Making people feel excluded: that’s not an Australian value
Moving house is a pain — packing, unpacking, things lost and broken, connecting electricity and phone and internet and so on.
It’s no wonder it’s up there with death, divorce and job loss as one of life’s great traumas.
Yet I have done it more times than I care to remember. My wife and I tallied it up the other day and we have moved about a dozen times in the last two decades.
My family and I have been gypsies travelling the world. My kids have been to school in London, Hong Kong, Beijing, Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sydney.
What we may have sacrificed in stability we have gained in experience. We are the essence of liberal cosmopolitans; at home anywhere and nowhere.
The English political scientist, David Goodhart, has written about people like me in his new book, The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics.
It is a bracing book for our times; a book that seeks to explain the era of Donald Trump and Brexit and how it is reshaping how we see ourselves.
‘Somewheres’ and ‘Anywheres’
Goodhart says the old political categories of Left and Right no longer fit. He prefers “Somewheres” and “Anywheres”.
By his reckoning I am an “Anywhere” — someone who is well travelled, multicultural, university-educated, professional — I am at home anywhere.
My parents though would be “Somewheres” — they are connected to tradition and place; they live in a small town not far from where my father grew up. They are from somewhere and it matters.
Of course the categories are fluid; I can go home and feel as at peace as I can feel I belong in Paris.
The groups include a mixture of social types, but critical to this is identity.
Goodhart argues that “Anywheres” have “achieved” identities and “Somewheres” have “ascribed” identities.
Put simply, my sense of self is less fixed — less rooted — than my parents.
Politically, Goodhart argues, the “Somewheres” of Britain voted to leave the European Union. The “Anywheres” wished to stay and enjoy their holiday homes in France or business deals in Brussels.
Much of this divide centres on values and immigration has become a political flashpoint.
Media player: “Space” to play, “M” to mute, “left” and “right” to seek.
Journalist and political scientist, Fareed Zakaria, writing in the journal Foreign Affairs, says globalisation has left people marooned and isolated.
There is an — predominantly — older generation, he says, who are traumatised by what they see as an assault on the civilisation they have been raised in.
He says we are witnessing the globalisation of people and it is prompting an emotional reaction.
It reinforces the sense of loss from deindustrialisation and the information revolution. They have lost their jobs and now they feel they are losing their countries.
The populist backlash is not unexpected and perfectly understandable. There are reasonable arguments for people voting for Brexit or opting for Trump; it is not enough to dismiss these citizens as racist or backward.
In fact, that liberal progressive tendency for ridicule and mockery has contributed to the very backlash they bemoan.
Yet it does not mean this tendency to populism should not be subject to critique or challenge, but what we are seeing is politicians exploiting fears or anxiety to divide and rule.
‘I get uneasy when politicians tell us who we are’
This week we have had the Prime Minister — most assuredly an “Anywhere” — lecturing us about “Australian values”.
I must admit I get uneasy when I hear politicians telling us who we are and what we should believe in.
I prefer to hear from politicians about what they are doing with our tax dollars; what services and infrastructure they will provide; how to keep us safe, secure and employed; and then — as much as possible — get out of our lives.
Politicians tend to resort to “values” and “vision” in the absence of policy and hope we don’t notice.
I would not guess at the “values” of the Sydney harbourside suburb of Point Piper that Malcolm Turnbull calls home. But I can tell you about the values of my new home in western Sydney.
It is one of the most multicultural areas of Australia. In fact, the suburb’s motto is “many cultures — one community”. We choose to live here because it feels like we are in the world at home.
Our new neighbour is a Muslim family. The father has his own business, the children are at university or school, the mother is primarily at home. She wears a hijab — an Islamic head-covering — she speaks perfectly fluent albeit heavily accented English.
As we have settled in this past week, each night we have returned home from work to find she has cooked us a meal and delivered it to our home.
We missed the first garbage collection; never mind, without a word our neighbour wheeled our over-laden bin to the correct spot and arranged a special collection for us.
There are small heartfelt acts of kindness that tell us we are welcome.
Are these Australian values? Would this family pass the now ubiquitous pub test?
We won’t know — being observant Muslims they wouldn’t visit a pub. You will find them, though, having a barbeque in their backyard.
Then again, I prefer not to frequent pubs myself. Am I lacking Australian values?
What is linked to pubs is the scourge of domestic violence; drunken men staggering home to belt their wives or girlfriends.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce was quick to tell migrants that if they bash women they have no place in Australia. I trust it is a message he delivers when he’s next taking the political temperature in the pubs of Tamworth.
Speaking English is no measure of a person’s values
I have seen good, honest, decent human values wherever I have travelled. Our driver in Beijing was a man who loved us like family and made us feel part of his. When we first met him he barely uttered a word of English.
I recall working in Pakistan after the 2005 earthquake. It was during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a time of fasting. All day Muslim doctors and nurses worked with no food or water; when they broke their fast they insisted that I and my TV crew eat first. Most of them spoke little English.
Speaking English is no measure of a person’s values.
This certainly isn’t to argue that Muslim countries are full of virtue. We know there is a battle for the very soul of the religion, with hardline Islamist extremists violently imposing their will.
Islam is a religion that needs to look at many of its teachings. Muslims who come to Australia certainly need to accept the values of western liberal democracy that underpin our society and the great majority are doing just that.
Australia is a special place; it is broadly tolerant, inclusive, safe, and prosperous. We are right to cling to those things we hold dear. In an English-speaking country of course it is useful for migrants to learn the language.
This is not a message I need from the Prime Minister. I prefer to get it from my new neighbours like the man I met buying coffee one morning.
He asked me if I was Turkish. No, I replied, Australian. Oh, Aussie, he said — Aussie is good.
Noting his accent, I asked where he was from. I am Aussie too, he said proudly. He was originally from Turkey, but as he told me, Aussie is best.
Removing the admittedly lax 457 visas or introducing tighter citizenship tests is fine, it is the Government’s prerogative. But linking it to “values” is something else. It is a nod to nascent populism.
As the philosopher Timothy Garton Ash says:
“Populism is the enemy of pluralism. It feeds into ideas of the ‘real people’ or the ‘non-people’.”
This is not the Australia I live in; it is not the Australia I see.
Philosopher, Mark Lilla, speaks of the “ship-wrecked mind”. It is the mind of people seeking to turn away from change, who “sees the debris of paradise drifting past his eyes”.
Lilla says they hanker for nostalgia. It is, he says, a “militant nostalgia” that sees the past in all its splendour. They make a fetish of this mythical time — the past.
It is, Lilla says, a powerful political motivator:
“Hopes can be disappointed. Nostalgia is irrefutable.”
Lilla argues that in contemporary times the ship-wrecked minds are the minds of political Islamists, European nationalists, and the American right. Each of them in their own ways one of David Goodhart’s “Somewheres”.
As I have pondered this talk of values I have wondered about a new category; the “Nowheres” — people who are told they don’t belong, don’t fit in, don’t pass the pub test.
Making people feel excluded: that’s not an Australian value.