Rob Schaap rws at
Mon Oct 23 08:46:44 PDT 2000

G'day Cath,

>i don't know about you rob
>but i, personally, have no natural internalities
>what do yours look like?

I was trying to do a dot-point summary of the homo economicus (the creature you get when you put utilitarian and individualist together) I though Matt was talking about. The inference was supposed to be that one should not conceive of oneself thusly.

>yeah, well it could be old age
>but i don't comprehend the 'libertarian political philosophy' thing at all
>this would be neo-locke or something?

Well, I'd be happy calling it neo-Locke but I'm sure Justin'll put us right.

>oh yes
>we know
>about americans

Fair go, Cath! I said 'American libertarians' - I hear there are upwards of 37 Americans who aren't like that at all!

>so, hey, rob,
>what made you of the ceremonial olympics?
>do tell
>i thought of you several times

Well, I scribbled this to a mate of mine (apologies for pinching some of your words, if you're reading this, mate of mine!) on another list at the time ...

... I've always liked Cathy Freeman, and thought they'd put waaaay too much on her shoulders with all that media hype, never mind the cauldron-lighting (which everone apparently thought was a wonderful thing). But the way we all went berserk about her winning that race was as bemusing to me as it obviously was to her. I remember feeling a bit like that when we all went bonkers on the occasion of Di's demise (but at least I like Freeman). Can't quite place my misgivings, but there's something worryingly hysterical about it all, anyway.

And all that bollocks about reconciliation being so advanced by all this! In what way, exactly? I mean, what's 'reconciliation' such that getting an Aboriginee to light the flame, or cheering an Aboriginee's win, or having some themes and 'sorry' bits in the ceremonies, advances it? Shit, we've all been thereabouts for years, I reckon. Nothing new in the symbolism (after all, wasn't Sitting Bull a fixture at Barnum's Circus?) nothing new in Redfern (where people were chased away to keep the area pretty for our visitors) or out in the sticks (where they're still dying at fifty). Nothing particularly bad necessarily happened - I'll grant that - but what happened that was so wonderfully good? We've had national heroes from ethnic minorities for a long time - and casually maligned and marginalised their ethnic groups all the while. How the mainstream responds to Ruddock and his ilk - there's the measure, and there's the way to advance, I reckon.

The drugs business was remarkably well managed by the PR suits. Nobody really reckons the games were clean (or even could be), but bubbling cynicism has been well managed to date. That we could not test for EPO and HGH (not so's we'd actually catch anyone, anyway), THE singularly most important doping agents of our day - both for institutional/political rather than technological reasons - well, Sydney proved that the IOC can control that one without actually having to bite any bullets. Maybe drugs just don't matter that much to the punters. Don't s'pose I really give a toss, meself. As long as Togoan athletes have the same access as we do, anyway.

Just seems a pity we take medals off kids for having a cold, that's all. After all, all the blood-dopers, HGH- and EPO-enriched types still have theirs ...

And I reckon Ozzie must have a real inferiority complex if its self-concept depended so much on whether 'we'd' get the Olympics right. We are, and have long been, one of the most smoothly run societies on the planet (a mixed blessing, for mine). Why on earth would we do this worse than a poor country (who'd not be able to afford it), or one like the US (where government doesn't have the coordinating clout Australians still expect in such things, and where relations are more contractual than here)? Australia is in fact precisely good at stuff like this. And we should ask ourselves why, I reckon. It's because we still have the institutions and customs that make us good at 'em. We're losing 'em, of course, but it's all relative, eh? And mebbe we should consider not losing 'em ...

As for the media coverage, I would have loved some of the events if I'd got to see them (the football, the handball, proper volleyball, and the water polo - the real sports). Channel 7 showed heaps of shit while real stuff was happening, and, but for Bruce the Peerless, had commentators whose understanding, even-handedness and vocabulary were outrageously lacking. The ABC callers were a little better, but copped their bouquets only because the competition was so appalling. As a sports event, it was a huge flop for those of us who had to resort to the media. A hearty Dutch Wink to HG & Roy, who weren't nearly as good as they were in their Jays days, but were the most interesting thing going, tellywise - a big bouquet for Kerry Stokes there - this is precisely the sort of vision Packer doesn't have (most of the latter's being to do with emulating long-established American practices in local circumstances - right down to making cricket approximate baseball).

I admit, I'm speaking as a rare creature who does not find interesting in the slightest a bunch of people swimming and running in straight lines in separate lanes (although, alas, I still know more about it than poor Dennis Commetti does). The longer races are okay, because there you get to see some thinking and jostling happening, like in real sport.


>Come on, Rob! Australia's national anxieties might have been on show for
>the past fortnight, but aren't our (yours and mine) class ones just as

I'm pretty silly, but I'd always considered my each and every anxiety a paragon in its field. To worry about social trends in a country beset by ever-more fragile national accounts, ever-starker social divisions, rising suicide levels, rising bankruptcy levels, rising OD mortality, big capital almost entirely off the democratic leash our polity had assumed its necessary and ethical right for nearly a century, aboriginal infant and general mortality and glaucoma rates at Ethiopian levels, ever greater inequity in wealth, health and education - well, you gotta admit, they're cutting-edge, gold-plated anxieties.

