Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A ruinous and oppressive ideology

(First published in the Curmudgeon column, The Dominion Post, December 7.)

I NEVER cease to be amazed by the number of intelligent people who proudly declare themselves to be socialists, as if this were a badge of honour. A recent example was Gary McCormick, a man I otherwise admire, who proclaimed his socialist leanings on Jim Mora’s radio programme.

Socialism has been disastrous wherever it has been tried. It is oppressive politically and ruinous economically. Why would anyone align themselves with such a failed ideology?

In the case of people like McCormick, it can only be because of a sentimental desire to be seen as standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the underdog. (It shouldn’t be forgotten that McCormick is a Titahi Bay boy, and therefore a product of the Labour heartland.)

Strangely, it remains unfashionable to pronounce oneself unashamedly to be a capitalist. Yet all of the world’s freest and most prosperous countries are capitalist democracies – and usually with a Christian heritage too, although it’s even less fashionable to point that out.

Unbridled capitalism is a bad thing. Even the father of capitalism, John Stuart Mill, saw the need to curb its excesses and inequalities. But history has proved that the combination of a capitalist economy and a liberal democratic state provides the best possible conditions for freedom, human rights and economic progress.

This is confirmed by the masses of people from repressive socialist states who have risked everything to migrate to the capitalist democracies of Europe and North America. They clearly recognise that capitalism works for underdogs as much as for anyone else.

* * *

SITTING down recently to watch a DVD of the award-winning Australian film Jindabyne, I was struck by a warning notice to viewers. “Members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are advised that this film may contain images and/or voices of deceased persons”, it said.

This seemed to open up limitless possibilities. If the makers of all films and TV programmes were to issue warnings about who might be offended, where would it end? Just about every film contains images or dialogue that might upset someone.

Roughly 90 percent of what’s screened on television is offensive to me, for a whole lot of reasons, but I don’t expect an advisory notice (“The following programme will render you brain-dead”) at the start of every show.

The question, then, is why should a specific warning be issued to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders about the contents of Jindabyne, which revolves around the discovery of a murdered Aboriginal woman’s body in a remote river?

I don’t recall ever seeing such a “cultural” warning on a film ever before. So what makes Jindabyne different?

The implication is either that Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders’ sensibilities are more deserving of protection than other people’s, or that these two ethnic minorities are too fragile to be exposed to the artistic freedom of expression that everyone else takes for granted.

Either way, the warning seems an example of condescending political correctness of the most cringe-worthy type.

* * *

I AM MORE convinced than ever that the people excitedly talking up the benefits of social media such as Twitter are a noisy, evangelistic minority – eager adopters of whatever is deemed the Latest Big Thing.

They deride non-adopters as technologically challenged dinosaurs. But to put this idea to the test, I questioned my own offspring and their partners – all of them in the age group that supposedly embraces Twitter, and all of them comfortable in the digital world.

There are seven of them aged between 26 and 40 and not one uses Twitter. A daughter-in-law said Twitter just seemed like a great time-waster, which was exactly my impression.

Another daughter-in-law commented: “It falls into my ‘why would anyone think up something so annoying?’ category.” And one of my daughters said that in her circle of friends, only one has a Twitter account, and then only because it’s a requirement for a media studies course she’s doing.

The social media evangelists like to give the impression that anyone who doesn’t tweet or have a Facebook page is a loser, but in fact it’s social media users who are the minority. At a presentation in Auckland recently I heard a speaker from one of the country’s leading advertising agencies, which closely monitor social trends, dismiss social media as “10 percent talking to 10 percent”. But you wouldn’t guess it from all the attention they create.

* * *

LAST Tuesday night, in prime time, four of the five free-to-air channels were screening food programmes. Is this some sort of bizarre record?

At 7.30, TV Two had My Kitchen Rules, TV3 had The Kitchen Job and Prime showed Nigella Kitchen, starring that woman with a figure like an overstuffed sofa who seems to be every ageing Englishman’s wet dream. Prime then screened River Cottage at 8.05 and TV One had Jamie’s Food Escapes at 8.30.

I like my tucker as much as the next bloke, but this is madness. The food porn fad is out of control.


Anonymous said...

I don’t recall ever seeing such a “cultural” warning on a film ever before. So what makes Jindabyne different?

This warning regularly appears across all Australian broadcast and other moving visual media -- even in the television news, before a particular item.

The probligo said...

I think that I might be able to explain the "Jindabyne" warning.

I first saw it before a documentary (broadcast on MaoriTV) about a Torres Strait islander who was at the heart of the movement to recognise aboriginal land rights. One of the things explained (in passing) was the reticence of TI's to appear on camera. As I recall it was not the old "camera takes soul" but rather "camera carries soul...". I was left with the impression that hearing a person - or seeing - who has died carries the cultural connotation that they are -
... being kept alive when they should be dead.
... like a ghost, a haunting.
... stolen, though I think this is a less correct interpretation.

Personally, I think it is an appropriate cultural recognition.

The probligo said...

It was actually the first part of your post that caught my eye, Karl.

The debate, the distinctions, that you have highlighted is even more intense in the US - as you may have found.

What I see as the problem is really the allocation and interpretation of labels.

McCormick describes himself as a socialist. Does he mean a Socialist in the same way as members of the SDP might have meant it in my youth? Having sat in that camp myself (for a very brief two months until I worked out what was really going on) I can make a very clear and firm distinction between that kind of Socialism and the "socialism" I associate with the likes of Jim Anderton, and to a lesser extent with the Labour Party.

The same can apply to the appelation of the "capitalist" label. You can count yourself as a "capitalist" while at the same time rejecting "Unbridled capitalism [a]s a bad thing.".

It seems possible to attribute the same kind of reason to religious appelations as well; though I am far less qualified to discuss that as a moot.

The other side of the coin is in the interpretation of the label.

And/orsum said...

I'm blowed if I know what you mean by Capitalism; and how J S Mill could be considered its father ~ he only goes back to mid 19th century and a philosopher only.
As for McCormack he was always a try-hard/ an outsider who wanted to be accepted as an ordinary bloke. Lived in older private part of the [Titahi]Bay versus mostly state housing.