Earlier today the Australian Prime Minister released an astonishingly tone-deaf advert – branded as Liberal Party – spruiking the role of “Our Defence Forces”. As the Guardian noted, it met with derision from the Australian Defence Association and Piers Morgan.
In this short piece I want to explore what I think is going on, and what it tells us about what is coming
Firstly, this comes from a place of fear and desperation. It’s rare to see so many spectacular own goals, especially from an “expert” in marketing. From the secretive holiday to Hawaii, to the forced handshake, these are signs of a man just out of his depth, and flailing – trying all the repertoires he can think of to recover to a position of safety and predictability (1). The expert in marketing turns out to be, well, not very good at marketing. Oops. Seen.
What is left for him to reach for? Only the strong man, the purveyor military action. Recently Laura Tingle wrote a brilliant piece saying that these fires might be Morrison’s equivalent of Dubya’s Hurricane Katrina. There’s a connection here, to Dubya’s dad. When the Rodney King riots kicked off in 1992, and black bodies, usually containable if not ever particularly docile, threatened The Natural Order, Bush took relish in announcing that he was mobilising the military (2)
So far, so cod-Freudian.
But there is a deeper strand, beyond the Trumps of this world and their fascination for military parades (3).
As Amitav Ghosh notes in his magnificent The Great Derangement (seriously, you MUST read this book), a) climate change is a beast that simply can’t be contained within the bourgeois narratives of individual action (and so is terrifying to those who need to be In Control and b) States gonna use (indeed are using) their security forces to crack dissident heads.
What we are seeing here is the early-ish stages of this. The military as saviour, the military as protector (though protector of what is usually a good question).
It’s a way of coping with short-term political problems, and longer-term security problems. It will probably not “succeed” in helping Morrison, and it will certainly not succeed in helping this species unfuck the world. For that we need democracy, avivocracy, the people who have the privilege of freedom of speech, assembly and information to get up on their hindlegs and refuse to back down. Also, we’re gonna need hella lot luck, around climate sensitivity and ecosystems fraying but not snapping. If I were a betting man…
Help me (and everyone else) out – if there are other thinkers you think have particularly important things to say about the links between white patriarchy, contempt for nature/women/people of colour and especially ‘what is to be done?’ add them in the comments. I have failed, for example, to weave Cynthia Enloe’s great work into this blog…
(1) At the end of Terminator 2 (spoilers, obvs, but it’s been 30 years) the T1000 desperately runs through all previous disguises as it boils alive. I overuse this image, but damn that is an amazing movie to think with.
(2) To be fair, Bush Snr had lied about his age to join the war effort, and was shot down over the Pacific.
(3) Samuel Johnson wrote “Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier, or not having been at sea.” Trump, at least superficially, cannot think meanly of himself. But what might be going on below that surface?