Some might remember when Alan Jones was gulled by call to his radio program claiming Australia had taken a 5d tilt to the left. The call was a practical joke but Jones fell for it and railed against it until he was told it was a joke.
Not so funny is the way a team of extremely conservative, and mostly male, thinkers and activists are attempting to manipulate the discourse about Australia’s future through their institutions influence over the media and conservative political parties.
The Australian National University almost fell into the trap of giving these rightists another platform when they dangled $3billion from the Ramsay Foundation before ANU in the hope of establishing the Ramsay Centre for the study of Western Civilization.
This is not an isolated activity. In the US and Europe institutions to defend the Judeo-Christian culture through generating groups imbued with an intellectual understanding of these values. Right wing activists such as Steve Bannon see that the Universities no longer fulfil the role of propagandizing and messaging and so they are establishing specialist schools to train up a new generation to work politically.
What put ANU off was the desire for the group in charge of the Foundation, including Tony Abbott and John Howard, to control the curriculum. The University avoided establishing within its body a School over which controversy about the curriculum was bound to arise given the known anti science views those who had charge of the money.
In a recent Quadrant article [April 2018] Abbott had written;
“Largely missing, even from Catholic schools, was a deep focus on the Christian faith. The study of history was no longer narrative, starting with the cradle of civilisation and moving through Greece and Rome to the story of England and the birth of the modern world, its triumphs and its travails; but had become episodic. And every element of the curriculum was supposed to be pervaded by Asian, indigenous and sustainability perspectives. Almost entirely absent from the contemporary educational mindset was any sense that cultures might not all be equal and that truth might not be entirely relative.”
So we can discern that in Abbott’s mind there is a single truth even though when leading the Liberal Party toward its election victory he told us he told lies, even when he made commitments in writing and post that election he proved he was a liar with his first budget breaking many election commitments.
Here we have deeply divided person, split between his professed beliefs and the actual Tony, a believer in a narrative that he does not appear to practise, or does he.
Focussed on parts of Europe, whilst in other parts of the world human activity gives rise to complex structure, generates art and engages in learning, Abbott glosses over Greece and Rome as though they were simple truths without faults such as slavery or mad Emperors we move from the benefits of these Empires to the story of England.
Where to land in that story?. Before or after the Norman Conquest, in the enclosures of the commons or the industrial revolution with its repressions or to the Irish famine or the Scottish Highland clearances, do we remember the period of the Danelaw or draw upon the conquest and slavery upon which much wealth was built.
Do we cross into Asian studies with the Indian Mutiny to understand that relationship and thus lead on to the East India company and into the financial bubbles and troubles of building an empire through investments and later through seducing another Empire with the drug opium in exchange for control over another drug, tea, the relativity of a bad and a good drug.
Do we wander the world of conquest of indigenous people, the taking of their land and culture?. How do we see the Hudson Bay or Van Diemen’s Land Companies?. Do we see them simply as businesses or look at them operating with the values of the time or reflect on their lessons from today’s perspective or a mix of all three?.
The idea that cultures not entirely equal is certainly the victor writing history whereas the student will want to understand where each has come from, what their interactions taught the other and what, if anything, we can learn from that.
That is why there is no truth, that the truth is entirely relative to the times and that the great conquests of empty lands were at a great cost to the indigenous inhabitants as we know from the record from at least 1492 when technology gave power as Toledo steel and gunpowder clashed with older technologies at the mercy of their respective messianic beliefs.
But, to me, most intriguing is the pervasion of the sustainability perspective affecting the truths that are unrelated to reality.
How dare someone suggest there is a limit to growth, what was Brundtland thinking when they suggested that the world is not without end?. How dare the miracle of the loaves and the fishes be questioned?
Clearly the Rhodes Scholar and boxing blue was able to repeat the catechism of the canons of history well enough to graduated, but he failed to learn that what he was shown, a key to understanding human development.
Instead, he fell for believing there was an answer given in interpretations of certain books such as An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations including later economic thinkers such as Friedrich Hayek, Ann Rand and Milton Friedman, and that these were truths, not relative ideas suiting certain groups interests and so promoted as self-evident.
There is no doubt Abbott is a sincere conservative activist. Regardless of the evidence facing him he goes on leading the Monash Morons in their pedal against sustainability, whilst much of the world works to move toward it in the field of energy, knowing that the outcome will be entirely relative to the actions we take now to move toward sustainability in just this one area, let alone the others where scarcity and the modern abundance of humans meet each other over greater and greater areas of the globe.
Of course, a culture needs to have values upon which it is founded, but to deny that those values change over time, taking in those from Asia or from Islam, indeed from the indigenous and from social movements that have arisen from our interactions with each other and the natural world is to ossify the Judeo-Christian beliefs, or any other canon, and set such a system on the path of entropy. We are seeing this with the gasps of the hard right trying to reform by establishing new institutions on the hope they can capture a canon and thus wrap an economic system in the robes of respectability that flow all the beneficial things that have come from the West.
*Phill Parsons was shot out of the Catholic canon at home and twice yearly at the Anglican one. He gave up Sunday School after having his lesson on the love of Jesus for little children interrupted do he could take another lesson from witnessing a fellow child publically thrashed for some misdemeanour. In the time since then he has watched and experienced the struggle between left and right over who has the answer only to become apostatic about those truths as history has shown them to be entirely relative.