply:
“You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve!”
sent Satan away.
There are other features of Matthew’s discussion here of the move of Jesus from Nazareth to Capernaum and the calling of the young men in the Galilee fishing co-operative that are worthy of our continued reflection. Peter and Andrew, James and John – who were also disciples of John the Baptist – were called to travel with Jesus in an enterprise designed “to trawl for people”.
In the desert by prayer and fasting, Jesus had undergone a 40 day preparation. And when all the temptations had been resisted and the Tempter sent on his way “for a time”, Jesus had confirmation of his Father’s blessing by his own specially sent visitation of angel-messengers.
But in 4:23-25, Matthew is almost taking on the archetypal characteristics of what we might expect from a Jewish tax-collector who joined in the joyful task of proclaiming the Good News of God’s Kingdom:
Have I got a good news story for you!
He is saying something like:
This was big, truly big. After John’s call for repentance there was a very wide expectation of something big and important unfolding … before their own eyes.
And Matthew then, by indicating just how widespread this movement had become, tells us what he is going to try to convey in what follows. So from Chapters 5-9 we seem to have a “Chapter”, a focus upon a peculiar and identifiable stage in Jesus’ ministry. From 10:1 we read of a further intensification of what is to be the future ministry of the apostles, the twelve disciples he especially called to be by his side.
We might say that Chapters 5-7 is the record of Jesus’ teaching, the basic outlook on life that Jesus expects of his disciples. It is also very clearly the proclamation of the Kingdom of God (the “good news of the kingdom”), which then suggests that Chapters 8 and 9 is a selective record of these healings, how diverse diseases and ailments were met by his competent and authoritative health-care ministry, confronting those possessed of demonic powers, those crazy and paralysed. Matthew is also suggesting that the people “came out” to him and that in response Jesus was pleased to convene a plein air synagogue.
Is Matthew suggesting that we will want to know what Jesus planned to do with all the crowds that came out to him? Matthew indicates Jesus made careful and well-planned choices of those who would travel closest to himself.
But he is also suggesting that Jesus was going out to a desperate, hurting, confused and angry people. Here they were: they had gone out en masse to John and confessed their sins, being baptized in the Jordan by him. And then John was arrested – his days evidently numbered. It is in this context – we will be told – although it is not said so explicitly by Matthew – that some of the most desperate, and abused, were also numbered among the crowds that then went out to hear Jesus teach (9:10). And the Pharisees, ever vigilant in their role of spiritual overseers, saw this and complained. Jesus confirmed that his ministry was precisely to such people. These were they who fulfilled the prophet’s criteria at the time Jesus moved from Nazareth to Capernaum. Matthew was alert to how Jesus’ ministry fulfilled Isaiah’s prophecies:
Land of Zebulun, land of Naphtali, the sea road beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles. The people who spent their days shrouded in darkness have seen a great light; and on those that dwelt in a land overshadowed by death has a light dawned (4:15-16).
This is an inauguration of an ongoing mission of mercy (9:10), a root and branch restoration of God’s rule amongst his people, and not just from the “grass roots” or the massed convening of “popular sentiment” but of the endowment of a “new heart”. And when the Pharisees make their complaint – this is a movement that is attracting tax-collectors and sinners! – Matthew is in the thick of this contention because Jesus has personally called him to his side.
And the disciples of the imprisoned John the Baptist, still smarting from the injustice of his imprisonment – we don’t hear that his murder had made an impact until Chapter 14 – are also somewhat uncertain with Jesus’ apparent lack of concern for ritual purity. In 11:2 we read of Jesus’ answer to John’s question as to whether he is truly the one who fulfils John’s preparatory work. The answer Jesus gives is to reiterate the Messianic promise that Jesus had confirmed in his own person from Isaiah.
On your way and report to John the things which you are seeing and hearing, how the blind receive their sight, the lame can walk, the leprous are cleansed, the deaf can hear, the dead are raised to and the poor are having good new proclaimed to them. And one more thing: a blessing rests on all those who take no offence at me (Matthew 11:4-6. See also Isaiah 29:18, 35:5ff, 61:1).
