Discussing his memoir Remembering Tomorrow, veteran political activist Michael Albert talks about the stages in public awareness that gave rise to the 60s anti-establishment movements. These included growing realisation that corporations were often crooks and environmental plunderers, governments were not always honourable, politicians told lies, many women suffered physical and sexual abuse, lawyers did not always represent justice, and birds were disappearing.
Sound wearily familiar?
But for people living through the Pollyanna world of the 50s and 60s this was shocking. Environmental movements, along with feminist, black power and anti-war campaigns, quickly sprouted in response. There was growing conviction that things had to change - or be changed.
In the 21st century this is broken. Mass ecocide, corporate corruption, political impropriety and sexual abuse routinely fill-out the 24 hour news cycle. Contrasting the present with the past, Michael Albert believes the average citizen’s propensity now for coping with these daily horrors can be neatly summed up in the statement “I don’t want to hear this because I can’t do anything about it”.
Which, as a self-defence strategy, is tantamount to adopting a state of corpse-like torpor.
But it is voter torpor that has provided fertile ground for backward looking conservatives and development interests wanting to exploit a politically numb and easily spooked public. Following Tony Abbott’s margin-of-one-vote arrival as leader of the Liberal party, and with the willing support of a small army of shock-jocks and lobotomised journalists, conservative spinners and strategists in Australia began the earnest task of eating the brains of their target audiences, cheered on of course by industry interests. The objective was to create a receptive Australia where it would remain possible in the 21st century (as economist John Quiggan puts it in his book Zombie Economics) for dead ideas to continue to ‘walk among us’ – at least until all the coal gets pulled out of the ground.
And certainly, when it comes to zombies - defined variously as ‘animated corpses raised by magical means’ or ‘one who looks or behaves like an automaton’ - who better than zombie puppet-master Abbott to raise the dead and breathe some sort of life back into the decaying political ideas of the extreme right?
So what is the game plan employed by government and industry to keep the undead in a state of unthinking about environmental threats such as climate change and coal ports on the Great Barrier Reef?