Politics

Some (pre-election) wisdom from Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Letters and Papers from PrisonAs I contemplate, despair, protest, hope, pray, and engage in an upcoming election, I was very grateful this week to read, and to take the time to type up, some (pre-election) wisdom from brother Dietrich:

On Stupidity

Stupidity is a more dangerous enemy of the good than malice. One may protest against evil; it can be exposed and, if need be, prevented by use of force. Evil always carries within itself the germ of its own subversion in that it leaves behind in human beings at least a sense of unease. Against stupidity we are defenseless. Neither protests nor the use of force accomplish anything here; reasons fall on deaf ears; facts that contradict one’s prejudgment simply need not be believed – in such moments the stupid person even becomes critical – and when facts are irrefutable they are just pushed aside as inconsequential, as incidental. In all this the stupid person, in contrast to the malicious one, is utterly self satisfied and, being easily irritated, becomes dangerous by going on the attack. For that reason, greater caution is called for when dealing with a stupid person than with a malicious one. Never again will we try to persuade the stupid person with reasons, for it is senseless and dangerous.

If we want to know how to get the better of stupidity, we must seek to understand, its nature. This much is certain, that it is in essence not an intellectual defect but a human one. There are human beings who are of remarkably agile intellect yet stupid, and others who are intellectually quite dull yet anything but stupid. We discover this to our surprise in particular situations. The impression one gains is not so much that stupidity is a congenital defect but that, under certain circumstances, people are made stupid or that they allow this to happen to them. We note further that people who have isolated themselves from others or who live in solitude manifest this defect less frequently than individuals or groups of people inclined or condemned to sociability. And so it would seem that stupidity is perhaps less a psychological than a sociological problem. It is a particular form of the impact of historical circumstances on human beings, a psychological concomitant of certain external conditions. Upon closer observation, it becomes apparent that every strong upsurge of power in the public sphere, be it of a political or a religious nature, infects a large part of humankind with stupidity. It would even seem that this is virtually a sociological-psychological law. The power of the one needs the stupidity of the other. The process at work here is not that particular human capacities, for instance, the intellect, suddenly atrophy or fail. Instead, it seems that under the overwhelming impact of rising power, humans are deprived of their inner independence and, more or less consciously, give up establishing an autonomous position toward the emerging circumstances. The fact that the stupid person is often stubborn must not blind us to the fact that he is not independent. In conversation with him, one virtually feels that one is dealing not at all with him as a person, but with slogans, catchwords, and the like that have taken possession of him. He is under a spell, blinded, misused, and abused in his very being. Having thus become a mindless tool, the stupid person will also be capable of any evil and at the same time incapable of seeing that it is evil. This is where the danger of diabolical misuse lurk, for it is this that can once and for all destroy human beings.

Yet at this very point it becomes quite clear that only an act of liberation, not instruction, can overcome stupidity. Here we must come to terms with the fact that in most cases a genuine internal liberation becomes possible only when external liberation has preceded it. Until then we must abandon all attempts to convince the stupid person. This state of affairs explains why in such circumstances our attempts to know what “the people” really think are in vain and why, under these circumstances, this question is so irrelevant for the person who is thinking and acting responsibly. The word of the Bible that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom declares that the internal liberation of human beings to live the responsible life before God is the only genuine way to overcome stupidity.

But these thoughts about stupidity also offer consolation in that they utterly forbid us to consider the majority of people to be stupid in every circumstance. It really will depend on whether those in power expect more from peoples’ stupidity than from their inner independence and wisdom.

Contempt for Humanity?

The danger of allowing ourselves to be driven to contempt for humanity is very real. We know very well that we have no right to let this happen and that it would lead us into the most unfruitful relation to human beings. The following thoughts may protect us against this temptation: through contempt for humanity we fall victim precisely to our opponents’ chief errors. Whoever despises another human being will never be able to make anything of him. Nothing of what we despise in another is itself foreign to us. How often do we expect more of the other than what we ourselves are willing to accomplish. Why is it that we have hitherto thought with so little sobriety about the temptability and frailty of human beings? We must learn to regard human beings less in terms of what they do and neglect to do and more in terms of what they suffer. The only fruitful relation to human beings – particularly to the weak among them – is love, that is, the will to enter into and to keep community with them. God did not hold human beings in contempt but became human for their sake.