>Well it's all a bit uncool for a start, isn't it? I mean we 'new class'
>types aren't exactly comfortable with emotions at the best of times, are we,
>and mix in a bit of nationalism and all our alarm systems go off at once.

Didn't say that, meself. I'm not asking for 'cool' - just for some speculation as to why Cathy Freeman copped a heap of pressure and adoration no-one else copped. She'd become a medium through whom we were projecting a whole heap of stuff we weren't imposing on, say, the gold-medallists in the Madison bike race. Part of it was media hype, part that strange (but popular) decision to get the lass to light the fire, and part was that she's just a really nice woman. Why the hype, though? Why a participant for the flame ceremony? And is Cathy Freeman THAT much nicer or more charismatic than other gold medallists? What would have happened if Perec had stayed and won? Why did Perec bolt? I mean, Freeman was turned into the star - she said before and afterwards that she didn't like this very much and that it wasn't really appropriate on principle (although that last was cut from the channel seven replays. I don't get it - and there's something about it that mnakes me feel uncomfortable. There are sound reasons in Australia for a certain expression of nationalism - but it's gotta be the right kind (eg. not xenophobia and not adolescent insecurity)and it's gotta come from below rather than from on-high (not produced by an integrated PR campaign). I just ain't quite convinced that's what I was seeing, that's all.

>After that, we can come up with all sorts of rationalisations for
>not involving ourselves in the general "hysteria" (which the 'lower-downs'
>are likely to characterise as 'fun'). We are much more comfortable sitting
>back and cooly analysing. Not the whole story, but part maybe?

It's easy for me to sit back at Olympics time - never did take it seriously. I go wall-biting mad at EuroNations Cup or World Cup time, though. There might be a lot that's ugly about what the passions peculiar to international football can lead people to do, but at least we're knowledgeable and constant. No-one gives a toss, nor knows a thing, about 400m races. When we go bonkers about one, something has happened to us. When we go bonkers about a football match, it's because we're footballers and/or experienced appreciators - ie we're always bonkers about football. It's still tribal - but it's not JUST tribal. Murdoch has spent several billion dollars on Rugby League, and all he's done is decimate gates and TV ratings. Clearly, the media ain't in quite the same control there as they are when it comes to a selected one-off event in which an Australian might actually win.

>So we did good, eh? But we're not allowed to be proud of ourselves? We
>just have to speculate about our "inferitority complex"? We have to cast
>aspersions on "one of the most smoothly run societies on the planet"? We
>have to knowingly remind ourselves of our many failures lest it be suggested
>that we had missed something? To praise would be to condone, to condone to
>applaud, to applaud to let down our guards?

Er, yeah, 'we' did good. At running a sporting event. Not fixing anything we've broken. Not making anything new. Just running a biggish sporting event of two weeks' duration. And I was pretty sure we'd do good. Many Australians obviously were not, else they'd not be so demonstrably relieved. And it mattered a lot to them. Else it wouldn't still be news.

More than fixing things we've broken or making new things. And we're asked to pat ourselves on the shoulder - not reflect on why we do such things well. To do the latter would be, I submit, to realise we stand to lose much of what made us so good at running the thing - ie. a mode of society that still predates the contractual (we really are typically friendly and laid back, you know - we wogs know this better than you Strines) and a default setting for big jobs that assumes government coordinating authority, harsh public accountability of the concomitant agency, and questions the capacity of the market alone to integrate complex structures and mechanisms.

>Yeah, Roy and HG are safe, aren't they? The smooth interface between
>lower-order enthusiams and knowing new class anxiety? Roy and HG, making
>the Olympics safe for the new class! Just like Clarke and Dawe.

Roy and HG directly attacked merchandising, cultural hegemony and generalised commodification. Every night for two weeks, Fatso drew the public gaze at importantly wrong stuff and the possibility of alternatives. Fatso didn't just criticise, he won. That's good, innit? Proves we have a media - commercial as it is - that still tolerates what NBC would not. And that we respond knowingly and positively to stuff that takes the Michael out of the ruling order. And HG & Roy reminded us we were just watching good athletes go around - the quasi-religious tone the media had set up for us was undermined with every Dutch Wink, every dog's-breakfast-with-pike, and every lump of minced wedding tackle. I don't see why such (admittedly drearily expressed) observations cast me as an ironically knowing sage, nor why I should seek a comfy interface with some other class's aesthetics.

And nothing makes the Olympics safe! That's what I've been trying to say! We're heading towards a social formation where great lumps of the population will be unnecessary for production and concomitantly politically and socially marginalised, undereducated and unfulfilled. That was the case in imperial Rome once, too. Remember the phrase 'bread and circuses'?

Yours recalcitrantly unmoved, Rob.

More information about the lbo-talk mailing list