The Null Device

Posts matching tags 'paternalism'

2007/7/27

As Labour in Britain toys with the idea of giving 16-year-olds the vote, an advisor to the (recently resigned) premier of Victoria has come up with a uniquely Australian extension of this: giving votes to all children, to be exercised by their parents until they turn 18. Thus a two-parent family with three children would have five votes, which would break the crippling stranglehold of selfish childless people on the political process and introduce a new era of "family-friendly" policies.

Curiously enough, the proponent of this policy, Evan Thornley, is not a religious right-winger, but a member of the Fabian Society, that very Britishly pragmatic socialist organisation which once had George Bernard Shaw as one of its members (and, during the Cold War, was accused by Bircher types of using its shadowy influence over the Labor Party to implement "Sovietisation by stealth").

There are, of course, numerous problems with this proposal. Were it to be adopted, politicians would start bidding for the votes of large families by giving them more money, taken by punitively taxing the suddenly all-but-disenfranchised non-breeders. (What are they going to do, vote for someone else?) This would result in a system which effectively regards not having children as deviant behaviour to be penalised; once this is a matter of bureaucratic fact, the culture would soon follow. And then there is the likelihood of a bias towards large families bringing with it a bias towards religious conservatism; all of a sudden, Victoria would look like the repressively paternalistic 1950s white-picket-fence dystopia John Howard didn't quite succeed in building.

Of course, that's if such a policy were ever adopted. There are practical problems with implementing it, such as deciding which parent gets their childrens' votes. Granted, they could be split in half (with each parent in the 3-child family having 2.5 votes), though this proposal effectively changes the paradigm of democracy, from one comprised of voting individuals to one comprised of voting families. It has echoes of the top-down "strict-father" model of the family so favoured by conservatives, and at the heart of the culture war in America and Australia: it reinforces the idea of a family being defined by a chain of authority residing in the head of the household. Granted, it does not define a head of the household, though it is a short distance from accepting the paradigm that votes are allocated per household, and not per individual, to accepting that the votes for all members of the household are cast by the head of the household.

Mind you, given that Thornley's boss has suddenly resigned, this proposal is likely to be even more dead in the water than it was before. Unless the Howard government decide that it has battler-rallying potential and put it to a referendum, or else Rudd decides to use it to outflank the family-values warriors on the right.

australia conservatism fabian society paternalism politics society 5

2006/10/10

A poll about "Australian values" (you know, the great woolly thing that Professional Australians of all stripes will pontificate endlessly on) reveals that the Prime Minister's cherished value of "mateship" (whatever that involves) isn't regarded as very important, with freedom of speech and tolerance.

Interestingly enough, the poll reveals a generational shift in values; older people (those who lived through the cultural thaw between the 1970s and 1990s) are more likely to rate freedom of speech as most important and fret that religion has excessive influence in public life; meanwhile, younger people (Generation Hillsong?) and residents of Queensland (what the Americans would term a "red state") regard "mateship" as more important. Which suggests a shift away from the permissive individualism born in the 1960s towards a stronger group identity and possibly an endorsement of the majoritarian paternalism embodied by the Howard government.

Similarly, "freedom of speech" is most popular with Labor and Greens voters, whilst Tory voters give priority to "respect for democracy and parliament" (which sounds like "respect for authority" dressed up in tastefully unthreatening muted earth tones, with a touch of the ever-popular "majority rule").

australia paternalism politics society 0

2004/12/18

Quoted from Graham's blog, whose comments appear to be broken:

Bizarro sex ed animations, produced by the BBC. Theres one for the girls and one for the lads. Not Safe For Work. Also notice the difference in the title banners. And could you imagine the response from Murdochs hounds if the ABC even broached anything like this? More evidence that weve fallen behind the mother country in the prudity stakes. (Edit: or ahead, depending on your point of view.)

Actually, I don't think it's a matter of Australia having fallen behind the UK, so much as "respectable" Australian social morés always having been more conservative and less permissive than in the old country. It was like that in the 1950s, when Melbourne and Sydney were (on the surface) much more buttoned-down and less accepting of any deviancy than London; and in the early 1960s, when a British model British fashion model Jean Shrimpton went to the Melbourne Cup wearing a miniskirt (which was the done thing in London), it caused public outrage and indignation.

Part of this would probably come from the frontier/outpost mentality ingrained into the Australian psyche. Australia is a new country, half a world away from civilisation, and thus needs more discipline to hold the line against barbarism. It is, the reasoning can be extrapolated as, not yet mature enough to be trusted with as much leeway as they have in London or Los Angeles. The fact that it was originally a penal colony, ruled with an iron fist by colonial governors, could have something to do with the political culture as well. The convicts are gone, but the paternalistic streak remains in Australia; from John Howard and his idol Robert Menzies to fictitious civic patriarchs in films like The Cars That Ate Paris and Welcome To Woop Woop, Australia has traditionally been a country of stern father figures laying down rules they expect to be heeded. Australia has also been a traditionally censorious society; other than high-profile cases like Baise-Moi and Nine Songs, many mainstream films have scenes cut or shortened prior to being allowed to be shown in Australia; meanwhile, a number of books, including, allegedly, 18th-century erotic novel Fanny Hill, are banned in Australia. And given how popular Howard's retro-styled leadership is (after all, one can only give so much credit to Rupert Murdoch's news-management for the last election), one can conclude that much of Australia finds this sort of governance reassuring.