Immanent Justice

It is one of the most astonishing experiences and also one of the most incontrovertible that evil – often in a surprisingly short span of time – proves itself to be stupid and impractical. That does not mean that punishment follows hard on the heels of each individual evil deed; what it does mean is that the suspension of God’s commandments on principle in the supposed interest of earthly self-preservation acts precisely against what this self-preservation seeks to accomplish. One can interpret in various ways this experience that has fallen to us. In any case, one thing has emerged that seems certain: in the common life of human beings, there are laws that are stronger than everything that believes it can supersede them, and that it is therefore not only wrong but unwise to disregard these laws. This helps us understand why Aristotelian-Thomistic ethics elevated wisdom to be one of the cardinal virtues. Wisdom and stupidity are not ethically indifferent, as the neo-Protestant ethics of conscience wanted us to believe. In the fullness of the concrete situation and in the possibilities it offers, the wise person discerns the impassable limits that are imposed on every action by the abiding laws of human communal life. In this discernment the wise person acts well and the good person acts wisely.

There is clearly no historically significant action that does not trespass ever again against the limits set by those laws. But it makes a decisive difference whether such trespasses against the established limit are viewed as their abolishment in principle and hence presented as a law of its own kind, or whether one is conscious that such trespassing is perhaps an unavoidable guilt that has its justification only in that law and limit being reinstated and honored as quickly as possible. It is not necessarily hypocrisy when the aim of political action is said to be the establishment of justice and not simply self-preservation. The world is, in fact, so ordered that the fundamental honoring of life’s basic laws and rights at the same time best serves self-preservation, and that these laws tolerate a very brief, singular, and, in the individual case, necessary trespass against them. But those laws will sooner or later – and with irresistible force – strike dead those who turn necessity into a principle and as a consequence set up a law of their own alongside them. History’s immanent justice rewards and punishes the deed only, but the eternal justice of God tries and judges the hearts.

Some Statements of Faith on God’s Action in History

I believe that God can and will let good come out of everything, even the greatest evil. For that to happen, God needs human beings who let everything work out for the best. I believe that in every moment of distress God will give us as much strength to resist as we need. But it is not given to us in advance, lest we rely on ourselves and not on God alone. In such faith all fear of the future should be overcome. I believe that even our mistakes and shortcomings are not in vain and that it is no more difficult for God to deal with them than with our supposedly good deeds. I believe that God is no timeless fate but waits for and responds to sincere prayer and responsible actions.

Trust

Few have been spared the experience of being betrayed. The figure of Judas, once so incomprehensible, is hardly strange to us. The air in which we live is so poisoned with mistrust that we almost die from it. But where we broke through the layer of mistrust, we were allowed to experience a trust hitherto utterly undreamed of. There, where we trust, we have learned to place our lives in the hands of others; contrary to all the ambiguities in which our acts and lives must exist, we have learned to trust without reserve. We now know that one can truly live and work only in such trust, which is always a venture but one gladly affirmed. We know that to sow and to nourish mistrust is one of the most reprehensible things and that, instead, trust is to be strengthened and advanced wherever possible. For us trust will be one of the greatest, rarest, and most cheering gifts bestowed by the life we humans live in common, and yet it always emerges only against the dark background of a necessary mistrust. We have learned to commit our lives on no account into the hands of the mean but without reserve into the hands of the trustworthy.

– Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from Prison, ed. John W. de Gruchy, trans. Isabel Best, et al., vol. 8, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2010), 43–47.

Australia is going to hell

p1_nauruforweb

 

‘It is clear that the Turnbull Government’s policy [on asylum seekers], focused only on deterrence with no feasible pathway to permanent migration in a resettlement country is leaving people desperate and without hope’, said Richard Marles, the same guy who declared that ‘offshore processing has been the single most important policy that any Australian government has made’.

Something about pots and black kettles comes to mind. More significantly, however, such statements mark the tragic reality that it is very difficult to reach any other conclusion than that the moral decadence represented and fed by Australia’s two most supported political parties is a disgrace that can only end in hell, along with all who support such. For what is hell but ‘the suffering of being no longer able to love’ (Father Cosima). Are we there yet? Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

[Image: The Saturday Paper]

‘Then I came by boat’

During Lent 2014, Tri Nguyen, a pastor of the Brunswick Baptist Church and one of my students at Whitley College, made a pilgrimage from his church in Melbourne to Parliament House in Canberra to deliver a gift to the Australian Parliament. The gift was a large model of the boat in which he and his father and sister fled Vietnam in 1982, the year they also arrived in Australia as refugees.

Now, Marleena Forward, a Melbourne-based filmmaker, has produced this short film of Tri’s inspiring, reconciling, and challenging journey – one considerably longer than that undertaken in 2014. The film won the Audience Award in the Australian Shorts section at the Human Rights Arts Film Festival. It’s called ‘Then I came by boat’:

We Can Pay For It

We can pay for it

Voting

I Vote

Source: The Age, 3 December 2014.

