Reading and Reflecting

Reading the sci-fi novel Coyote by Allen Steele (2002), reflecting on the political turmoil in Australia, last week, and wishfully thinking about escaping it all to the Ursa Majoris star system.

Reading

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Coyote by Allen Steele from Goodreads

I’ve recently started reading the interstellar colonization novel Coyote by Allen Steele (2002). I found it a bit difficult to get into initially, given that my previous reading (also TV series watching) had been The Expanse series which is more action-packed from the very first pages of Leviathan Wakes  (book 1). But I’m now appreciating that the Coyote series is written as fictional history, starting from a beginning point and moving forward in a linear fashion from that. Actually, now that I’ve spent the effort to get into the Coyote universe it’s becoming a most enjoyable experience.

Coyote is the destination for interstellar settlement of the Ursae Majoris system, some 46 light years from Earth. Coyote is a moon of the gas-giant planet Bear. The planets and moons of the Ursae Majoris system are named after native-American mythological icons. Coyote is smaller than Earth, but larger than Mars and has a slightly lower gravity and surface air pressure. Being a moon of a gas giant, the seasons on Coyote is more complex than on Earth, so much so as to require that the colonists invent an entirely new calendar system. Coyote and The Expanse novels both have a similar approach to the way that scientific realism is built into their respective fictional universes.

Reflection

Many of the colonists to Coyote are escaping a highly-conservative and repressive regime on Earth, called the United States Republic (USR) after a second American revolution. I’m not suggesting that political revolution is likely in Australia (or America) anytime soon, But given the political events in Australia of the week starting 19th August, originating from conservative disquiet in the Australian Liberal party and leading to the downfall of a Prime Minister, I couldn’t help but reflect on the fictional events in Coyote and the actual events being played out in Canberra.

How could a modern liberal society, like Australia or the United States turn into a right-wing authoritarian regime, like that depicted in the Coyote novels, or like that seen in numerous other places on Earth, both currently and in the past?

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Just like the proverbial frog in the saucepan slowly boiling to death.

In the Coyote novels, history is circular: “Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it”  [1].  However, it seems to me that in Australia or the current USA, the overthrow of a liberal society and democratic government is more likely to occur after a series of almost imperceptible creeping changes, like the proverbial frog in the pan slowly boiling to death without being aware of it [2].

The point I’m leading to is that events like last week in Australian politics were described by our former Prime Minister as an “insurgency”:

There was a determined insurgency from a number of people both in the party room and backed by voices, powerful voices, in the media.” [3].

The insurgency consisted of hard-liners from the right of the liberal party, led by Peter Dutton, as well as those on the hard-right in the media. We now know that the wreckers from outside the parliament included media commentators: Ray Hadley and Allan Jones from 2GB radio and Andrew Bolt and others from SkyNews. The fact that those external to the Australian parliament should be able to have such an influence over the democratic process so as to dispose of a sitting Australian Prime Minister can’t be overstated. Now that Malcolm Turnball and his former deputy, Julia Bishop are leaving the parliament, we can see how far the hardliners have been able to progress their cause with such wrecking tactics.

Furthermore, the general populace becomes angry, frustrated and further disengaged from the political process, in that order. A less engaged populace ensures less vigilance over any further wrecking by right-leaning hardliners. This would be bad enough as a one-off event but it follows from the similar Machiavellian clashes within the Labor party deposing Prime Ministers Rudd and Gillard only 5, or so, years ago. So right now I’m feeling a bit like a proverbial frog in a proverbial pan. So when you ask: “how is a democratic, liberal and free society lost?” Is this how it starts? Because if it is, I’m thinking of leaving too, for a nice moon in the Ursae Majoris system. It just might be better to face the raptor-like boids of Coyote.

Edit: 29th August.
Ms. Julia Banks, the elected member for Chisholm, announced that she is quitting parliament saying that: “Last week’s events were the last straw.”  She spoke about the “vindictive” behavior of unnamed “power brokers” in the Liberal party factions [4]. I congratulate Ms. Banks for her principled stance. The events of last week, combined with similar machinations within the Labor party factions a few years ago, amount to attacks on this country’s democratic institutions and freedoms. Though our new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, seems to be largely blameless in the factional vindictiveness, his current standing is plainly shown to be based upon a lie. As such, it shouldn’t be allowed to stand unchallenged.  I regard him more as a caretaker Prime Minister until elections are held, likely in the first half of next year. Yesterday I was”wishing” – trying to escape from reality. Today I’m “wistful” – yearning for a change for a better, a more stable and democratic Australia.

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[1] This often-quoted saying is thought to have originated from the philosopher George Santayana.

[2] This proposition is demonstrably false but still makes for a good metaphor.

[3] Paul Daley, “It has been a privilege’: Malcolm Turnbull signs off as Australian prime minister“, The Guardian, Australia Edition; online; published: 24th August 2018; accessed  28th August 2018.

[4] David Crowe, “‘The last straw’: Furious MP Julia Banks to quit Parliament over the axing of Malcolm Turnbull,Brisbane Times online; published: 29th August; accessed 29th August.

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Comments:
Your comments are welcome but partisan or “wrecking” comments, as outlined in the commentary above, will be removed without further warning.

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