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?
There is, of course, the Abbott campaign ploy of talking in zombie pidgin: no complex sentences (preferably no sentences); monosyllabic words; spoken on TV and radio rather than to be read (reading requires more effort). Familiar examples include ‘green tape’, ‘one stop shop’, ‘axe the tax’, ‘extreme greens’ and the more difficult ‘climate change is crap’. This strategy worked so well in the Coalition campaign as a think stopper that Abbott is now running it as his main information control measure in government, with ‘stop the boats’ these days referred to as ‘stop the quotes’ by journalists desperate for scraps of information about asylum seeker arrivals.
But Tony Abbott does not operate alone in this way.
In a crude partnership akin to dancing with the devil, the Tea Party tainted Abbott Government sees sitting in leather chairs beside the big transnational corporations as its rightful place in the world. To the spiritual core of the Liberal Party, transnationals represent the market operating at its best, and for the neoliberal Abbott government, there’s the market and God, and heaven is everything between.
The transnationals on the other hand see the Australian environment more prosaically as a very attractive, under-exploited frontier, with environmental regulations that have long been impediments to their profit ambitions, but which are about to be relaxed by a new government that is only too happy to let these corporations operate on their own terms.
Unfortunately for the average Australian voter, these terms are bound up in the secret negotiating chapters of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a vast free trade deal about to be signed by 12 Pacific Rim nations. The trick is that this so-called free trade deal is not really about trade but rather about bumping the democratic process in each country out of the way of even greater corporate profit-making.
While the TPP negotiations continue with no public access to the texts, 600 transnational corporations in the US have continuous input and access. The Australian public will have no say over the final signing of this attack on our sovereignty, which will give transnationals legal power overAustralia,enabling them to sue us offshore in Washington if our environmental laws offend their interests.
Returning to Michael Albert’s 21st century citizen’s coping strategy, it is clear that the transnationals are attempting to use the TPP to shunt Australian voters even deeper into a state of regulated thought suppression by ensuring that they not only won’t be allowed to ‘hear’ the facts (regardless of whether they want to or not) but will also have no democratic way of ever doing anything about the multitude of environmental and other injustices that will flow from this outrageous ‘trade’ agreement.