Friday with Leunig: (a triple) on the ‘forces of evil’

Vasco Pyjama

The Age, 27 September 2014

Stone Age

The Age, 1 October 2014

Cult pie

3 October 2014

Appropriate facial expressions for the six levels of terror alert

Terror alerts

2022 World Cup slave labour deaths

wpid-wp-1405716695317.jpeg

Reading The Saturday Paper has become an exercise that I look forward to each weekend. (I read somewhere that exercise is supposed to be good for you, and I’ve noticed that lots of people seem to do it on the weekends as well.) It is mostly intelligent and well-written journalism which helps me to be a more critical and responsible citizen, something which is important to me. It’s also why I look forward to reading The Monthly, and why I hardly ever read The Australian – that dish rag which, according to Anthony Abbott, is Rupert Murdoch’s ‘gift to our nation’. All the time, I am trying to discern where the spirit of the age is in harmony with, and in discord with, that other Spirit.

Among this morning’s reads was Matteo Fagotto’s piece about soccer’s slave labour deaths, and how FIFA’s decision to award the 2022 World Cup to Qatar is already unmasking widespread abuses in that country. So Fagotto:

While the past two World Cups, in Brazil and South Africa, caused the death of nine workers, the International Trade Union Confederation has warned that the systematic abuses faced by labourers in Qatar could cause the death of up to 4000 people before the first ball is kicked in the Gulf nation in eight years’ time.

We’re become numbingly accustomed to reading these kinds of stories of human rights abuses surrounding big sporting events. Whether one recalls the NSW State Labor Government and the Sydney City Council’s shameful action of removing homeless people from the streets of Sydney prior to the 2000 Olympics, or about human rights activists in China being detained to prevent them from disrupting the Beijing Olympics in 2008, or about the reported 170,000 favela residents who were forcibly removed (by thousands of Brazilian militia) from their homes prior to the recent World Cup in Brazil (a country in which 80% of residents are afraid of being tortured by their own police force ), these stories are all too common. To the three well-publicised examples mentioned here, thousands could be added.

Reading Fagotto’s essay this morning made me feel powerless, and angry. It also made we wonder about the positive pressure that sanctions can provide, reminded me why I support trade unionism, reminded me why responsible theology is an imperative ingredient in the Christian humanist vision for just and flourishing societies, and why perhaps the greatest theological service that the church can provide through its various assemblies is to remind us all that the church and the basilea of God only very occasionally sing from the same song sheet. It also haunted me to think again about the hypocritical disparities in our world (and particularly in my own life) between a desire for just practices and for products (like sport) whose greatest cost is borne by the world’s most vulnerable. If only our power as citizens and consumers – and as theologians! – was matched by the kind of courage that justice seeks. I will carry these thoughts too to one of the texts upon which I will preach tomorrow morning – Romans 8 – about a creation groaning as in the pains of childbirth and hoping for what it does not yet have.

David Pope on the ‘unsettled’ territories

Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank

[Source: The Canberra Times, 15 July 2014]

Václav Havel on the need for a radical renewal of our sense of responsibility

Czech dissident Vaclav Havel speaks at hVáclav Havel is no stranger to this blog. I find myself turning again and again to his words – words matured in the crucible of suffering and of hope, in the illusive corridors of ‘power’ and in the freedom of ‘powerlessness’. Recently, I had reason to revisit reading a number of his talks given during the ’90s. It was challenging to re-hear these words from his famous Commencement Address given at Harvard University on 8 June 1995:

The veneer of global civilization that envelops the modern world and the consciousness of humanity, as we all know, has a dual nature, bringing into question, at every step of the way, the very values it is based upon, or which it propagates. The thousands of marvellous achievements of this civilization that work for us so well and enrich us can equally impoverish, diminish, and destroy our lives, and frequently do. Instead of serving people, many of these creations enslave them. Instead of helping people to develop their identities, they take them away. Almost every invention or discovery from the splitting of the atom and the discovery of DNA to television and the computer can be turned against us and used to our detriment. How much easier it is today than it was during the First World War to destroy an entire metropolis in a single air-raid. And how much easier would it be today, in the era of television, for a madman like Hitler or Stalin to pervert the spirit of a whole nation. When have people ever had the power we now possess to alter the climate of the planet or deplete its mineral resources or the wealth of its fauna and flora in the space of a few short decades? And how much more destructive potential do terrorists have at their disposal today than at the beginning of this century.

In our era, it would seem that one part of the human brain, the rational part which has made all these morally neutral discoveries, has undergone exceptional development, while the other part, which should be alert to ensure that these discoveries really serve humanity and will not destroy it, has lagged behind catastrophically.

Yes, regardless of where I begin my thinking about the problems facing our civilization, I always return to the theme of human responsibility, which seems incapable of keeping pace with civilization and preventing it from turning against the human race. It’s as though the world has simply become too much for us to deal with.

