Why I’m quitting political engagement

Posted by Chris Rosser on Wed 26 June 2019
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”Man is, by nature, a political animal.” Aristotle.

Last month, my house was broken into and my car stolen. This happened in the early hours of the morning of Australia’s federal election. Anecdotally, I’ve heard that such misfortunes often influence a voter’s behaviour to cast their vote more conservatively — i.e. to right side of the political spectrum, which generally stands for tougher punishments for crime.

Not me. I voted for Australian Labor, a party that attempted to win the election on the back of wide-ranging social reforms and a strong stance on climate change action. I did so because I am socially and economically progressive, and I believe climate change is the greatest challenge currently faced by our species.

I had also hoped — a hope fostered by my wife — that we were seeing the last gasp of conservative thinking. Surely, we thought, the tide would turn and the legions of newly enfranchised youth who’ve marched passionately for climate action would disrupt the status quo.

Of course, we — and every poll in the country — were wrong. Australia’s conservative Liberal/National coalition was voted back into power for another three year term with a comfortable majority. Watching the election coverage unfold, made me ask hard questions, not only about my actions during the election and but also in the weeks that followed.

My vote for Labor was unusual for me. In Australia, I have voted for the Greens in Australia almost all my adult life. With Labor’s defeat, the party is backflipping and remodelling itself into…I dunno what, but I ain’t voting for them again.

I’ve always been fairly politically active, a legacy of my university days where my peers got hot and bothered about the issues of the day, and played politics each year with Student Union Elections. In the May 2019 election, I came out swinging for Labor on social media. Even then, I got a nagging feeling that Labor wasn’t the shoe-in the polls all predicted.

Conservatism is thriving, both here in Australia, as well as my homeland — Brexit Britain — and the United States, a country of which I’m very fond. In fact, it’s hard to think of a time when liberalism ever dominated politics in our respective countries. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, “Republicans own the White House, while Democrats merely rent it.” In the 33 years since I first arrived in Australia, the political landscape has been dominated by the Right. While in the UK, Blair’s New Labour is best described as a fleeting, and botched attempt to engineer society while letting the banks do whatever the hell they wanted.

Here in Australia, Climate Change is a politically loaded issue. Climate and energy policies have resulted in a turn over of prime ministers, the like of which Australia has never seen. It is a toxic issue, not least because Australia is one of the world’s largest exporters of coal. Digging up coal keeps rural Queenslanders employed and our politicians have learnt the hard way to heed the wishes of Queenslanders.

Similarly, the issue of gay rights -- those elements of society who feel entitled to spew hate and discriminate against the LGBQTI community on religious grounds — is still unfinished business to likes of Lyle Sheldon and Israel Folau. Free speech is not constitutionally protected in Australia, yet like in other parts of the world it’s used to justify discourse that quite frankly, we’d all be better off without.

As for the refugee debate…fuck that makes my blood boil, and both sides of politics have blood on their hands.

In championing liberal values of tolerance and inclusion, and taking a stance against Adani and coal, for daring to speak out against Brexit, I’ve been labelled with just about every ad hominem attack on Twitter and Facebook. At first, most of them made me chuckle, but mostly now I just despair at humanity and the tidal forces pulling our societies apart.

Honestly, I’ve enough of fighting the good fight.

Politics does not put food on my table. Taking a stand on climate change or human rights doesn’t sell more books. Rather, I’ve come to believe that shouting across the chasm to those on the other side via social media, only makes me as bad as them. I don’t want to add needless noise to an already toxic public discourse on equally toxic social media platforms.

Admitting defeat is never easy, but admit it I must. I accept that my views are in the minority, and while I thought the zeitgeist had shifted, I was just listening to an echo chamber.

We’ve lost the battle on climate change. At some point we'll realise too late we’ve already crossed the point of no return. We’ll dig up and burn more coal, we’ll heat up the planet and acidify the oceans, we’ll pass the buck to our children and our children’s children until we reach the end of the line.

I don’t want to add needless noise to an already toxic public discourse on equally toxic social media platforms.

If the people who hammer me on Twitter are right, most Australians want to live in a country where a person’s public and vociferous adherence to their faith is more important than the mental health and wellbeing of a vulnerable young person grappling with their sexuality.

Beyond the relative safety of Australia, I see democracies blinking out one-by-one. Runaway capitalism has turned people in to commodities, gutted the middle class and fooled those on the bottom of the heap they can one day be like the rich. While ideology and capitalism rips apart our laws and institutions, totalitarianism and conflict is on the rise. As a historian, I’ve long know we are doomed to repeat the mistakes of our past.

I can’t stop it. I can’t make it better. I can’t even face my children and tell them all will be well. Like a candle in the face of a rising storm, I too will blink out unless I slide down the chasm and find a modicum of shelter.

So, I’m done with it. I’m done with shouting, I’m done selling a message that no one wants to hear. No more politics for me on Twitter or elsewhere. I’m on the losing side, and it stinks, but I’m big enough to accept the realities around me. I can only escape to my craft, and hope I’m dead when the coming hurricane sweeps away all in its path.

Oh, and Aristotle was wrong: man is a tribal animal.

Photo by Marco Oriolesi on Unsplash

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