I will disappoint you

I’ve been meaning to write this post for the past five or so years, it’s just that I’ve either had more pressing things to consider, or I’ve had trouble working out what I wanted to say exactly. Enough of that. I’ll get around to it now and get it out of the way and done with.

To be clear: Like an awful lot of bloggers, I’m a political person. I’m entirely ordinary in this respect; unapologetically normal. Not. Special. At. All.

I may have briefly been paid to do advocacy work, but that’s a long time ago now, in a different setting, and in a pre-social media world. Nobody’s paying me to do politics now, so I’m my own boss. I’m my own editor.

There are camps, and ideas, and sentiments I’m more closely aligned with than others. But, this blog is not the property of any political organization or clique. I’ve sworn fealty to no-one, despite people having occasionally expected it of me during the past few years. The look of shock when I don’t follow through on a promise I’d never make: galling really.

Towards the start of this decade someone had the bad idea of referring to me as their “knight in shining armour”. This was in the atheist scene, and despite the lingering trope of the “white knight” male feminist, it was before “Elevatorgate” too. It made me cringe. It still does.

I really don’t think some people understand how independent political writing is supposed to work.

Sure. I’ll criticize misogynists. I’ll criticize racists. I’ll laugh at libertarians and I’ll groan at naïve liberalism. Conservativism? No thanks. But I’m not your guy, left. A comrade isn’t a piece of property.

I’m not trying to impress feminists or appear woke, so telling me I’m not cool in this respect is really going to be insufficient as far as I’m concerned. I reserve the right to criticize anything I see fit to, the only promise I make in this regard being to attempt to do so in good faith. But that’s more about what I think makes for good writing than about making friends and allies.

If you don’t like me, that’s okay. You don’t need my permission to not like me. Go right ahead and not like me.

Am I a “good ally”? I don’t know. I’m not going to incorporate any of the listicle hot takes on the issue into my writing goals, so maybe not. It depends on what you mean by “good ally”. I have any number of problems with the term, depending on the specifics or the lack thereof. So what? It’s not a crime, that much is clear.

I’m not young anymore, and part of that entails not needing the kinds of social re-assurance and reality checks younger people calibrate themselves with. Maybe you’re young. Maybe you’re unaware that you do this. That’s okay. That’s normal. You’re doing fine. But that’s not me now, and it may not be you in future, and we’d both be better off coming to terms with it as it unravels, rather than letting it unravel us.

I may check in with people from time to time because I think they have some kind of interest or propriety, but I’m certainly not going to ask you for approval if I don’t think it’s something you personally have authority over.

Ask yourself, why do you read political writing at all if you expect it to conform to a number of rote points? If those rote points are sufficient, and you already know them, how much more do you need to read? Surely you could just get the facts regarding new cases from a more neutral source and apply the rote rules yourself, if the rules are sufficient.

Political writing would be made largely redundant. Why read this blog at all? Why read this post? Why be bothered with anything I write if that’s the case? Surely I’d be irrelevant and not worth you time to begin with. What are you doing here?

“I’m trying to help you understand…” No. I’ve long since learned to recognize passive aggression.

The role of a serious political writer to my mind, even if not a professional, is to mine new veins of political truth. This carries an increased risk of error due to the unavoidable lack of precedent. But if it’s done well, it’s ultimately worth it, and the errors made in the enterprise, if not too serious, can be examined and corrected for later. If too serious, well, you can work out the sanctions.

Maybe I’ll fuck something up. Maybe I’ll double down on it. Or maybe you’ll be wrong and I’ll double down on something you’re just not understanding. If a political writer doesn’t risk doing this, they’re doing a shit job, and the only way to deal with the inevitable fallout is in hindsight, with analysis and possibly apologies, not cowardly acquiescence. At all points, being candid is key.

I don’t expect you to like this. I know that it’s not always pleasant. It’s not entirely comfortable at my end all the time either. But if you can’t accept it as a cost of political reality, then I don’t care for your lectures, thanks. I’ve come to terms with it and I don’t care if you haven’t. But you need to if you want me to take you seriously.

