Monday, 14 January 2019

It's always your political opponents engaging in a culture war

The art of modern political discourse is to treat whatever you issue you care about as either the status quo, or what would be considered the status quo if everyone thought about the issue for more than two seconds. Then any and all criticism can be framed as the opponents of the idea as "playing politics". This is true no matter if your ideas are on the left or right, authoritarian or libertarian, populist or contrarian, etc.

In reality, a culture war always has 2 (or more) sides, and each person engaging in it is playing politics. We have a "my side" bias that makes our own proposition seem inherently reasonable and thus beyond reproach. Those who oppose it are then unreasonable by definition, so they are the ones playing politics to us.

This issue came up in Australian politics with our current Prime Minister Scott Morrison using Twitter to announce that those moving citizenship ceremonies away from Australia Day are playing politics, so the Federal government is mandating that they must be held on Australia Day.

How he could think that he's not playing politics is beyond me, except in the context of the rhetorical device used above. It's playing politics in exactly the same way as those councils that moved the date - it's just that he's on the opposite side of the issue.

There are ways to depoliticise the issue. The most obvious would be to stay out of it and leave it as a matter for local politics. They are elected officials, after all, and the ballot box is as an effective tool on the local level as it is on the federal. So if the voters are genuinely concerned about a change in date, they can do something about it.

Another strategy would be to pick an arbitrary date that takes the issue away from its context. This move is more political than staying out of it, but it takes it away from the cultural narratives that the issue is being fought over and this avoids taking a stand on the issue.

But I'd wager Morrison doesn't want to avoid taking a stand. He knows full well what's at stake, and thus is taking a side that will serve him politically. And that should be expected of any politician savvy enough to be elected as leader of his party.

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