When Covid-19 hit, I’d been questioning for a very long time what glued collectively the disparate positions of the spiritual proper in Australia: for deregulation but additionally huge taxpayer subsidy; free of charge enterprise but additionally in opposition to the free motion of labour; for the equality of all freedoms so long as one, faith, is extra equal than others; for “our youngsters’s future” but additionally in opposition to local weather science.
Throughout the coronavirus disaster, the patterns started to repeat: divergent positions coalescing underneath an intellectually amorphous however readily identifiable tribal banner. What unified that tribe was, for need of a greater phrase, a contrarianism, what rude adherents would possibly name an “up yours” to political correctness.
individual to observe as a bellwether of this tribalism is Mark Latham. Nobody in Australian public life higher embodies the precept of up yours.
Latham took up Labor politics as an up yours to privileged folks. He then stop Labor as an up yours to Labor. He moved into media commentary and adopted a pose of up yours to his private enemies, earlier than broadening his stance to a basic up yours to political correctness. He stated up yours to his personal backers and misplaced his job, greater than as soon as. Then he went in the hunt for a political celebration that represented the spirit of up yours, and now, representing Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, sits on the New South Wales legislative council, from which he can say up yours to just about everybody.
On 24 January 2020, the day the primary individual examined constructive for Covid-19 in Australia, Latham tweeted: “Let me guess. Coronavirus is attributable to local weather change.” He was retweeted 345 occasions and acquired 468 replies. Two weeks later, he harnessed it to a different culture-war hobbyhorse: Asian immigration. On 7 February, he tweeted: “So WHO declares a worldwide well being emergency over Coronavirus and Australian universities plan to carry 10s of hundreds of Chinese language college students right here to be quarantined in ‘regional ‘amenities’, having handed by our airports/transport system. Pure nuts Unis = cash churning centres.”
Three days later, he was making Latham jokes once more: “Issues we hate within the suburbs, in ascending order: Visitors jams, Cancelled trains, Asbestos, Secure Faculties program, Coronavirus, Most cancers, Hollywood moralising, The Greens.”
Because the Covid-19 outbreak escalated, @RealMarkLatham targeted his energies on selling nuclear power, realizing greater than anybody else about home violence, attacking the ABC, the Greens and the NSW Division of Training (particularly, for permitting “our” college students to fall behind “youngsters of migrants”), and – one other of his menagerie of pet matters – the Israel Folau case.
Replying to a Day by day Telegraph story about Christian rugby gamers feeling “muzzled” by the banning of Folau, Latham wrote on 26 February: “Equally, how should the NRL Islander gamers of their prayer circles after each recreation really feel concerning the NRL banning of Folau? That is what multiculturalism seems like, in Minto and past.” And, commensurately, on 28 February, he discovered time to belittle Ian Thorpe: “Ian Thorpe: we’d like human rights for all, together with homosexual rights. Ian Thorpe: human rights should not embrace spiritual rights.”
When the tally of world coronavirus instances handed 80,00zero, Latham was echoing Donald Trump and dog-whistling the “Wuhan sickness” (as a part of a tweet rubbishing the Nationwide Rugby League for selling Indigenous footballer Latrell Mitchell because the face of its promoting marketing campaign).
Coronavirus had grow to be a facemask over Latham’s tradition struggle, which he determined should not be allowed to lapse whereas the world was coping with a lethal pandemic. On 20 March, he responded to an article on a clean-energy web site which reminded the world that the “curve” of carbon emissions additionally wanted to be “flattened”. Latham retorted: “It needed to come: How CoronaVirus response is de facto all about local weather change coverage!!!”
Quickly we have been to be swamped once more by Twitter wars over George Pell, allegedly offensive TV exhibits and political cartoons, statues, historic names, Man Sebastian … The coronavirus hadn’t killed the tradition wars, it had solely despatched them right into a momentary recess, and after they resumed, their tang had been sharpened by the disaster.
“It’s the uncommon fortune of lately that one might imagine what one likes and say what one thinks.” So wrote the Roman historian Tacitus, a century after Christ. His response to that “uncommon fortune” was to maintain his prose tight and to the purpose: he was recognized for his economic system of expression, fathering the outline “taciturn”. Would that Tacitus was our overriding spirit right now.
As an alternative, our verbal diarrhoea promotes bizarre strains of conformity. All that up yours and but a lot herd behaviour. The free-speech proper, at least the PC-left, resemble no historic tribe so intently because the Monty Python gag: “Repeat after me: we’re ALL INDIVIDUALS!”
When it got here to adapting their cultural hobbyhorses to Covid-19, the insurgent proper was complaining concerning the erosion of liberties and the overkill of restrictions. The Institute of Public Affairs’ director, John Roskam, was calling Australia a “police state”, writing: “25 million Australians have been positioned underneath indefinite home arrest, youngsters’s playgrounds are locked and patrolled by safety guards, and the police fly drones over seashores and parks.” He likened Victoria to “the worst socialist regimes”, even Nationwide Socialist. He praised Donald Trump for promising to cease donating US funds to the World Well being Organisation, whereas criticising the Australian authorities for the “debilitating debt” its well being measures have been lumping on taxpayers.
The best’s give attention to private liberties was unsurprising, and certainly trustworthy to rules of libertarian politics. What was actually arresting, although, was the affirmation of a sample seen throughout the Israel Folau saga: it was not the left however the precise that now channelled the power of radical, unfocused, up-yours political protest in Australia. Who was calling on folks to eschew face masks and “large brother” contact tracing apps, to disregard fines? Not union leaders or Inexperienced politicians. Civil disobedience was owned by the precise.
Maybe most revealing was the looks, on 10 Could 2020, of Australia’s first political protest in opposition to the coronavirus lockdown: it was Melbourne properwingers who have been out on the streets, on the steps of Melbourne City Corridor, bearing placards about combating for his or her rights, blaming China and the 5G community for the virus, opposing vaccinations and, for causes finest recognized to themselves, breaking right into a chant of “Lock up Invoice Gates”. Progressives have been at residence following the principles whereas conservatives out getting arrested by police.
Later, those self same coronasceptics carried out a U-turn to criticise premier Daniel Andrews for not supervising resort quarantine intently sufficient, permitting a brand new outbreak of the illness. The one strategy to reconcile these 180-degree reverses is to acknowledge that incoherence is itself a type of up yours.
Australian political radicalism now wore the Southern Cross and the Union Jack, previously the nationwide image of anti-radicalism. Even the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 have been an exception that proved the brand new rule. These protests have been directed in opposition to a particular racism, spurred by the loss of life of George Floyd within the US, and their targets had names: police brutality, deaths in custody, institutional racism.
The protests of the precise, alternatively, have been protests in opposition to every little thing. They delivered to thoughts Marlon Brando’s character Johnny within the movie The Wild One. Requested “What are you rebelling in opposition to?”, Johnny replies: “Whattaya acquired?” In 1953, Johnny was a forerunner of a technology of progressive protest. Right this moment, his character would belong to the alt-right. Missing a particular enemy, this type of rage by no means spends its power. The job of combating every little thing can by no means be accomplished.