John’s disciples had earlier complained about Jesus’ apparent neglect of fasting. But then (9:14-17), and in this passage to his imprisoned cousin, Jesus confirms that his work is nothing less than a living celebration of the breaking out of God’s ministry of mercy.
It is mercy I delight in, not sacrifice. (Hosea 6:6 see Matthew 9:13).
Jesus’ disciples are participants in an ongoing, joyful and richly satisfying “engagement party” – and so we confront something that will call forth the imagery of the apocalyptic Marriage Sup of the living and resurrected Lamb of God bearing the wounds of his trial as the betrothed of his bride – and in the meantime there is a harvest of grapes to begin the brewing of a new wine, a time to design new wedding garments. This is good reason why John, even under such privation and potential agony should take heart. His work will have enduring significance.
So, do we have one teaching in the open air and synagogue and another teaching altogether in private when his disciples confront Jesus face-to-face with their questions? Is that what this is to be? Is this how the Kingdom comes? Well, it is quite conceivable that those who experienced the crowds and thought that this was a movement that would throw the Romans out would have to be organised. But if they thought this was indeed Jesus’ plan – and the possibility that this is what God had intended seems to have still been on the strategic horizon of the closest of Jesus’ disciples right up until just before his parting words to them and his ascension. But they would also have great trouble lining it all up with what follows in Matthew 5-7 – the Sermon on the Mount.
There is an “insider” view that Jesus explains to his disciples when he draws them in close. That is undeniable. But it is a cut of quite a different cloth from any reading of his teaching that would suggest it was in someway beholden to the expectations of popular sentiment. But any “inside” or “up close” view is not to be part of any deception against those “outside” or “far away”. It is rather a matter of having Jesus as our teacher of wisdom, helping us to understand the teaching he has given to us. (We might have to look more carefully at Mark 4:11 ad Luke 8:10 on another occasion with respect to what these tell us about what Jesus expected of his specially chosen twelve.) The purpose of being “up close” to the disciples is to give them his own teaching about how they are to teach and proclaim God’s Kingdom. They are drawn in close to learn of Jesus’ own explanation of his teaching, teaching he knew was going to be thought of as “common property”.
And Matthew tells us how, on the mount, Jesus sat down to teach in his open-air synagogue. And that teaching has everything to do with our life lived fully within the maintained and blessed creation order of the Lord. Creational living is not exhausted by our political responsibilities but neither can these be excluded. And moreover, with the message of the Good News inspiring us, we will confess that Jesus Christ has restored political responsibility within God’s creation order. And that is why we seek a Christian political option.
Further thought (12.6.17):
How do you write a post-resurrection account of the Sermon on THAT mountain when you have met with the Resurrected One a year or so later at the same place?
How do we now read Matthew 5 to 7 after Jesus instructed his disciples to go back to Galilee to “the mountain” to meet with him (28:16)? And then, as Luke tells us, when he is about to leave he instructs them – (not here, don’t go making this into a shrine like Peter wanted to do on that other occasion, it’s back to Jerusalem and wait … and while you’re about it you’re going to have to appoint – your task now – another to fill the 12th spot).
I guess Jot and Tiddle tax-man Matthew knew all about keeping records and keeping track of important information from his professional involvement for the occupying powers, if not for the quislings running the temple tax department – you won’t be entering the Kingdom of heaven without your accounts books being more transparent and fully audited than those of the scribes and pharisees.
