There is a peculiar class of journalists and public commentators who seem to make a living opining endlessly about the spectacular mess that most western democracies supposedly find themselves in. This mess is, of course, thanks to the oppressive evils of far-right populism, the Republican Party, fascism and myriad other assuredly terrible things poised to destroy civil society. Penning this particular kind of diatribe probably gets quite tedious after a while, but everyone – Crikey’s ranting left-wing ASO5, AKA Bernard Keane, immediately – springs to mind – needs to keep the lights on somehow. In the (somewhat paraphrased) words of our Lord and Saviour himself, let he who has never authored a clickbaity column be first to leave a sneering comment.
However, when the exact same journalists punctuate these ominous premonitions with conspicuously biased fluff about how everything is actually perfectly fine one could be forgiven for asking – isn’t that just a tad rich? The Guardian Australia’s Green turned union gal Van Badham is one such offender, scoffing at the idea that western civilisation as we know it is vulnerable to any kind of existential threat at all. But wait – only a few short months ago she was convinced that we were facing into the abyss of fascism. Is the far right on the brink of returning us to nationalist totalitarianism or not Van? It’s getting hard to keep up.
Her article ‘Western civilisation’ is not under threat – even if conservatives want you to think so alludes to some sort of reasoned argument as to why the current political state isn’t as precarious as these so-called conservatives would have you fear. Curiously absent from the piece, however, is any empirical or anecdotal evidence to support the nominal premise.
There’s the usual vague suggestion of western cultural paucity, some rambling about the Ramsay Centre being a thinly veiled front for racist colonialist apologia and an overly ambitious attempt to link it all to the Wentworth by-election. The part where she bothers to explain exactly why it is that western civilisation is actually in rude good health was completely indecipherable to me but, given Van’s penchant for obscure arts references, it’s entirely possible that I’m simply not cultured enough to keep up.
Van manages a rare feat indeed, contradicting her own past work and the objective reality of the situation we now find ourselves in. Western society is a notoriously difficult beast to define, but any political commentator worth their Q & A invite knows that a few critical factors that have defined Australian society for decades are no longer dictating societal outcomes. The Catholic Church is in terminal decline, the nuclear family unit is in meltdown and mass immigration is posing serious and unprecedented challenges to the maintenance of a shared cultural identity. As if that wasn’t scary enough it seems as if the greatest wealth creation system known to mankind – capitalism – is increasingly unpopular with each subsequent generation. It’s a dark irony indeed, to consider the fates of those enjoying the zenith of material welfare while completely misunderstanding how it all came to pass.
Of course, none of this has anything to do with Van personally – she’s merely a prolific producer of the appalling solipsistic drivel that passes for sociopolitical commentary in most mainstream publications. At the very least a commentator should aim to hold a consistent view of developments in current affairs – a prerequisite that I assume was more strenuously enforced in the more august days of print journalism. It seems as if The Guardian and the ABC (amongst others) are more than willing to pay Van as a commentator while failing to care that her journalism is largely defined by a) calling conservatives stupid for believing that the west is undergoing a dramatic cultural shift and b) blaming conservatives for the rise in right-wing populism and the underlying cultural shift that enables it.
Perhaps there’s a valuable lesson in all of this – it isn’t necessary to hold opinions that have objective factual merit, or even maintain a set of views that are consistent with each other in order to enjoy a lucrative career in the new media.
One of my favourite politicians, an American chap, has a two-word phrase for this exact problem – I’m sure you’ve heard it by now. Spend a few minutes perusing Van’s archived columns and you’ll get a far better sense of the true meaning of the term.
Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.