Feel free to apply hot take logic to anything I write, and to condemn me if you want. But don’t expect me to be a part of your audience, or to grovel for your approval. It won’t happen because short of being dragged before a court or statutory authority, I don’t need to comply.

If you project your hopes on me, if you adopt the expectations of some political clique I’m not a part of and not understand that I’m not bound by those conventions, then I’m bound to disappoint. But I’m not under any illusions that I’m here to be anyone’s saviour. I’ve got plenty of horseshit issues, just not that one. I know I’m nobody’s knight. And I’m not an angel either.

But if you can handle this, then I think we may be all good. Possibly, this is the hardest obstacle to deal with in dealing with me. Well, that and perhaps wondering if it’s all worth it after a while – but that’s pretty much par for the course with anyone writing about these things, frustrating as they are. And like I said, I’m not at all special in this respect.

~ Bruce

Sweet rot

cornerJust over twenty six years ago, along with most of my family I moved to Adelaide from the town of my birth, Port Lincoln, South Australia. We weren’t in a position to be terribly picky about the kind of accommodation we wound up in, although thankfully the market wasn’t nearly as restrictive as it is today. The place we wound up in was cheap. And a bit nasty.

Our home, then on the corner of Manoora and Wells, was an old fiberboard house that had seen better days. We lived there six months before moving out to make way for for new owners. The land has long since been repurposed, with two modern single story townhouses occupying the space. Suffice to say there’s not much in the way of yard space.

A similar situation has befallen a lot of houses in that suburb; demolished, making way for new brick houses with small eaves and tiny yards. Often two houses are crammed into the space previously occupied by one.

Interspersed between these are some of the remaining, now quite old, fiberboard homes. The locals may have gotten used to it, but it doesn’t take too much effort to smell these old hovels rotting away.

Here and there’s a house that’s been patched up with a Frankenstein’s selection of random boarding, camouflaged unsuccessfully with uniform lashings of paint. Every few streets it seems there’s a vintage car chassis up on bricks. And here and there a new property asserts its McMansionesque vanity with a garish second story.

Winter could be unkind in the older homes. The walls were thin, and the floorboards hovered over crawlspaces the wind could howl under and through.

Nowadays, the wooden supports that held these houses aloft are rotting, and in a rotfew cases have rotted away, leaving homes to sag over the remaining supports. You can imagine kids on Saturday mornings placing balls on the floor to see if they can get them to roll through goals down the other end on the loungeroom.

And I can’t help thinking, if it weren’t for the cold, or the possibility of bad wiring, a good part of me would enjoy living in one of these rancid old abodes again. In an arid city like Adelaide, it’s the closest thing you can get to living in a Louisiana swamp; the closest you’ll ever be to a visit from the Swamp Thing.

Maybe you need to be some kind of redneck for this to have any appeal. Certainly, according to a recent skin examination, I qualify for membership.

Eventually the sweet stench of fermenting real estate will pass, the water stains and the patched up woodwork will be nothing more than memories, and the last redneck of the inner north eastern suburbs will be moved on to more marginal pastures. Lower-middle class aspirants, overworked and underpaid will be crammed into the new confines, with kids, if any, left with little space to play.

The memories are already fading: The Friday night chip shop dinners, and Saturday rental VHS binges still dressed in bedclothes; the last of the NEO GEO arcade games; dropping into the O.G. Book Exchange on the walk home from Klemzig; trying to replicate Keith Floyd dishes off of SBS as a teenager in a rickety kitchen; wanting to try Lumpy’s Pizza and never getting around to it before it was too late.

How many other memories of the area will erode, undocumented, lost to time, unable to be shared? Rotted away along with the last of the prefabs.