And at the time Matthew wrote this, he must have wondered if his quill was catching fire as he penned 5:43-48 and he remembered how Jesus was entrapped. But then there is that parable (13:24-30) that coincides with 5:45 (God from his creational faithfulness sends his sunshine to rise upon the just and unjust) – the parable that Muhammed has seemingly ignored in his rooting out the infidels or simply requiring the Dhimmis not to sprout – and Matthew is well and truly on the path of realising that that sermon was setting them on their way …
But I’m thinking about how you or I would go about writing the story of a Man’s teaching career after you’ve met him once more, large as life, when he was resurrected. I mean who could ever pay attention to what Jesus was saying when he appeared to them and he was right there? Then again who wouldn’t be all ears? Then again who wouldn’t be making sure that they had heard him right the first time before they had deserted him and gone back over the entire time they had been with him to make sure they would not blot their copybook a second time. It’s obviously an event that strains all our contradictory instincts competing with each other to find a “balance” to complete breaking point. I ask: so wouldn’t I have wanted to go fishing under such circumstances, as Peter evidently wanted to do?
Could it be said that “social media” is an agent of ongoing “secularisation”? Well, the answer, of course, depends upon what we mean by this term “secularisation”. We have been discussing this in previous posts, and I have drawn attention to the weakness of the theory as it related to the early “religious” experience of students when they were at primary school. Somehow the “secularisation” that was discussed within sociology when I was an under-graduate, and which became a taken-for-granted aspect of the discipline in the 1980s and 1990s when I taught sociology at university, focused upon the “religious character” that was present at the onset of the modern age, and which has, supposedly been in decline ever since.
It has become commonplace to attribute the rise of modern political thought in the West to a process of secularization … it may well be that we live, as Charles Taylor tells us, in a “secular age”, but if so we nonetheless owe several of our most central political commitments to an age that was anything but. And it seems reasonable to suppose that we will not be able to understand the peculiar fault lines and dissonances of our contemporary political discourse until we come to terms with that basic paradoxical fact. (Eric Nelson The Hebrew Republic Harvard University Press, 2010, pp. 1, 3)
Nelson is suggesting that the traditional historical narrative “will have to be significantly revised, if not discarded”. His challenging interpretation can be accessed “here”.
My point however which I have tried to elaborate in an autobiographical way in previous posts has been somewhat more “personal”.
Consider what Charles Taylor says about the rationale for his above-mentioned book The Secular Age (Harvard Uni.Press 2007). His aim, he says, is to chart the historical change “from a society in which it was virtually impossible not to believe in God, to one in which faith, even for the staunchest believer, is one human possibility among others.” (p.3) That formulation is convenient for my purposes even if I begin to suspect that this view is framed by a post-modern Christian equivocation in which his statement seeks to be (objectively) in solidarity with his “secular age” fellow citizens, even while he sees his mission (subjectively) as a Christian public intellectual who would seek to recognize the transcendence within the “immanent frame”.
What I have suggested is that “secularisation” is not something simply to be grasped by an abstract and theoretical understanding history and societal differentiation – although we certainly need deepened scientific understanding of the manner in which the full gamut of our many-sided responsibilities are given to us to love God and serve our neighbours with the love that draws from us. We find our calling – our work, our job – in complex networks of ongoing societal development that presupposes all the amazing developments the globe has witnessed in the last five centuries. How are we to understand these developments if not to view them within the framework of the Bible’s revelation of our mandate before God to form and cultivate what He has given?
I have suggested in earlier posts, that learning “personally” about what was involved in “secularisation” was strangely ignored in university. We were effectively encouraged to forget the faith (we thought) we had from earlier years, and simply adopt a utilitarian approach to life.
“All these religious and philosophical questions can wait until later. It’s urgent that you get qualified so you can get a job.”
My observation is this. “Secularisation theory”, however that is understood, needs to see the inner connection between that taken-for-granted view of what living in this society means and “secularisation”, meaning, in this instance, the manner in which education and public life are organised with the assumption that a disciplined forgetting of one’s religious past is indispensable to “life in a secular age”.