There is no way back. Only a dreamer can believe that the solution lies in curtailing the progress of civilization in some way or other. The main task in the coming era is something else: a radical renewal of our sense of responsibility. Our conscience must catch up to our reason, otherwise we are lost.

It is my profound belief that there is only one way to achieve this: we must divest ourselves of our egoistical anthropocentrism, our habit of seeing ourselves as masters of the universe who can do whatever occurs to us. We must discover a new respect for what transcends us: for the universe, for the earth, for nature, for life, and for reality. Our respect for other people, for other nations, and for other cultures, can only grow from a humble respect for the cosmic order and from an awareness that we are a part of it, that we share in it and that nothing of what we do is lost, but rather becomes part of the eternal memory of Being, where it is judged.

A better alternative for the future of humanity, therefore, clearly lies in imbuing our civilization with a spiritual dimension. It’s not just a matter of understanding its multicultural nature and finding inspiration for the creation of a new world order in the common roots of all cultures. It is also essential that the Euro-American cultural sphere the one which created this civilization and taught humanity its destructive pride now return to its own spiritual roots and become an example to the rest of the world in the search for a new humility.

General observations of this type are certainly not difficult to make, nor are they new or revolutionary. Modern people are masters at describing the crises and the misery of the world which we shape, and for which we are responsible. We are much less adept at putting things right.

So what specifically is to be done?

I do not believe in some universal key or panacea. I am not an advocate of what Karl Popper called “holistic social engineering”, particularly because I had to live most of my adult life in circumstances that resulted from an attempt to create a holistic Marxist utopia. I know more than enough, therefore, about efforts of this kind.

This does not relieve me, however, of the responsibility to think of ways to make the world better.

It will certainly not be easy to awaken in people a new sense of responsibility for the world, an ability to conduct themselves as if they were to live on this earth forever, and to be held answerable for its condition one day. Who knows how many horrific cataclysms humanity may have to go through before such a sense of responsibility is generally accepted. But this does not mean that those who wish to work for it cannot begin at once. It is a great task for teachers, educators, intellectuals, the clergy, artists, entrepreneurs, journalists, people active in all forms of public life.

Above all it is a task for politicians.

Even in the most democratic of conditions, politicians have immense influence, perhaps more than they themselves realize. This influence does not lie in their actual mandates, which in any case are considerably limited. It lies in something else: in the spontaneous impact their charisma has on the public.

The main task of the present generation of politicians is not, I think, to ingratiate themselves with the public through the decisions they take or their smiles on television. It is not to go on winning elections and ensuring themselves a place in the sun till the end of their days. Their role is something quite different: to assume their share of responsibility for the long-range prospects of our world and thus to set an example for the public in whose sight they work. Their responsibility is to think ahead boldly, not to fear the disfavour of the crowd, to imbue their actions with a spiritual dimension (which of course is not the same thing as ostentatious attendance at religious services), to explain again and again both to the public and to their colleagues that politics must do far more than reflect the interests of particular groups or lobbies. After all, politics is a matter of serving the community, which means that it is morality in practice. And how better to serve the community and practise morality than by seeking in the midst of the global (and globally threatened) civilization their own global political responsibility: that is, their responsibility for the very survival of the human race?

Interviewing David Clark MP

Interrogation roomLike many of life’s journeys, it all began with a single question. On this occasion, it was one posed by my daughter Sinead: ‘Why are so many things in Dunedin made in China?’, she asked. Rather than blunder my own way through an answer, I suggested that we write to the Prime Minister, the Rt Hon John Key, and ask him. She thought that that was a good idea: ‘Mr Key always seems to have a lot of time to play golf and to tweet about Lorde, so surely he will have enough time to talk with me!’, she said. And, ‘he’s always rabbiting on about how much he enjoys talking to average New Zealander’s about issues that matter to them’, I added. So, hopeful, we wrote to him. We received no reply. We wrote to him again, and again, and again, and again – inviting an answer to the question – but still no response came. This was disappointing, and birthed some grumpiness.

The invitation to discuss this, and any other question Sinead might have, was taken up by our local MP, David Clark. He should know about this stuff, we thought. After all, he is the Opposition spokesperson for economic development.

So, a few weeks ago, Sinead meandered down to the MP’s office to arrange an interview. That interview took place yesterday. In addition to her initial question, she posed a number of other questions – about Dunedin, about being a parliamentarian, about the personal costs of politics, about the relationship between politics and faith, and about the push for New Zealand to have a new flag. David was gracious, unpatronising, and honest in his replies, Sinead (and her dad) learnt a lot, and new questions were formed. And then she and David went out for ice-cream at Rob Roy Dairy.

I was very proud of her, and grateful to David for taking some time out to discuss matters of importance with one of New Zealand’s newest citizens.

