I have been thinking about the wash up from the same-sex marriage issue and what we can learn about the next socially progressive reform about to be unleashed on us, whether we want it or not. I think that these so-called liberal reforms to our society now follow a well warn track with seven essential stages.
Stage 1 is the discovery of the cause or issue itself. This usually starts with a few academics sitting around talking about the next round of research grants and suddenly someone starts promoting a thoroughly impracticable and absurd new idea. They will say, for instance, ‘wouldn’t it be a good idea if men could marry each other and get their babies from test tubes or Uganda?’ Or ‘how about blaming our weather on human beings and seeing if we can turn the clock back?’ Or ‘our system of government has been tried and tested over the centuries, people keep voting for it, and the rest of the world wants to come here and live under it, but why not just throw it out and try a different one that we can work out later?’ Or ‘why don’t we let everyone in Africa and the Middle East come here if they want to?’. The assembled company then roll around on the floor at such ludicrous propositions because, at this stage, not a single person is in favour of any of them. But then, over the next few days they say to themselves, ‘that might be a good way of getting rid of one of those ramshackle conventions like the royal family, marriage, democracy or sovereign borders.’
Stage 2 is a short cameo stage where the only objective is to get the issue mentioned in public, so the public get used to hearing its name.
This is easier than you might think, because there is a long line of think tanks, media circuses, writers’ festivals, peace conferences and ABC panel discussions where people who have failed in normal life are given free air time to promote their own harebrained ideas for reforming society in their own image. Some ideas will catch on.
Stage 3 is far more serious. This is, in fact, the beginning of the most important part of the whole campaign, where the advocates argue that their reform must be introduced to bring an end to the rampant injustice, bullying, unfairness and inequality that are blots on society. This stage is there to take leave of reason and rational debate and inject a much-needed element of hysteria, cuddliness and maudlin tear-jerking to work up the sympathy vote. If possible, it helps if the organisers can get Penny Wong to cry on camera, an aboriginal to talk about her aunties and the terrible time they had in the missions being taught to read and write and several Liberals to say how their own views have evolved. Coloured scarves are an essential part of this stage. Talk of suicide if the proponents do not get their own way is also an important part of Stage 3, as are hashtags, flags, badges and editorials in the Age that start with ‘We warn the government…’. A judicious leak from a gathering of evolving Liberal acolytes at The Cherry Bar also does wonders to keep the issue going. If the cause is environmental, pictures of sunsets and free running rivers are invaluable. For musical background, I find a single cello the most evocative; however, to ridicule your opponents, which is a major part of any campaign, get them on a veranda playing the banjo and leering at their cousins.
By now, your campaign is no longer an eccentric aberration that no rational person would support. All you need to tip it over the edge into guilt-ridden, middle class respectability is the highlight of Stage 4, celebrity endorsement.
So persuasive is the cult of celebrity and so bizarre the notion that there must be merit in a cause if a vacuous, brainless celebrity supports it, that you had better enlist a few of them from celebrity central.
There is no shortage of them hanging around in search of past glory and they all lust after the public approval that comes from supporting a cause that they do not have to pay for. Petitions from leading scholars, living ‘national treasures’, concerned scientists and such-like are equally useful.
Stage 5 is consolidation, boring but essential. Here, you drop a few hints that if the people vote the wrong way or the government does not give you what you want, you will reject the result and just keep on and on with the campaign until you bore everyone into submission. We saw this with same-sex marriage, where the Yes case was allowed to say they would not be bound by the result, but the No case had to accept it. This is an established tactic, is well under way with the republic and the aboriginal chamber of parliament, and is clearly the tactic du jour for the abolishment of Australia Day.
Stage 6 is the moment of victory, when years of success and progress are swept away and replaced by reform, celebrated by MPs hollering in the parliament, waving flags, kissing and hugging and proposing in public to their beaux. Now, as last, we can savour what reform really looks like.
Finally, we come to Stage 7, far and away the most significant of all stages.
In Stage 7, with victory under your belt, you ban anyone who disagrees with you, deny their right to speak, have them humiliated and denigrated on the ABC’s Q&A, make the heresy of yesterday the official creed of today and pass laws so that you can be terrorised by a human rights commission until you give the right answers and apologise. From now on, it is you who are the New Inquisition. After all, that is what it was all about from the beginning.
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