Look again at that quote from Taylor. Is there not a way of reflecting upon this in “personal” terms? The personal, self-reflective question is this: Was there a time for a child (for some children at least) growing up in Australian suburbia in the 1950s when it was virtually impossible not to believe in God? Were they not surrounded by the combined impacts of Christian family life, church and Sunday School? And then, as this person matured and confronted the 1960s, was there not an urgency to stand as a fully responsible believer, a genuine follower of Jesus Christ? But was it in reaction to “secularisation” that prompted family and church people to encourage the young Christian to make a “choice”? Was all this childhood and youthful faith to be viewed as a believing that derived from grabbing what was but one human possibility among all the many others that siren-like were making their pitch for the young person’s “choice”?
We began this post by asking whether “social media” could be viewed as an agent of “secularisation”. And we said immediately that an answer will have to depend upon what we mean by the term. But then the overall discussion seems to be somewhat disjointed. We might want to reflect upon how “social media” should be formed as part of Christian discipleship. How should a young Christian avail him or herself of these technological gadgets?
It is clear that “social media” places new communication technology in our hands. And in our hands it certainly allows us to send message (here is a post!). And so yes this technology is part of our life and undoubtedly it participates in our efforts to form relationships, disseminate information, encourage other to fulfil our diverse responsibilities. But then that kind of “human flourishing” also followed the development of the printing press. In time restrictions were removed not only from publishing the Bible in the vernacular, but also from the personal publishing of political tracts, let alone the diverse artefacts of literary art. Establishing a delivery service by which people could write letters to each other has also played an important part in fomenting and developing discussions of all kinds between people. There was a time when newspapers became an important part of public life and political discussion, and letters to the editor still carry some, if reduced, civic weight. The invention of the telephone enabled people to keep in touch, and we do so even if we live far apart. A few decades back radio broadcasting developed talk-back radio and these days radio station are encouraging listeners to download their apps into mobile phones. The technology of social media is evident all around us.
We have also been discussing how “social media” has, in latter times, filled a political vacuum that has arisen in polities around the world that claim to be parliamentary and democratic. What we see is not pretty. We have also suggested that the political vacuum has come about because political parties have become committed to winning office rather than articulating a particular political outlook, philosophy or world-view.
And now “social media” in its variant forms has become part of this problematic political situation around the world. But it is also in times dominated by the threats of Islamist Jihad that give voice to a determination to extend the reach of Islam, the Dar al-Islam into the Dar al-Harb. The threat, regularly repeated, is that they will do so by violent means. We have also noted that it is not a phobia to be afraid of a person or group who threatens to kill you.
In the last few years we (i.e. not only we in the “west” but also we global citizens, including the “rest”) have seemingly entered this new era of instant global communication. Could Twitter texting be embraced as a valid dimension of “deliberative democracy”? Quite apart from the fears generated by the Jihadist threats, it seems that “social media” also confronts us with new kinds of dangers and threats. The advent of the i-phone and texting may enable people to stay in contact but there is also a nasty side to such communicative technology.
Recently, the occupant of the White House in the United States of America used his Twitter account to “tweet” a warning to a guy he had just fired. He had better watch out and not say the wrong thing. The 140 character limit on “tweets” may have constrained him, but what we should be asking is why we were made privy to this statement by a Commander in Chief to the former head of the FBI. If there really were recordings of White House conversations then why couldn’t this have been conveyed in the letter in which the man’s tenure was terminated? What business did we have knowing about this threat? And why should be learn of it in such a manner? What kind of transparency is this?
The fact that the President of the most powerful State would try to bounce a message off his Twitter “followers” to threaten this man not only indicates lack of manners, it confirms this act as brazen bullying. Any Grade 6 Primary School child would see it this way. It is bullying! In that sense we might suggest that this style of Presidential politics has shown a disregard for proper standards of behaviour. And did we see whoever it is in control of that paragon of superficial communication cancelling POTUS’s Twitter account? Hasn’t Twitter, let alone POTUS, heard about the way “social media” is used in highly inappropriate, offensive and criminal ways? It is not only the POTUS “Code of Conduct” but what about Twitter’s civic responsibilities? Who will step forward to say that this was merely a matter of POTUS exercising his right to free speech?
