Like the hellish Darwinian playground it seeks to create, last week’s Budget is full of swings and roundabouts. On one hand, there have been massive cuts to Quality of Life and Hope, but on the other, increased spending for Wailing and Gnashing of Teeth. But it’s not all hungry pensioners and rivers of blood. Diamond Joe Hockey was so overjoyed by his own fiscal prudence that he danced in his office before giving his speech, a heartwarming moment that the Now I Wanna Be Your Blog team has captured exclusive footage of.
I’m not going to wax listicle on this macabre menu of suffering. It’s too depressing, too late and other people have already covered it vastly better than I could. I highly recommend this brilliant breakdown on The Vine, this ingenious dissection by Guy Rundle or this glorious tirade by Mike Carlton. Nor will I discuss about the horrors that seem to be getting less coverage, like the thousands of people who will die because of the $7.5 billion cut from Foreign Aid, or the women and young people across Australia who will be forced to stay in or return to abusive homes if they want to survive.
I will talk about something I’m trying to wrap my head around. Why would somebody with a huge influence over the fate of society choose to use it to make people’s lives worse? Who are these people? Although soda siphons of pop psychology are spent analysing politicians, it’s a pretty pointless task. To an even greater extent than other celebrities, their public characters are schizoid performances in a hall of mirrors.
Joe Hockey, for instance, has at least two very different personae. There’s the ruthless fiscal Mr Freeze who emerged, scowling, in the last year or two of Liberal Opposition. I like to call him Ice Hockey. Then there’s the decent, avuncular bloke who puts a sad, sympathetic hand on your shoulder when he delivers the news that you have to have your tonsils out. I like to call him Tonsil Hockey. Ice Hockey, who came into being as the weight fell away, didn’t play that well outside of Parliament because the opposition’s über-oppositional strategy made him come across as genuinely intimidating. In contrast, jolly Tonsil Hockey honed his teddy bear schtick back in the Howard years, cracking wise with K-Rudd on Sunrise. He has a rare ability to stay likeable while defending indefensibly heinous policies, which is why he’s one of the Government’s most effective media communicators. In fact, I would bet $534,000,000 in funding for Indigenous Australians that Jovial Joe will be PM within the next five years.
Meanwhile, his jaundiced boss increasingly resembles a muttering ghoul sewn together from pieces of dead murderers. Spiritually speaking, I mean. Of course, that’s no reason to bang on about him smirking and winking at the idea of a sick old woman resorting to sex work to make ends meet. It’s not as if his actions are somehow a reflection of his values. For all we know, he could have been winking because the caller was just John Faine doing a voice.
Actually, we don’t know if Abbott’s actions reflect his values, or why he does anything he does. It’s tempting for the victims of this budget to attribute it to sheer malice. Maybe the Liberals and their sponsors are all sadistic sociopaths motivated by a genuine contempt for the vulnerable. There’s a part of me that would like to believe that, but it isn’t true. Villains don’t exist, and people usually cause harm from ignorance, sometimes from pain and never from evil.
The opposite view is that they have good intentions, and that whole Small Council sincerely think they’re doing what’s best for the people they’re targeting. Perhaps the Commissioners of Audit/Commission of Auditors/League of Shadows really believe in the made-up budget emergency, trickle-down economics and that the disadvantaged have themselves to blame. But that would require a level of cognitive dissonance that would make them more or less psychotic. Everything about this government oozes so rancidly with cynicism that it’s hard to believe there are lofty ideals at its core.
We don’t know and we can’t know, but I suspect we give them too much credit. What if these politicians and lobbyists simply aren’t that bright, especially when it comes to empathy and self awareness? I think they’re just people who haven’t examined their privilege and at some stage or another became the vapid marionettes of fundamentally inhuman power structures. Corporations, patriarchies and nation states aren’t controlled by people. It’s the other way around. They are unconscious, self propagating systems that replace the humans who comprise them like a jellyfish replaces its cells.
Anthony Abbott isn’t the mastermind of this budget and neither is Joseph Hockey. There is no mastermind. They are the little green plastic diver in Mouse Trap who jumps after a certain sequence of mechanical events. And to ring the last drops from an impoverished metaphor, we’re the little plastic mice, waiting, motionless as the plastic cage comes down.