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John Passant

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January 2011



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Why education alone won’t change the world

For anyone sick of a world of war, poverty and oppression the common sense solution is that people need to be educated out of backward ideas or ignorant opinions. The theory is that once people are cured of their ignorance, the world will start to function in a more rational and humane way.

Clearly, winning people away from racism, sexism and homophobia to a progressive worldview is crucial to changing the world. We cannot hope to have a humane society if the majority of people hold misogynistic views towards 50 per cent of the population, or are of the opinion that a few thousand refugees on rickety boats are some sort of threat to working class living standards. This is even more important for those who see ordinary people as the ones who can bring about change.

Nevertheless, it is easier said than done. Backward ideas are not only resilient but, like cold sores, they seem to come back. In order to challenge them, it’s important to identify their source. The most common (and elitist) assertion is that uneducated, high school drop-out, western suburb types hold reactionary ideas because they just don’t know any better.

But the reality is that those who promote the most backward ideas and actually have the power to make inhumane decisions generally studied at the best private schools, graduated from the best universities, and are well-travelled and articulate.

For example, Tony Abbott studied at elite private boarding schools such as St Ignatius’ College in Sydney before moving on to the University of Sydney followed by Oxford. The products of his education are pearls of wisdom such as:

It would be folly to expect that women will ever…approach equal representation in a large number of areas. Simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.

…we just can’t stop people from being homeless if that’s their choice…

In the UK, David Cameron’s Conservative coalition is carrying out cuts that make Thatcher look like a social democrat – among them enormous university fee increases from around £3000 to £9000 per year. Having studied philosophy, law and economics at Oxford you might have thought that Cameron would comprehend the inherent value of higher education. Not so.

Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate with an IQ of around 130, obviously has some intellectual capacity. Yet it’s a game of “spot the difference” when comparing his policies with those of George Bush.

These politicians – along with capitalists, high ranking bureaucrats and their networks – run the world in their own class interests and in the interest of a profit-driven system. The fact that they are “educated” does not alter their class position, or their interests in dividing the rest of the population.

The ideas that dominate society don’t come from some pure void within our subconscious. We are not born with instinctive hatred towards difference, or a natural individualism. If anything, as social beings, we are born with opposite tendencies, towards cooperation.

The institutions of the ruling class such as the media, the education system and the legal system offer us a silver platter of “nuanced” and “intelligent” ideas that are designed to do little else than help prop up the system, by making us believe that capitalist society – with its greed, poverty, war, individualism, nations etc. – is both natural and rational.

So working people in western Sydney don’t spontaneously come to the conclusion that a few boats landing 3000 kilometres away will threaten them; it is the media, the Liberal and Labor parties, and the economic concerns they represent that construct reactionary ideas and fears.

This is the reason why people are not bothered by millions of tourists every year, yet are “concerned” by refugee boats. And it is the reason why some people think that Aboriginals and the unemployed exploit the welfare system – while the biggest welfare plunder of all, namely that committed by the rich and powerful, goes largely unquestioned.

On the surface, the fact that the majority of people often accept backward ideas does appear to be an issue of pure ignorance. But on the other hand, we live in an age where information and facts have never been more readily available. And in fact, most people are cynical about the mainstream press and the words that come out of politicians’ mouths. With all the political manipulation surrounding the Wikileaks case, the majority see it for what it is: an attempt by the powers that be to stifle those that expose their corruption.

All too often people do accept the insane versions of reality offered by the government and the media. But ignorance alone cannot explain the ideological hegemony of reactionary ruling class ideas.

Rather, it’s crucial to understand that people’s ideas are shaped by their actual surroundings. The way in which we experience the world impacts how we understand it and also limits our understanding. The fact that people hold reactionary, irrational ideas is a reflection of the fact that the world is run, for the most part, in an irrational way.

A good example is racism. We live in a world that is divided into nation states where your place of birth and colour of skin will be one of the key determinants of whether you have equal rights, the capacity to move between countries, and the right to food, water and a decent standard of living. The nation-state system is also based on competition between the ruling classes of various countries. It is this material reality that enables racist or nationalist ideas to take hold.