~ Bruce

The spokesperson and the punters

A number of years ago I attended a book launch by a local, self-published author with a disability. While I hadn’t known them for very long, being new to local writing communities, I wanted to see what was up, and on some level show support. At this juncture, I was still denying that inner voice that was telling me that something was wrong, and instead telling myself that the odd quirks and signs of passive aggression were not worthy of consideration.

So what? Some people are weird. Artists particularly, right?

Besides, if their work was serious enough to attract an arts grant in the first place, it couldn’t have been all that bad, could it? (Stop laughing.)

Initially I had a little trouble mentally digesting what I saw. Precisely nobody in attendance acted as if anything was untoward. There wasn’t so much as an awkward shuffle in a seat. And if there’s been a word of criticism voiced anywhere by anyone I saw in attendance, it’s been behind doors or somewhere else where us normies aren’t free ranging.

What resulted from this book launch I’d later incorporate, along with other displays of cynicism from local wannabe “activist” artists, into a mental architype of the cynical, neoliberal spokesperson who co-opts progressive language purely for marketing purposes.

“Nobody notices your artifice, or at least, if they do, they don’t want to be the only one who’s calling you on your shit – that’s a one way trip to lonely-town. ”

(‘Tricks in Neoliberal Culture #001: Affirming Values Through Compliments’, 2014)

It’s possibly worth noting that while this piece was well received among a number of friends in the “scene” at the time, aside from those I’ve confided in, all guesses as to who I was talking about have been wrong. People have assumed I was writing about an activist/artist that they just happen to hate. One activist/artist wrongly assumed that I was writing about them – although in that case I’ll take it as a confession. The truth is, the architype was a gestalt of a number of local artists/spokespersons; of both sexes, all middle-to-upper-middle class, all white, and all so incredibly vain.

But back to that book launch.

So, what would you expect from a book written by someone with a given disability, spruiked as the work of someone who was a spokesperson for others with that same disability? What would you expect if the point was made in the lead-up that said spokesperson had lead discussion in focus groups?

You’d expect discussion of the interests of that group of people, right?

Well, the book it turned out, was a memoir, and the perspectives of others with the disability in question – a disability known for its capacity to manifest different symptoms and difficulties from person to person – were completely absent. Moreover, the memoir made it clear that the author was actually living the good life; no economic hardship; good quality of life; excellent prognosis.

What policy exactly would one feel inclined to support after hearing this “advocacy”? Your guess is a good as mine. And probably as good as the guesses of all those folks in the focus groups who’s views weren’t represented in the final product.

Notably, the launch was presided over by a chap from the state government, who praised the author for the high quality of their advocacy work (without providing a single example of said work). You have take a bit of time out to consider what the guy’s interest was in all of this.

Serious advocacy for people with a given disability, by rights, should make people responsible for relevant government services at least a little anxious. Yet the content of the book, and all discussion at the launch, was completely absent of any discussion of government involvement, other than in its role in complimenting the author.

I’m not saying the bureaucrat should have been harangued or abused. There is, for example, no need for activists to call him names or leave a turd in his letterbox. But serious activism is going to raise questions that on some level people like him are going to feel uncomfortable with being raised, if only because it invites consideration of existing efforts.

If all advocacy consisted of such fluff as was on display at the launch – if it were all just solipsistic memoirs from people who are doing fine, actually – government would certainly have a much easier time.

“Hey, we’re cutting back disability services. Could you distract people by talking about what you name your socks again? Thanks! We love your advocacy work! Love, The Government.”

So no, there’s no salacious tale here. Just an anecdote about banal self-regard dressed up as disability activism, and the role and interests of state power in promoting it instead of discussion of actual, material problems.

This is a problem. Tell anyone who’s material issues are being distracted from on account of this kind of thing that it isn’t, and I hope they give you a serve.

Asking around those in more pro-active roles, revealed that it was a given that author was a flake. “Flake” was literally the word used. There was a repeated inference of “why bring it up? It’s so obvious. It’s no secret!”, as if author/spokesperson was a well-known running joke.