On the demonic and introverted nature of worldly power

Christopher Henry Dawson‘[T]he new mass dictatorships associate the highest and lowest qualities of human nature—self-sacrifice and boundless devotion, as well as unlimited violence and vindictiveness—in the assertion of their will to power … As soon as men decide that all means are permitted to fight an evil, then their good becomes indistinguishable from the evil that they set out to destroy. The subordination of morals to politics, the reign of terror and the technique of propaganda and psychological aggression can be used by any Power or Party that is bold enough to abandon moral scruples and plunge into the abyss. This is the greatest difficulty that faces us at the present time. For it is an evil that thrives by war, and the necessity of opposing the spirit of unlimited aggression by force of arms, creates the atmosphere which is most favourable to its growth’.

– Christopher Dawson, ‘The Hour of Darkness’, The Tablet, 2 December 1939, 626.

Leunig on Cirque Canberra

Michael Leunig‘s latest three cartoons are a fitting commentary on Cirque* Canberra:

Leunig-Wedding--Oct-9

MPs

Travel Expenses

Plus, one from a few weeks earlier:

Politics-21-Sept

* There is, of course, another  and equally truthful  way of thinking about the image of the circus. I think, for example, of William Stringfellow‘s reflections on the circus as an event of the eschaton. Picking up the image in the wake of Ingmar Berman and Georges Rouault, Stringfellow propose that we recognise circuses as parables of the kingdom and, as such, as parodies of the world as it is. I suspect that Leunig would like that image too.

Leunig, Hunsinger and Hauerwas on ‘just war’ theory

As the US continues to beat its war drums in the Middle East, it’s a good time to think again about the so-called ‘just war’ theory. So, I draw attention to three pieces – from Michael Leunig, from George Hunsinger and from Stanley Hauerwas.

So, Leunig:

Just war

And in a recent piece published in Commonweal Magazine, Hunsinger argues that ‘a defensible case for the attack on Syria would have to satisfy traditional “just war” standards. In its modern form the just-war tradition (jus ad bellum) involves at least four primary elements: just cause, legitimate authority, last resort, and reasonable chance of success. If these criteria remain unmet, the recourse to war is unjustified’. In Hunsinger’s view, the proposed attack on Syria meets none of these standards.

And here, Hauerwas argues that the real realists are not the just-war advocates anyway, but the pacifists. Moreover, he contends that ‘the lack of realism about realism by American just war advocates has everything to do with their being American’. ‘In particular’, he suggests, ‘American advocates of just war seem to presume that democratic societies place an inherent limit on war that more authoritarian societies are unable to do. While such a view is quite understandable, I would argue that democratic society – at least, the American version – is unable to set limits on war because it is democratic. Put even more strongly, for Americans war is a necessity to sustain our belief that we are worthy to be recipients of the sacrifices made on our behalf in past wars. Americans are a people born of and in war, and only war can sustain our belief that we are a people set apart’. Such democracies, Hauerwas believes, ‘by their very nature seem to require that wars be fought in the name of ideals that make war self-justifying’. And, characteristically, Hauerwas concludes his piece with a reflection on the relationship between war, christology and ecclesiology:

Pacifists are realists. Indeed, we have no reason to deny that the “realism” associated with Augustine, Luther and Niebuhr has much to teach us about how the world works. But that is why we do not trust those who would have us make sacrifices in the name of preserving a world at war. We believe a sacrifice has been made that has brought an end to the sacrifice of war.

Augustine and Luther thought Christians might go to war because they assumed a church existed that provided an alternative to the sacrificial system war always threatens to become. When Christians no longer believe that Christ’s sacrifice is sufficient for the salvation of the world, we will find other forms of sacrificial behaviours that are as compelling as they are idolatrous. In the process, Christians confuse the sacrifice of war with the sacrifice of Christ.

If a people does not exist that continually makes Christ present in the world, war will always threaten to become a sacrificial system. War is a counter church. War is the most determinative moral experience many people have.

That is why Christian realism requires the disavowal of war. Christians do not disavow war because it is often so horrible, but because war, in spite of its horror – or perhaps because it is so horrible – can be so morally compelling. That is why the church does not have an alternative to war. The church is the alternative to war. When Christians lose that reality – that is, the reality of the church as an alternative to the world’s reality – we abandon the world to the unreality of war.

For what it’s worth, whenever I happen across Christians defending just-war theory to justify their participation in the state’s various machineries of cross-border violence (which, for the record, is not what I think Hunsinger is doing), I’m reminded of another George – George Bernard Shaw – and his challenge to (hypocritical) church leaders:

They have turned their churches into recruiting stations and their vestries into munitions workshops. But it has never occurred to them to take off their black coats and say quite simply, ‘I find in the hour of trial that the Sermon on the Mount is tosh, and that I am not a Christian. I apologise for all the unpatriotic nonsense I have been preaching all the years. Have the goodness to give me a revolver and a commission in a regiment which has for its chaplain a priest of the god Mars: my God.’ Not a bit of it. They have stuck to their livings and served Mars in the name of Christ, to the scandal of all religious mankind.