The actions of Jihadi Islamists are criminal and need to be legally resisted in the interests of public justice, nationally and internationally. We have learned the bitter lesson of a language that seeks to redress 9/11 by claiming to embark upon a “war on terrorism” to maintain America’s pre-eminence in perpetuity. But when we now see the leader of that most militarised and most powerful (and most indebted) nation of the world providing a precedent for the improper and threatening use of “social media”, we realise that our work in crafting a Christian political option must also be vitally concerned with doing justice to inter-personal and informal relationships, just as must as we focus upon institutional impacts, corporate service and global networks. We also need to develop a healthy fear of the hurtful and dangerous consequences of social media usage and find ways to resist social media perpetration of injustice, however that is expressed. Social media that resorts to “hairy chested” threats in 140 characters does not respect its own proper contribution to life on this planet. We are not called to theatrically call attention to ourselves but to a faithful stewardship.
Nurturing Justice claims to be promoting a Christian political option. Here in this post however we do not formulate the ongoing public policies in relation to social media that we will need to develop if we are to stand as faithful servants of God’s Kingdom in the years ahead. We will need to grow wise, to find ways to contribute to public education – particularly to political education in which we discover anew the path of public justice. And we are certainly not going to consign “social media” to the trash heap. Our task is biblically-directed reformation with the recognition that computer, I-pad and mobile phone are all given to us and retain their value because Christ Jesus is the God elected Redeemer. He retains his sovereign claim upon us and, with the entirety of creation, these creatures as well.
BCW 2 June 2017
CELEBRITY TWEETS AND THE TRUMPING OF OPEN DEBATE
In the first post in this series we raised a question about the way Australia’s federal parliament was constrained to be “sensitive” to the vulnerable people who have decided that their personal future hangs on the “marriage equality” political project. Those who argued in this way to block legislation for a plebiscite, were implicitly presupposing that we now live in a public arena in which political discourse is deeply unreliable, in which political debate is already seriously distorted. They do not seem to have been alive to the fact that they were actually criticising themselves and their parties for the alleged inability of the nation to engage in such a civic public discussion.
And as this “marriage fiasco” has rolled on, into its current phase, we are none the wiser of why the nomenclature has also changed. First it was “gay marriage”; then it was “same-sex marriage”; and now confirming the post-structuralist attempt to reconfigure human identity by language manipulation it is “marriage equality” and even more sentimentalistic “equal love”, a presumed equality between what are presumed already to be different kinds of marriage. The basis for this? Well it is no longer a matter of human identity as the bible teaches, for instance, made in the imageo Dei, male and female; it is now no longer male and female but homo- and hetero-. Find your sexual self on the spectrum … That is the sand on which the “marriage equality” project is now positioning itself.
But more than that: our politicians blunder on, seemingly oblivious to the blindingly obvious fact of political life that legislatures and courts can make mistakes that, in time, are going to have to be corrected because they are wrong, because such changes fly in the face of a normative reality. Yes, we now the sky is not going to fall in. But we also know the injustices that can follow when Governments make faulty legislation. The American experiment in its constitutional beginnings was wrong dead wrong about the humanity of the slaves imported from Africa. The Australian constitution in our Federal beginnings allowed for an ongoing national ignorance of the peoples who had peopled this continent and adjacent islands for millennia! The Bolsheviks in abolishing marriage were soon to discover they had made a truly dreadful mistake and in a matter of months reversed their revolutionary decree to insist that marriage was in fact a duty of all paid up and loyal members of the party! Need I go on?
So what is going to happen to all the sensitive souls who are being protected from a harsh and cruel plebiscite when after laws are legislated, purportedly to bring about marriage equality, and it is then discovered – by someone here, another there, that a marriage between a man and a woman, faithfully contracted for life between them, is not the same as a same-sex friendship that wants to be perpetual, that wants to engage in regular mutual sexual play? What then?