This was obviously true. It wasn’t a secret. And it’s not like I expect people to obsess over it either (if I did, I probably would have addressed it more directly, sooner, and then banged on about it ad infinitum).

I can’t fault people for laughing, and then getting on with their lives either.

Only, if you raised this issue with the rank and file members of a number of local writers groups, there’d be gasps, and silence, and people shocked at your audacity, and a whole heap of gossiping about you behind your back. How very well dare you?

Depending on which group you wind up in – some are better than others – you may very well be required to ignore the evidence of your eyes.

“Nothing is wrong! Why, there was even a man from the government saying it was all wonderful! Has a man from the government ever called you wonderful? No! *Sniff*”

There’s no master list of which writing groups to avoid, and arguably there shouldn’t be. But you have to feel, especially for the younger ones, those with a chest full of energy and a head full of good intentions, who go into these things not realizing the nature of the culture they’re immersing themselves into, only for them to find out the hard way.

Meanwhile, the self-regarding, disingenuous sorts remain an almost protected species.

~ Bruce

Polished public figure

A friend and I have just had a brief discussion about a political candidate we’ve had interactions with going back almost a decade – back from before their political career. Said candidate has had a long track record of getting involved with various movements. Although if you went looking for specifics on his views, such as the whys and wherefores of his positions on a range of issues – the kinds of considerations you need to make to actually formulate policy – you’d not actually find much publicly available, if at all.

Bromides. Sentiment. Boilerplate statements. Glib.

Zero scandals. Zero analysis, too.

How does a politician commit when they don’t give you much in the way of details to be committed to? Perhaps when they appear to have a personal stake. Although without the pertinent personal details it’s not really possible to know how true that is, and I don’t want to burrow too far into that side of his life.

At any rate, there’s only a single policy area he’s advocated for that he seems to have a personal stake in. What about all the others?

Maybe – and I’m just putting this out there – maybe on the level of local politics he’s committed himself to things that the rest of the country isn’t privy to. That’s a possibility. But he isn’t running for local council. It’s not unfair to want to scrutinize him in light of a broader context.

Said political candidate became a topic of discussion between friend and I after he weighed in on a controversial topic my friend has been studying at great length. This he did by sharing a memefied bit of rote social justice advice, lavishing superlatives upon the party ally he shared it from. Again, no evidence of consideration or reflection was evident.

Rote. Marketable.

Understandably discussion with my friend didn’t go on for long. There was hardly a surfeit of details to consider.

I haven’t read much of politician’s writing, because to be fair he hasn’t written terribly much. What I have read of it is all motherhood statement and declaration of intent to further certain issues and outlooks – and that (but not how) he will do the job. Oddly enough, he doesn’t further any of these issues themselves in writing. This is odd, because at the very least he’s been willing to write about himself in relation to these issues. You’d think the issues themselves would be relevant.

I once attended a talk he gave. He introduced himself as an activist in relation to a given, loosely-defined movement that had some momentum going at the time. The objectives of the movement were barely referenced, much less discussed at length. He talked about himself and that was more or less the sum of it. Upon reflection, I should have been less charitable at the time.

Digging around for why this guy was even on the stage to begin with didn’t help much. People were impressed with him but I wanted to know why. It turns out that the impressive thing about him was probably his ability for people to be impressed by him. People would literally reference other people being impressed by him, to answer any question of why the guy was impressive to begin with.

It was being impressed all the way down, or at least, if there was something material at the base of this apparent recursion of regard that set the cycle in motion, I couldn’t find it.

But you don’t get the feeling that the guy’s a narcissist, or at least, not the grandiose kind. There’s no imminent doom of him exploding in a fit of rage. Not a snarl, nor a twitch. There’s self-regard, but not terribly much in the way of aggrandizement.

He’s even friendly. But he’s calm. Too calm. Calm when a human should be frustrated or excited just a little. And he doesn’t seem terribly curious, which is odd, because a lot of the people in the demographics he seeks to serve could face an array of potential consequences based on the specifics of the policy areas he’s professed an interest in.