Learning from Australia’s Political Meltdown

Ben Chifley

A few days before the recent leadership spill in the Australian Labor Party, former Cabinet Minister and (in my view, quite exceptional) Foreign Minister Gareth Evans offered some thoughts, or some evidence of ‘relevance deprivation syndrome’, on the ALP and what we all might be able to learn from Australia’s political meltdown. I thought them worth reposting:

Australian politics should, on the face of it, hold as much interest for the rest of the world as Mongolian throat singing or Bantu funerary rites. But I have found otherwise in my recent travels in North America, Europe, and Asia. Much more than one might expect, there is an eerie fascination in political and media circles with the death throes of the current Australian Labor Party (ALP) government.

How is it, policymakers and analysts ask, that a government that steered Australia comfortably through the global financial crisis, and that has presided for the last six years over a period of almost unprecedented prosperity, could be facing electoral extinction in September, as every opinion poll is now predicting?

How did a diverse, socially tolerant country with living standards that are the envy of much of the world, become roiled by so much political divisiveness and bitterness? Is there a message for democratic governments generally, or center-left governments elsewhere, or just for the ALP?

It may be that certain peculiarities of the Australian situation are creating more tensions than would be likely elsewhere. A ludicrously short three-year electoral cycle makes it almost impossible to govern in a campaign-free atmosphere. Party rules allow for leaders – including serving prime ministers – to be politically executed overnight by their parliamentary colleagues. Our media’s preoccupation with trivia – and collective lack of conscience – is impressive even by British tabloid standards.

But none of these factors is new. They might have compounded the tensions, but they don’t explain how, in 2010, a party less than three years into its term dispatched a leader, Kevin Rudd, who had brought it to power after 11 years in the political wilderness and still commanded a majority of the public’s support. Nor do they explain why now, three years after she replaced Rudd, Julia Gillard enjoys practically no public support at all and seems destined to lead the ALP back into exile for another generation, if not for good.

Even if Gillard is dropped by her panicking colleagues – and that could happen at any time in the Grand Guignol theater that Australian politics has become – the situation for the world’s oldest labor party is dire indeed.

Those like me who have been out of public office for a long time need to be wary about offering gratuitous commentary – or, worse, advice. It is unlikely to be gratefully received by one’s successors, and it suggests a severe case of what I call “relevance deprivation syndrome.”

But there do seem to be some fundamental rules of political survival that have been ignored in Australia in recent years. Perhaps spelling them out will help others to remember them, not least those parties in Europe, Canada, and elsewhere that share some of the ALP’s social-democratic and center-left ideological traditions and are also struggling to win or retain electoral support.

The first rule is to have a philosophy – and to stick to it. The hugely successful Labor governments led by Bob Hawke and Paul Keating two decades ago did just that, essentially inventing the “third way” model that later became associated with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in Britain. Its elements were clear: dry, free-market economics (but in our case with low-paid workers benefiting enormously from “social wage” increases in medical care and retirement pensions); compassionate social policy; and a liberal internationalist foreign policy.

Australia’s current government, by contrast, has struggled to re-create anything as compelling. It seems torn between old industrial labor preoccupations, the new environmentalism, and capitulating to populist anxiety on issues like asylum-seeking “boat people.”

The second rule is to have a narrative – and to stick to it. Confused and ever-changing messages don’t win votes. The most wounding criticism of the ALP government is that no one really knows what it stands for. It has initiated visionary national policies in areas like broadband access, disability support, and education, but it has struggled to maintain a coherent and consistent overall story line.

The third rule is to have a decent governing process – and to stick to it. The Rudd administration successfully navigated the global financial crisis largely because the prime minister, with a small inner group, bypassed traditional Cabinet processes. But, with the crisis over, the bypassing continued – increasingly by the prime minister alone. Genuinely collective decision-making can be a painfully difficult process, but, in government as elsewhere, there is wisdom in crowds.

The fourth rule is that leaders should surround themselves with well-weathered colleagues and advisers who will remind them, as often as necessary, of their mortality. Self-confidence, bordering on hubris, gets most leaders to the top. If that is not occasionally punctured, things are bound to end in tears.

The last rule is that one should never trash the brand. Those who mounted the coup against Rudd three years ago felt it necessary to explain that it was because his government was, beneath the surface, a dysfunctional mess. The public hadn’t actually noticed that at the time, but has been prepared to believe it ever since. The tragedy is that both Rudd and Gillard are superbly capable and have complementary skill sets; working together effectively, they were as good as it gets in Australian politics.