The other side of the all too convenient avoidance of a plebiscite – and New Zealand had rejected a change to its flag; UK had voted Brexit; and of course we know about the disaster on the other side of the North Atlantic – was that for all the concern for civic virtue and compassionate conversation, the blockers of the Liberal-National plebiscite legislation ignored the fact that we were then having and continue to have a media obsessed with what is Twittered. And so celebrity Tweets are now news and if you are on the wrong side of the Tweets, let alone of the net, you may be told in classic blocking and pompous blogging fashion:“enough is enough!”
Game set and match! Except all that “victory” tells us is that such a celebrity is simply alerting us to the fact that there won’t be any discussion. Well we knew that already with the 140 character limit. But face it: Twitter is effectively proclaiming itself as a kind of plebiscite! And it has failed! Consider the so-called Arab Spring.
And where now is the follow up to the rationale appealed to when the plebiscite was blocked? Where is the publication of a detailed policy platform that would address the manifold distorting influences of “social media”? Where is the political call for citizens to insist that political conversation on “social media” be developed solely in just and respectful ways? Where are the political parties that are championing genuine opened-up political discussion, instead of this reduced and mindless emphasis upon “what is trending”?
Are our elected representatives able to avoid playing the populist game that involves tapping out silly and superficial messages of ersatz solidarity with voters on their whatever-it-is accounts to address some or other question? And so, those who are judged to be political opponents, who have courage to speak out, will be targeted – the message will be: don’t listen to them! They will be subjected to “hit ‘n run” crowd-criticism, and the other word for this is group bullying, sending all the wrong messages, and to a younger generation to boot.
And when social media is about elected representatives trying to maintain a facade of accountability with electors, there may well be an element of increased transparency via such “feeds”. But in this polity, where is the political alternative to Twitter politics, to such Tweeting blockers stepping into a political vacuum created by decades of political neglect by parties. The parties have failed to use their publicly funded political resources to assist the State-crafting education citizens at a local grass-roots level desperately need. Where is the comprehensive political education going on around this country? Can political discourse get any more superficial than what we have today? And we are not going to get an analysis of this problematic via Twitter Tweets.
If readers have been paying attention here – as I have struggled my way through this blog series – they will note that I have been suggesting that there is good reason to suggest that an intuitive “phobia” is dominant in “social media”. The “phobia” is also evident in the techniques of those too quick to fire off their tweets with terms “homophobe” or “Islamophobe” to type-cast political opponents. What is to be made of the “phobe” suffix? What’s going on here?
In brief those typed as “homophobe” or “Islamophobe” are subjects of a psycho-political diagnosis – it is implied that they are suffering from an irrational fear. This person is under surveillance because they hold an opposing political view. This person is not to be engaged in discussion but it is broadcast that this person’s views indicate that they are possessed by a groundless fear, a phobia. They are being told that their public statements against homosexuality or against Jihadist Islam are merely statements of their own “fear” and as such are a repression of the true (inner or essential) state of affairs.The diagnosis of this phobia is to be bounced off a wider audience in order to play of a person’s fears, to indirectly suggest that the person displaying “homophobic” tendencies is actually afraid of his or her own “homosexual” tendencies. In like fashion someone who displays “Islamophobic” tendencies is somehow repressing an inner “spirituality” that would embrace Muslims but cannot because they an inner spiritual desire denies the attraction of Islam to this person.
Now this is attempted brainwashing, subtle indoctrination, by cunning use of language. How is it to be countered? We could turn the tables and simply say that those who use the ****phobe stereotype are simply exposing their fear of political debate. But my suggestion is that instead we should begin by considering the question: what’s the big deal about “fear” anyway?
Why shouldn’t a person be afraid when tempted to adopt a truth-distorting self-definition? Why shouldn’t a young Christian be afraid of straying from the ways of the Lord God? Simply by asking that question, we encounter a different perspective? The Sermon on the Mount gives us many instances of Jesus’ careful teaching that assists his disciples in examining their lives and avoiding paths that will take them away from the ways of the Lord, the way of God’s Kingdom.