It’s almost as if he doesn’t actually care. It’s almost as if every time he’s made a display of associating with a cause or an organization it’s been nothing more than a branding exercise, and any decision to stick it out (or quietly disassociate) has been purely on the basis of PR.

It’s almost as if there’s nothing to the guy. If not the violence, at least Christian Bale’s line from American Psycho is evoked; “…I am simply not there”.

To infer anything about the guy’s inner political mind, you can’t look to his largely threadbare political statements. There’s just not enough of that to work with. You have to look to the kinds of conversations you know he has to have participated in behind closed doors, and to the decisions he’s made subsequently. In as far as you can infer moral decision making from this, though, in his case you still can’t distinguish morality from marketability; the possibly moral is also the definitely marketable in all cases. Or at least, in all of the cases I’m aware of using the limited privileged information I have available.

He’s clearly had differences with the directions taken by more than one organization he’s been involved with, and has left them in his past with a career-savvy degree of quiet. Not that grandstanding is what the public needs more of, this kind of silence isn’t what you want from a politician either.

If something was morally significant enough for him to part with former allies, some who’ve themselves gone on to campaign with other parties with sitting members, then it relates to differences the electorate are probably interested in. Why is the electorate being denied these discussions? Why is the substance all behind closed doors, rather than in his public declarations?

It wouldn’t be a bad idea for journalists to quiz him on these matters during future election campaigns. “What was the issue that caused you to part with so-and-so, who has themselves gone on to campaign for such-and-such? What will be the most likely sticking point between your party and theirs when it comes to debating this issue?”

This is, of course, if he found his differences with former allies to be morally significant, rather than just promotionally inconvenient. If his past disaffiliations have been PR motivated, then that’d be politically uninteresting. It’d also possibly leave him standing for nothing given how little else he’s actually put out there.

If this guy stands for something, perhaps in a more local context, then his rather enthusiastic supporters need to sell it to more than just the local electorate and their Facebook friends. At the very least it would let us know just a little more about his party. Presumably they’re proud enough of the guy to want to do this, right?

Alternatively, if they can’t do this because there’s nothing to sell, then perhaps they need to realize they’ve bought into a budding personality cult.

~ Bruce

Big waypoint

I’ve been to hospital before, but I’ve never been in surgery. As of writing, I don’t know how this all is going to pan out, but at some point I’m going to have my gut stitched up soon.

I’ve had an umbilical hernia for years and it’s been getting bigger. Occasionally, my intestines are poking through and starting to get caught, which is dangerous. I’m off to see the surgeon tomorrow and I’ll know more afterward.

What I do know, is that the recovery is supposed to be painful. I’m not looking forward to that, but I keep telling myself that the other side of it all is going to be worth it.

Like a lot of other folks with depression, I’m prone to self neglect and this, as in the cases of a lot of other people with depression, has involved my normalizing the aches, pains and reduced function associated with an accumulation of injuries.

One thing that has stood out as conspicuous, despite my normalizing this kind of thing, is my inability to do a single sit-up. Leg raises? Can do them. Crunches? Ditto. A single sit-up? Nope.

I hadn’t noticed until recently that I actually can’t sit up in bed – I roll out in the morning, and I’ve just got used to it. At one point when I was younger, I’d raise my legs, and just bounce from the bed off of my shoulders, landing standing in what felt like one fluid motion. I can’t recall when that stopped but I can’t do it anymore.

I’m not at all sure how much mobility I’m going to get back, but I expect to at least get some. Obviously the extent of improvement will depend largely on exercise post-recovery, but I’ve already got plans for that.

No doubt during my recovery I’m going to want to write more than usual, which of course will be difficult; I’ll be on my back, mostly. I’ve watched more than one YouTube video of an individual post-hernia repair warning against sitting for extended periods.

At the very least, I’m looking forward to removing one of the largest persistent distractions I’ve had in the last six years, even if it does take me out of the game for a little while.

Hoping to see folks on the other side.

~ Bruce