Wednesday, 24 December 2014

influencing the future

In my previous blog entry "Malcolm Fraser: end the alliance" I suggested that the future needs greater engagement and collaboration of people younger than myself (aged 71) for the political health of the nation.

An eminent person who has had a major role in encouraging public debate and sensible policy development wrote privately, with exclamation marks: "But is our generation... not able to influence how we proceed."

I warmly endorse the idea that we should seek to influence how the nation proceeds... and I note that 'our generation' includes an Argentinian pope who seems influential. Gone are the days when policemen looked young and prime ministers looked young, now the pope is a contemporary. The pope has the advantage of being still in office.

I do not see MF's arguments about Australian strategic policy having much influence. There is a lack of connect. There are problems in that parts of the electorate do not forgive him for past events, but those people are not very much younger people. There is a problem, more importantly, in my view, that younger generations do not react well to lecturing from the ancient. We need to avoid the first disease mentioned by the pope in his team pep-talk on 22 December. The public, not least many of those who thought Abbott would bring deliverance, is being shocked away from the shockers who pronounce they've got the answers. So we have to offer something other than gold-plated opinion.

Noely of Yathink shoved me into resuming this kind of writing–starting this blog–a couple of months ago. Specifically she was concerned, in her rage against the betrayers of the present, that people like me, knowing the history and depth of issues, must not remain silent.

I think the answer is in there, in the ability, if willing, of our generation to speak not only of current opinion but with introspection and self-critically about the past. I note however Harold Nicholson's alleged observation that he had never, in the archives of any foreign ministry on the planet, read a record of conversation in which the person taking the record had not won. It's not easy to be frank about the past.

I suspect that having had my career mucked by illness I have had a longer space in which to become independent minded and feel a freedom and a need to speak publicly than some of my generation, with notable wonderful exceptions. Imagine if many more of those who used to argue policy within the walls of government or political apparatus were to bring minds into the open and demonstrate policy argument. Not to demand control of debate–we do not need a gerontocracy–but to show how to throw light on complex issues.
What is the prospective political process that we seek to influence.

This week the print edition of Guardian Weekly led its front page with editorial beginning: "In 2014, people power took on the state in a battle for minds and the streets." Despite March in March, people 'in the streets' in Australia are those on the internet. There is a readiness for ideas but haste to conclusions, anxiety for answers and results. Somehow the 24 hour news cycle and the 24 second social media cycle have to mature. And in a wider view, looking at what has happened in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Ukraine, I have to say, um but... Taking to the streets is only the beginning of a process. If political stability as used to be a mantra of Australian policy towards Asia, depends, as we seldom realised, not on people staying in power but sensible regime change, we should also understand that taking to the streets–or indeed being a parliamentary opposition–is only really effective if there are good policy-making processes present or achievable.

Leonore Taylor's concluding comment in her roundup of 2014 in The Guardian is important:
... the electorate can barely remember a political leader who tried to level with them to conduct a bigger public conversation, an actual discussion of detailed policies and their consequences. The question for 2015 is, will either of the present major party leaders dare to try? 
Perhaps 'our generation' can contribute in some ways here if we bring our skills and habits of private policy out into the open. Openness has to start and influence is surely only going to be achieved via openness.

We are however, habituated in a distinctly British kind of process, in which the man on horseback commanded and told people what to do. That is still the main model of those who grab for power in our parliaments, also the historical expectation of serfly voters. That's not the future: the country has more diversity culturally and the young are declining to register to vote, see this and this. The anger of the young against older generations relates to power as well as money. For our generation to influence, why and to what should anyone listen? That's a serous question, not a rhetorical conclusion. And for the Asian, or Arab, or African, or other Australians of different background, do we show them anything to trust? Must they assimilate in coming into the tent or do they have new ways to offer?

Basil Liddell-Hart, great British military strategist at the end of his life came to the view that it's not what you say you you want or say you are doing it's what you do that has lasting effect
: that the savagery of the Spanish Civil War could be related to the savagery of the Peninsular War with Napoleon from which the word guerrilla arose; and that the terrorist violence arising in the Middle East in the end of the 1960s could be connected to the violence of Lawrence of Arabia. My view, as expressed in writing to the then Australia Foreign Minister in 2003 (no reply) was that: is in the nature of modern war that it tends, more than anything else - certainly it does not tend to ‘victory’ - to import into the righteous invading countries the problems you seek to eliminate by invading... Your assertion of effectiveness of violence in international policy drifts down to validate the use of violence by non-states in international affairs, and increasingly by individuals in national and sub-national affairs, and indeed, I suggest, in domestic life. We are dealing not just with a narrow national security issue but a large ethical dimension. [Shortly after going to war in Iraq the government had ironically launched an expensive media campaign against domestic violence, that is, against the presumption by anyone of the right to bash up others because they think they are right and have a right.]
Whether my generation can help get us into a better ethical dimension remains to be seen.

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