Of course, that is only one side of the story. The streak of paternalistic conservatism in "respectable" bourgeois Australian society is counterbalanced by another phenomenon: the larrikin tradition. This tradition, of borderline contempt for authority and propriety, has been in Australia since the days of convict settlements and corrupt, arbitrary government, and is just as firmly ingrained, underneath the surface of society, as conservatism. The larrikin element can be argued to have informed everything from Australian contemporary art from the Angry Penguins onwards to youth counterculture (from bodgies to ferals), from contemporary scofflaws (it's no accident that Melbourne is home to the Cave Clan, dozens of zines and one of the world's most active stencil graffiti scenes) to the fine Australian tradition of political pranks.

And so we get the dynamic between wowserism (the bourgeois paternalist conservatism) and larrikinism, with both sides of the equation reinforcing each other. The larrikin vein beneath the surface of Australian culture is proof that Australia isn't ready for the sorts of license they have elsewhere in the world, and needs a firm hand to guide it. Meanwhile, the conservative, conformistic streak in respectable Australian society fuels the undercurrent of resistance. It is a balance, and a positive feedback loop, between order and chaos, just as that described by Discordianism.

It appears to me that the prominent larrikin-wowser dynamic, and its various consequences, is the main difference between the Australian and British cultures. Britain is less conservative or censorious as a whole (in fact, some have called this Britain's "repressive tolerance"), but doesn't have the larrikin tradition (not that it's a terribly orderly place, just that its disorder seems to be confined to drunken neds punching each other up outside pubs at 11pm, and has no deeper cultural manifestation).

australia authoritarianism censorship culture larrikinism paternalism sex wowsers 9

2004/11/14

The twilight of secularism (an ongoing series): Australia's highest-ranking Catholic clergyman and leading conservative hardliner, Cardinal George Pell, gave a speech comparing Islam to Communism and saying that secular democracy has failed and must be replaced with what he called "democratic personalism", with paternalistic Christian government being the only hope of countering the spread of fundamentalist Islam.

"The small but growing conversion of native Westerners within Western societies to Islam carries the suggestion that Islam may provide in the 21st century the attraction which communism provided in the 20th, both for those who are alienated or embittered on the one hand, and for those who seek order or justice on the other," he said.
He asked: "Does democracy need a burgeoning billion-dollar pornography industry to be truly democratic? Does it need an abortion rate in the tens of millions? "What would democracy look like if you took some of these things out of the picture? Would it cease to be democracy? Or would it actually become more democratic?"

Perhaps, after a few more terms of John Howard/Tony Abbott, we'll find out. Besides which, "democratic personalism" has a nicely euphemistic ring to it. Given how misleading it is for the Tories to call themselves the "Liberal Party", perhaps they'll take the hint and rename themselves the Democratic Personalist Party.

authoritarianism catholic censorship conformism culture war islam paternalism religiots 6

2003/7/8

The Guardian on the rising tide of censorship in Australia. Australia has a long tradition of paternalism, it seems, though the country has become a lot more censorious under Howard. Btw, did you know the 18th-century novel Fanny Hill is still banned here? 'Struth.

australia authoritarianism censorship paternalism 1

2002/12/12

Family values masquerading as social justice: The conservative government of Australia extends its social-engineering-through-taxation scheme, with a plan to punitively tax non-breeders and use the proceeds to pay people to have children ("be fruitful and multiply", as the Good Book (which was written back in the days when the world was underpopulated) says). The amount of tax Australians pay is becoming increasingly dependent on their divergence from John Howard's model of Judaeo-Christian family values. It's chequebook paternalism, folks.

conformism legislated morality paternalism 13

2000/8/2

In the latest surprising development, Australia's authoritarian-moralist prime minister John "The Beast" Howard has put forward plans to roll back the Sex Discrimination Act, restricting IVF treatment to married heterosexuals. The Beast claims that children have a right to be born into a traditional heterosexual family. Why not extend it further and ban non-church-going couples from having IVF treatment? After all, shouldn't children in Howard's Menzies-retro utopia have a right to a good, moral, Christian upbringing, rather than being brainwashed with permissiveness and SEXular humanism? Perhaps Howard should bring back the traditional Australian policy of taking children away from their parents and putting them in more traditional homes; only rather than just targeting Aborigines, extending it to target all who disagree with Howard's vision of moral purity.

australia authoritarianism conformism paternalism 0

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