Playing Chess With Pigeons


by Loz Lawrey

I’ve been hearing terms such as “postmodernism”, “neo-marxism” and “the left” bandied about by right-wing commentators ever more frequently lately, so, in order to clarify my own understanding of the meaning of these verbal brickbats, I’ve been doing some googling.

I’ve always thought of myself as a leftie, and proud of it. A communist or socialist? Perhaps, though if a label must be chosen, I prefer the term “progressive”.

But am I a postmodernist or a neo-Marxist? “Yes and no”, said Professor Google. “You are and you aren’t”, because these terms are extremely difficult to explain and many conflicting, often contradictory definitions exist.

That’s the trouble with “isms”. Their actual meaning is loose, fluid and subject to interpretation.

According to Google, “communism” is “a theory or system of social organization in which all property is owned by the community and each person contributes and receives according to their ability and needs.”

Now to me, that doesn’t sound too bad. In fact, if I had to select a recipe for social organisation, welfare and cohesion, then some version of communism or socialism would be my choice. An inclusive “best for all” system which makes everyone a winner.

When right-wing pundits use the term “communism” however, it implies evil of the worst order.

Communism is portrayed as the enemy of capitalism, of “freedom” (however we define that), of our first-world right to selfish greed and exclusive self-advancement.

Former Prime Minister John Howard once described the very idea of a banking royal commission as “rampant socialism”. I’m still trying to make sense of that statement. I think he meant that a royal commission would be a bad thing.

Conservative politicians regularly conflate communism with unions and social activism generally.

What are these forces working so hard to drag the sensible centre of politics and governance towards the far right, those barren lands where chaos and deregulated anarchy prevail?

What does “the right” actually want? From where I’m sitting, it looks like a vision of dystopia, a post-apocalyptic disaster zone where a few mega-wealthy “winners” lord it over a population of starving, miserable, downtrodden losers.

I may be on the wrong planet. The problem may be me. I do acknowledge the possibility. Or, I may simply be ageing and struggling to accommodate a changing world, one in which my “givens” no longer apply.

You know, old-fashioned concepts such as: Decency should guide us. Empathy is good. Inclusion is essential. Racism, misogyny, bigotry and religious zealotry are destructive and anti-social. We should care for each other and support our most vulnerable etc, etc….

There’s a meme that regularly circulates on Facebook: A picture of a pigeon on a chessboard knocking the pieces over, with this caption:

“Arguing with conservatives is like playing chess with a pigeon: No matter how good you are at chess, the pigeon is just going to knock over the pieces, crap on the board and then strut around acting like it won.”

At times I myself have tried unsuccessfully to argue with that pigeon.

I can confirm that it’s a complete waste of time. Don’t even bother.

It’s as if Planet Earth is inhabited by two tribes, with the members of one wearing blue-tinted spectacles and members of the other red. Both tribes are looking at the same world, yet seeing completely disparate landscapes.

Language is difficult. If I say “table”, do you visualise a round, square or rectangular one? Large or small? Made of timber or otherwise? Perhaps that’s why they say “a picture’s worth a thousand words”. At least when we look at a picture we are seeing the same thing.

“There’s a war on empathy” commented singer/activist Billy Bragg on a recent visit to Australia. Who could disagree? Well… possibly “left”-hating conservatives who approve of Australia’s inhumane treatment of refugees?

At the time Malcolm Turnbull was entreating us not to get “misty-eyed” over his regime’s ongoing human rights abuses.

Is there a war on thinking? Anyone observing the toxic outpourings from the Murdoch media, the shallowness of journalism, the decrease in literacy or the Coalition’s defunding and dumbing-down of the ABC might think so.

Right-wing attacks on universities as cauldrons of “leftism” make one wonder: what is the “right” afraid of? Is it “leftism” or thought itself?

Might it be that universities are in fact incubators of ideologies of empathy and social inclusion precisely because they are centres of thought and learning?

I ask again: What does “the right”  actually want? What is the conservative vision? Is there one? If there is, I’m damned if I can see it. Perhaps I’m wearing the wrong glasses.

I know I can describe the kind of world I would prefer to live in, and it’s a warm and friendly place, where people actually care… I’m guessing that makes me a stupid old leftie hippie.

Conservatives are well-practised at criticising and condemning, but whenever I ask one to articulate their coherent vision for a better world all I get are insults such as “leftard”.

In other words, crap on the chessboard.

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