Adherence to these rules will not ensure that a governing party stays in office forever. Many other factors, domestic and international, are always in play. Over time, electorates will tire of even the best-run governments, and look for reasons to vote for change.

But following all of these rules should ensure that a party maintains credibility and respect, and that, in defeat, it at least remains competitive for the next election. Observing none of them guarantees catastrophe.

The cruel and godless practice of live animal exports

live-export-australian-steer-slaughtered-indonesiaRecently, I posted a video of David Clough’s lecture ‘Rethinking Animality: Towards a New Animal Ethics’. One of the reasons that I drew attention to that lecture was because I consider the work that David (and others too) is engaged in around this issue to be incontrovertibly ‘vital’ [from the late fourteenth century Latin vitalis, meaning ‘of or belonging to life’]. Any society that takes lightly the killing of animals (those creatures whom Dietrich Bonhoeffer refers to as the brothers whom Adam loves), as do those societies with which I am most familiar, has grossly misjudged the sheer giftedness of life itself and is, it seems to me, already well on the way to responding lightly to and of justifying various forms of homicide and deathliness in its midst, blinded by the lie that the life of any creature belongs to something or someone other than God. This is why Karl Barth, for example, argued with due passion that ‘the slaying of animals is really possible only as an appeal to God’s reconciling grace’, and that we ought to have very good reasons for why we might claim the life of another creature for ours. Human beings can only kill an animal, Barth avers, knowing that it does not belong to us but to God alone, and that in killing it – an act which itself is incredibly traumatic, as I can testify – one surrenders it to God in order to receive it back from God as something one needs and desires. ‘The killing of animals in obedience is possible’, Barth contends, ‘only as a deeply reverential act of repentance, gratitude and praise on the part of the forgiven sinner in face of the One who is the Creator and Lord of humanity and beast’. Here Barth’s words compliment the Jewish tradition which champions the need to avoid tzar baalei chayim – causing pain to any living creature – and insists that where animals are killed that they are done so ‘with respect and compassion’, most properly by way of shechita.

With that, I come to the subject of this post; namely, live animal exports. Animals Australia reports that

every year millions of Australian animals are exported live for slaughter. Those who survive the journey often endure brutal treatment and conscious slaughter. Cattle, sheep and goats are sent throughout the Middle East and South East Asia — to countries with no laws to protect them from cruelty. Tens of thousands of animals don’t survive the sea journey and those that do disembark into countries where they are transported, handled and then slaughtered in appalling ways. Most animals slaughtered overseas have their throats cut while they are fully conscious, leading to an incredibly painful and prolonged death. Since 2003, Animals Australia has conducted numerous investigations into the treatment of animals exported from Australia. The evidence from investigations in the Middle East and South East Asia has consistently revealed the willingness of Australia’s live export industry, and consecutive Federal Governments, to export live animals despite appalling cruelty in importing markets.

While Australia remains by far the world’s largest exporter of sheep and cattle, this is not, of course, only an Australian issue. Earlier this year, the New Zealand Herald, for example, reported a ‘Boom in live cattle exports to China’, although thanks to the Customs Exports Prohibition (Livestock for Slaughter) Order these are mostly for breeding purposes, and recent protests at the Port of Dover in the UK are evidence that exporting of live cattle remains a practice in the UK and the EU, with exports going mainly to Italy and France.

This video, produced by Animals Australia, testifies to the cruel and godless practices that attend the live export of animals:

Clearly, this is a political as well as a moral issue (not that the two can ever be separated); and as the Australian Federal election draws near, I wish to publicise my support for the campaign by Animals Australia and Ban Live Export against the sickening and anti-vital practice of live animal exports. I learned recently that one of the Coalition’s priorities, should it win the election, is to ‘apologise’ to Indonesia (a country that receives some 45% of Australia’s live animals) for the Labour Government’s five week trade suspension in 2011, a suspension put in place in direct response to an ABC Four Corner’s program, ‘A Bloody Business’, which exposed the practices that attend live animal exports. In Australia, with the exception of Independent Senator Nick Xenophon, it has been The Greens who have consistently spoken out against this practice and who have sort to (re)introduce the Live Animal Export (Slaughter) Prohibition Bill (2012) into the Senate. And in New Zealand, from which there has been no live animal exports for slaughter since 2003, it is again The Green Party who have tried to maintain pressure to restrict the export of live animals. (I don’t mention this in order to propagandise for The Greens, but simply to report a fact.)