Why indeed shouldn’t we be afraid of being brainwashed by mass media, by the subtle and cunning use of deviously tweaked criticisms as outlined above?
Moreover, as we have noted we have every right to be afraid of people who, by their action, have told us that we are under their interdict, that we are simply those not (yet) killed. And in inter-personal conversation, let alone in discussing the political dimensions of any responsible response to Jihadist Islam, a person is are not suffering from a phobia simply because they have been threatened with the sword.
The “social media” – especially with its character limits – certainly encourages the use of formulaic terms and short cuts. And apart from anything else, what the decades long assertion about “gay marriage” has affirmed has been a deep fear, on the part of those advocating homosexuality as a lifestyle, an avoidance of encouraging public discussion about marriage law. We have pointed out how the submissions on behalf of those demanding repeal of laws that criminalised homosexual practise in the late 1970s asserted that a homosexual relationship should not be evaluated in marriage terms. But somehow things have changed and we haven’t exactly been told why. Anyone advocating “marriage equality” in this polity who has not appraised themselves of the matters contained in the Parkinson and Aroney assessment, The Territory of Marriage, may simply be spouting political ignorance about the current benighted state of Australia’s marriage law. And that wouldn’t be surprising because for decades the two major political blocks have persistently stood in the way of the political education of the electorate, of their own electors.
At this point in our discussion we have come to the view that the power of “social media”, and in particular the hit ‘n run style of Twitter communication, derives in large part from an ongoing failure of our political system to assist citizens in maintaining their responsibility for forming the state, for contributing via political associations (driven by political convictions) to the complex task of “State-crafting”. And so we are presented, daily, time and again, with news media giving inordinate place to the “trumping of genuine political debate”. Political discussion needs to side-step the self-serving elite who seek to have their public standing validated by their celebrity status, whether Hollywood, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, AFL headquarters, Wimbledon or the BBC.
“Oh, what genius! What a headline! All the hard work over many years and Nurturing Justice is finally on the brink of global fame! Doesn’t this make it all worth the effort? This NJ heading will give many hits and more followers! My blog on the verge of fame, a regular post for so many around the world!”
Well, before readers get their interneted exercise by jumping to conclusions, the above is a blog version of the self-referential nonsense Jesus warned about in his parable of the wealthy landowner.
There was a rich man whose land bore fruit in abundance. “What am I to do?” he asked himself. “I have not the space to collect the harvest. This is what I shall do,” he then exclaimed. “I shall pull down my storehouses, building larger ones, and into them I shall collect my corn and my other goods! And then I shall be saying to myself, “My good man, you have many good things laid by for many a year to come. Take your rest now; eat, drink and enjoy yourself!” Yet God spoke to him thus: “Foolish man that you are! This very night your life will be demanded of you. Well then, the things which you have made ready – to whom will they belong?” Indeed, this is how matters stand with the man who stores up riches for himself but has none in the sight of God.” (Luke 12:16-21 Heinz Cassirer translation).
Isn’t there a problem with Blogging – isn’t it simply a means of sending elaborate arguments which are, in the final analysis, self-promoting?
In my former life I have been an academic, a tutor and lecturer. To gain promotion, or perhaps a permanent, tenured position, it was taken-for-granted that we had to produce a curriculum vitae and that meant a list of publications. And when the universities were transformed around the world as educational enterprises that had to be run on profit-making lines, that meant one’s avoidance of self-promotion had to be dispensed and lists were required as part of yearly assessment. Writings were to be classified in various categories with different weighting – published books from university publishing houses, commercial books, peer reviewed journal articles, other articles in other journals, book reviews, other writings like letters to the editor and so on. All categories were given a weighting and the results these days can be found from the web-sites of academics. They are a requirement from university management. Academics not only have to engage in research and teaching; they have to indulge in self-promotion and this requires an ongoing, peculiar and persistent accounting in which everything written and everything published and all papers delivered at conferences and all guest lectures be assiduously itemised. Can we say it is a kind of professional Facebook page!