But the most important reality is that we are barely in control of how we live our own lives. From the exact time that we have to get up to the way we carry out our tasks at work to how many hours we spend there every day and every week, we generally don’t call the shots.

Because of our lack of control over a fundamental aspect of our own existence – our working life – the rest of the social world appears far beyond our control. All the horrors of war, poverty, global warming, joblessness, market crashes, rape, crime and others confront us as isolated, unconnected issues. Uncertainty rules.

Almost everyday our powerlessness is reinforced as decisions are made over our heads. Sometimes we have the privilege of being “informed” of these on the nightly news. All too often, we lack even this democratic right.

As US State Department rats scramble to do away with Wkilileaks and Julian Assange it is becoming increasingly obvious that even knowing about the decisions that we have no control over is considered a threat to the system. The most powerful idea, that we are all powerless in the face of the market, corporations, the army or whatever, is elemental to keeping a system of minority rule intact.

This potent combination of lack of control, uncertainty and powerlessness makes workers more likely to absorb ruling class’s propaganda. If we exerted control over our lives and our destinies the fear mongering about over-population, the threat of terrorists and refugees would have much less impact.

Education as a means of fighting backward ideas is limited precisely because of the material base of these ideas. For example, it has not been enough that it is has been scientifically proven and is now taught in schools that racial inferiority is a myth.

Central to challenging ideas is the challenging of the institutions and individuals that prop them up and give them legitimacy. A good example is homophobia and the campaign for same sex marriage rights. Five years ago, the concept of civil unions for same-sex couples was controversial. Today it’s considered out-dated.

The hegemony of the idea that gays and lesbians deserve nothing less than same-sex marriage rights is the direct outcome of a campaign that brought thousands onto the streets, forced the issue into the mainstream and challenged the hypocrisy and homophobia of our politicians.

Yet if people feel powerless, how are they supposed to challenge the institutions that hold up reactionary ideas? History has shown that no matter how downtrodden or hopeless people feel, they are driven by reality itself to resist. It is in this resistance, in the self-activity of the masses, that the contradiction presented by the disempowering reality of capitalism and the overpowering potential for people to liberate themselves, finds its solution.

Nowhere was this more brilliantly illustrated than in the black civil rights movement in the US. The transformation of the desegregation campaigns into the civil rights movement offers us insights into the way in which people’s entire sense of themselves and the world they live in can be transformed.

Part of the struggle against the Jim Crow south was the campaign against the segregation of lunch counters on school and university campuses. As a movement that spoke to tens of thousands of black youths, it fundamentally changed the ideas of an entire generation. One student remarked at the time, “I myself desegregated a lunch counter, not somebody else, not some big man, some powerful man, but little me, I walked the picket line and I sat in and the walls of segregation toppled.”

Thanks to these struggles the majority of people in the US today agree with the principle of equality between blacks and whites. Nevertheless, blacks face horrid living conditions in the US on every level with poverty and unemployment rates more than double that of whites. The majority voted for a black president, yet racism is rife. Essentially even if we do win the battle of ideas with ordinary people, unless we seek to fundamentally change the world, good ideas simply become the catch phrases of the more progressive politicians.

Left wing ideas are crucial weapons in this fight, but in and of themselves, they will not feed the poor. In and of themselves they will not force the bosses to pay for the crisis. In and of themselves, they will not end the war in Afghanistan. The most powerful ideas are those that grip the masses and thereby have the capacity to become a material force.

Struggle challenges the material reality that fosters divisions and backward ideas. In this process those who struggle not only change themselves and challenge the rotten ideas, but they challenge the system itself.

This article, by Sadia Schneider, first appeared in Socialist Alternative.



Comment from Magpie
Time January 6, 2011 at 7:46 pm


John, you should submit this piece, maybe a bit shortened for publication purposes, to the National Times.

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