Troll the People

The Australian Government has some nerve. Last week, the Australian High Court ruled that refugees sent to Australia for medical reasons can be legally deported back to Nauru, and nothing the Government has said since then has expressed any intention to the contrary. Today, the Foreign Minister announced as part of some sick joke that Philip Ruddock, who as Immigration Minister shared no small part in furthering the policy and infrastructure of mandatory offshore detention for incoming refugees, would become Australia’s first special envoy for human rights upon retirement.

This twisted irony should not come as a surprise from a government which previously appointed its sexist former Prime Minister Tony Abbot as Minister for Women, and which is backing a 50% increase in the Goods and Services Tax after spending successive election campaigns attacking any Labor policy that looked anything like a tax.

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Philip Ruddock. Credit: SBS

There’s a short piece doing the rounds about Philip Ruddock’s coming appointment by Osman Faruqi, who I take it is closely affiliated with the Australian Greens. I would like to quote the first and last paragraphs for the purpose of this post.

‘Politics, particularly within our major political parties, has always been a profession that attracts parasites and crooks, drawn to the public purse like leeches to an open wound…

…And that’s why the whole system is a troll. The only thing they’re really good at, the only thing they’ve really shown “dedication” too is taking the public for a ride.’

As a critical piece with some structural analysis, moreover one coming from someone involved in institutional politics, this just isn’t good enough. In its failure to suggest any way forward it is little better than a broad outrage piece.

As such, it falls into the precise trap which Adam Curtis warns about in his clip concerning non-linear warfare. It’s a short one and I highly recommend it. There’s a few things wrong with how it elides certain instances of ideological dissonance, but its central message, which it takes from a book by Peter Pomerantsev, is an important and accurate one.

Institutional politics has become a spectacle, which is nothing new, but at some point in the process of its becoming independent from the dreams, demands, and antagonisms of the broad populace, it emerged that the best way to sustain the power of the spectacle is to make it one which constantly confuses its audiences, hindering their ability to create a coherent picture of power.

Such strategies are symptomatic of a time when the art of statecraft has become so closely tied to media and the Arts itself, while the definition of politics remains unchallenged. Vladislav Surkov, whom the clip is about, came into renown in the Russian avant-garde art world, and brought his post-modern strategies in the name of “non-linear warfare” into Putin’s political arsenal. We normally associate post-modernity with the decline of grand political narratives; what this strategy does is to deny non-governmental actors access to even the antagonistic domains from which they can contest power, thereby shutting them out from any meaningful role within the hegemonic power structure.

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Vladislav Surkov with Vladimir Putin. Credit: The Atlantic

Of course, such a strategy works best when politically-minded actors buy into the assumptions of hegemony and their consciousness comes to depend on the government as a point of reference, whether as a point of opposition or a State which is supposed to adhere to one’s demands, rather than building a consciousness based on their own power. Then, the strategy of obfuscation is simple- switch masks quickly and aggressively enough that the people won’t know if the government is friend or enemy, or even which way is up.

That is precisely the trap that liberals fall into when they predicate their demands on the power of the government to solve problems, rather than on the immanent power of the populace itself. Faruqi’s article is entirely symptomatic of this failure. Its tone is that of a rational idealist disappointed in politics, who has not factored himself structurally into this disappointment and failure. March in March was also symptomatic of this failure, as I wrote about previously.

As Adam Curtis suggests, no outrage, guilt or apathy is going to take us further. What we need to do is to see our failures to change policies as a sign not of the failure of the government, but as a sign of the antagonisms within the very power base we appeal to- the people at large. Unless we accept these antagonisms as a fact in the creation of any kind of collective consciousness, and then develop our own ways of negotiating it, and call that politics, we’re never going to wean ourselves off the power of the State and the realm of politics as spectacle.

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