There’s no escaping it. If you want to survive you’ve just got to sell yourself. That’s the name of the game. That is the art of the deal.
That’s the mantra: self-promotion. Is that not the spirit motivating the “selfie”? This not only creeps into everything an academic does; it creeps into everything. Such intellectual entrepreneurs are but the products their own selling – and that is the ideology which, more and more, is driving universities the world over these days. My experience of universities and university teaching (1978-1998) knew this motif, was shaped by it in its own way, but it did not have the government-backed managerialist “enterprise-university” power behind it that it now has. And my academic experience came before the onset of the “Twitter Revolution” but in looking back I can perceive the trend, the trend that saw academics cajoled, this way and that way, into various kinds of self-promoting entrepreneurship.
These days prominent public figures, and those elected to public office, seem bent on using their mobile phones and I-Pads to solve any worries they might have that they are not adequately representing their electors. They are making sure that their statements gain as much popularity as possible. And so they are in the “political business” showing ongoing sensitivity to the “political market-place”.
And here I am, the steward of my own blog that goes back to 2006, keeping an assiduous record of all my Nurturing Justice “posts”. And yet, given the structuring of this blog – all due respects to WordPress.com notwithstanding – the internetting technology that I am here employing might suggest that this is but a elaborated and wordy form of what any “Tweet” conveys as it makes it contribution within the constraints of its word limits. Best to keep is short and sweet.
All of this has come to mind this morning when one of my correspondents sent me a link to the May 16, 2017 Op-Ed piece in the New York Times by David Brooks.
“When the world is led by a child – reports that President Trump betrayed an intelligence source reveal the dangerousness of an immature man.“
As I read this, I found myself tempted to indulge in self-congratulations – had not Nurturing Justice already opined (19th January) that the candidate elected to the US presidency last year was bent on mimicking Bart Simpson the “I didn’t do it” kid? And at that point my question that I need to ask myself, let alone any critical point I might direct at Brooks when endorsing his comment, is whether I am avoiding the kind of foolishness Jesus told his disciples was how God looked upon such vacuous self-referential praise! Moreover, how does one read Brooks without it simply feeding a hunger for diversionary “entertainment”, even as the political soap operas of our experience these days are filling us with the two emotions of boredom and deepened anxiety. Does not a little “serious reflection” tacked on to a review of “upcoming entertainment” assuage any work ethic feelings of guilt that too much time is spent and wasted on “entertainment”. Given the “show” David is commenting upon his op-ed piece has the form of a film critic seeking to challenge our world-view. Admittedly, Brooks is a journalist who has long been seeking to do more than just comment upon politics but to encourage his readers and listeners to look again, to reconsider, what is taking place.
There’s something here in his piece that Nurturing Justice as well as those seeking to nurture justice should take to heart – if this “show” is demonstrating that the US has elected an immature, petulant and self-absorbed child as its President, what is this doing to the political education of 9 year olds? Now there is something to get our public policy teeth into – there is something that invites to to develop a comprehensive Christian sociological elaboration of the way children are nurtured politically. Not just in general terms; but what does Mr Trump’s election and the burgeoning populist nationalism that it represents (around the world) tell us about the manner in which a younger generation are being educated politically.
No, blogging is not a selfie BUT by asking ourselves the question we come face-to-face with our political responsibilities to the next generation and the one after that! This will require a deepened commitment to journalism that confronts the political economy of our global society in ways that demonstrate an enduring love for our our neighbours, at home, abroad and those seeking asylum from tyrannous governments and exploitation. Such journalism will have to provide genuine political education – not Tweets, not sound bites, but clearly articulated arguments and policies. Therefore we would conclude that, yes, blogs can degenerate into “selfies without word limits”. But this is no reason to stop writing and persuading and publishing to commend a Christian political option.