Here is the campaign video produced by Animals Australia:

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, and the other Coalition party leaders, seem to have forgotten – or, just couldn’t give a rats about – the outrage that Australians felt after that program aired, the facts therein being also corroborated by the live export industry’s own reports. Certainly, it is difficult to see how any formal apology to the Indonesian government or business groups could do anything other than serve to send a message that animal abuse is condoned. To my mind, this ought to be an important election issue. It is certainly an important theological issue. So if you are a fellow Australian citizen, or have your name on the electoral role, then please consider joining me in supporting this campaign.

The Tendering of New Zealand’s Restorative Justice Services: Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

Restorative Justice New Zealand

A guest post by Janet Sim Elder

The recent announcement that government tendering of Restorative Justice (RJ) services throughout Aotearoa New Zealand to a smaller number of providers based here in NZ or from offshore is imminent. Judith Collins, Minister of Justice, has also announced there an increase of funding of $4.42 million in the May budget. Clearly this National Government wants to expand services.

A good thing you might say. Yes it is, but … and there is a large ‘but’. Ministry staff numbers entrusted with servicing the Restorative Justice groups around the country have gradually diminished over the last thirteen years since we in Dunedin and three other jurisdictions trained and were part of the world-first pilot of RJ as an alternative way of doing justice within the Justice system.

From a vibrant, forward-thinking, large group of public servants, the staff in this unit now number about five. The logic is, I suspect, that it is much easier and more cost efficient for a small group of Ministry staff to work with a handful of providers; the fewer the better.

Restorative Justice Aotearoa, the national grouping of all RJ services in NZ, is not in a position to put in a tender for all those services and is clearly not interested in doing so.

Nicola Taylor, the feisty Director of Anglican Family Care in Dunedin under whose umbrella we work as Restorative Justice Otago, providing long-term, highly professional and skilled work in bringing victims and offenders together to hear each other’s stories and to begin repair of the harms caused by offending, has decided we have no other option than to submit a tender ourselves. It’s risky because we have no certainty we will be successful, and because there is no contingency plan if we fail. Our story will be replicated throughout the country for the other RJ providers.

justice is what love looks like in publicSo we are committed to going all out for a strong bid to provide services in our Otago region. We have a depth and breadth of experience and are known and trusted by victims and offenders alike, as well as by local professionals working within and around the court system. This all has to be done in a few short weeks rather than months. Anglican Family Care is committing resources including in governance and making tenders to ensure we put in the best tender we can.

If you can help with brief letters of support for our bid, or for the RJ group near you elsewhere in the country in the same boat as we are, then, who knows, Peter does not have to be robbed in order to pay Paul and both might have a chance to live life in all its fullness!

To help out, please contact:

Restorative Justice Otago
c/- Anglican Family Care
PO Box 5219
Dunedin, Otago, NZ
email
p: +64 3 477 0801

some thursday drop-offs

Drop-off-AreaIt’s been a while since I shared some link love. Let me remedy that:

On helping Tony Abbott to be a Christian

I am so encouraged that Australia’s opposition leader, the honourable Tony Abbott, takes seemingly every opportunity to publicly offer every indication of his sincere intent on being a good Christian. Praise the Lord! Furthermore, it’s great to know that Mr Abbott believes, and that with such costly passion, that ‘Christians’ should be concerned with doing ‘the right thing’. Unfortunately, it appears that Mr Abbot’s got no idea what ‘the right thing’ is; i.e., what is the demand that the gospel lays on him? To be sure, people like Malcolm Fraser and Julian Burnside are doing their darndest to try to educate the poor fella, and I wondered if some accompanying music might help Mr Abbott too. And here I can think of few better than kiwi musician Dave Dobbyn to assist brother Tony to get the ‘Christian’ message (surely he’s not chasing ‘the “Christian” vote’) that he seems so intent on expressing his unyielding fidelity to:

Tonight I am feeling for you
Under the state of a strange land
You have sacrificed much to be here
‘there but for grace…’ as I offer my hand.

Welcome home, I bid you welcome, I bid you welcome
Welcome home from the bottom of my heart.

Out here on the edge
The empire is fading by the day
And the world is so weary in war
Maybe we’ll find that new way.

So welcome home, see I made a space for you now
Welcome home from the bottom of our hearts
Welcome home from the bottom of our hearts.

Keep it coming now – keep it coming now
You’ll find most of us here with our hearts wide open
Keep it coming now – keep on coming now
Keep it coming now – keep on coming now.

There’s a woman with her hands trembling – haere mai
And she sings with a mountain’s memory – haere mai.

There’s a cloud the full length of these isles
Just playing chase with the sun
And it’s black and it’s white and it’s wild
All the colours are one.

So welcome home, I bid you welcome, I bid you welcome
Welcome home from the bottom of our hearts
Welcome home, see I made a space for you now
Welcome home from the bottom of our hearts
From the bottom of our hearts.

[Image: HT to Andrew Beeston, Jono Coates and Jesus]

NZ Election 2011, by the Old Masters

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