Zizek and Peterson: A Waste of Time?

Philosophy, Politics

Sam Adams

Almost all the analyses I have seen of the much anticipated Peterson-Zizek debate have been from the point of view of people who were unsatisfied with it, claiming that it was either a rehashing of played out ideas or even a poor performance by bad actors. Personally I’ve found this a little bit depressing. It seems like just another example of the old problem of how two people could see the same thing and come away thinking very different things about it.

I’m not saying the criticism isn’t warranted; Peterson was ill-prepared and offered a shallow reading of Marx while Zizek’s rebuttal was a conglomeration of disparate ideas only tangentially related to the topic and not at all related to what Jordan had said. However, I still enjoyed it. Is that because I am somehow the only person on earth who didn’t expect there to be any real solution to the world’s problems at the end of the show? Somehow I doubt that.

It seems to me that a lot of the disillusionment that has been expressed comes from people who already had an axe to grind. Of course Peterson’s critics were on the lookout for anything he might say that could be construed as foolish and those detracting from the debate as a whole obviously didn’t get what they wanted out of it.

So, is it up to me to tell people what they should have wanted to get from watching Jordan Peterson debate Slavoj Zizek?

Obviously anyone displeased that there weren’t any real solutions to global issues was expecting too much. Then there are those who were eagerly hoping to witness someone get “destroyed” by their idol; I would suggest that they, too, were misled. Of course there are the critics who simply try to make themselves seem intelligent by insisting that other intelligent people are dumb – but the less said about them the better.

What I want to say to people who are displeased, disappointed or disillusioned by the debate is something that I read in a book whose title I can’t remember during a time in my life that I’m trying to forget and that is this: “Assembly of Japanese bicycle requires great peace of mind.”

This eccentric statement first appeared in the owner’s manual of bicycles sold in Japan during the 1950’s and the point of it is pure Zen; if you put your bike together and it doesn’t work, then that is your problem. The bicycle is merely a collection of atoms arranged in a certain way and a collection of atoms isn’t the sort of thing that can be right or wrong.

Now, clearly the same can’t really be said of a debate, which is a collection of statements; and statements are exactly the sort of thing that can be right or wrong. However, my point might come into focus if you view the thing in the appropriate way. I, for one, viewed the meeting of Jordan and Slavoj as an opportunity to try and learn something, to engage with public discourse and attempt to gain a more sophisticated appreciation of the world.

In that sense, no statement, series of statements or discussion of ideas is right or wrong, they are just parts making up a greater whole. Having the opportunity to watch two intellectually honest people engage in authentic dialogue should never be seen as a waste of time, and anyone who would like to consider themselves intellectually honest or authentic should relish that opportunity.

On The Ontology of LNP Senator James McGrath


Drew Pavlou

No one has ever accused ABC’s Q&A program of providing a platform for intelligent, nuanced debate on national issues. Still, Monday’s Q&A, filmed at Brisbane’s Powerhouse, was particularly noteworthy for its utter vacuousness. Ordinarily, given his proclivity for insane conspiratorial thinking and extraordinary lack of policy knowledge, it would be easy to blame One Nation guest Malcolm Roberts for substantially bringing down the overall standard of the panel’s discussion. But host Virginia Trioli mercifully proved adept at cutting him off before he was able to speak on Monday. So who then is to blame for Q&A’s disastrous Monday show? Our critical gaze must fall to LNP Senator and aspiring man child James McGrath. Perhaps no other panel member managed to so skilfully speak for minute after grating minute without saying anything at all!

Anyone watching McGrath’s Q&A appearance on Monday night would have been struck by the Senator’s total and complete lack of substance. An utter lightweight, at points he seemed to be on the verge of disintegrating into the studio’s cool autumn air. When he wasn’t shouting over the audience’s boos or shamefully refusing to address allegations he threatened environment minister Melissa Price’s job over her ambivalence towards the Adani coal mine, he was making the Liberal Party’s electoral pitch to women by angrily inviting people to violently target Greens Senator Larissa Waters’ home. In between bouts of blubbering fury and pathetic self-pity, McGrath showed himself to be astoundingly intellectually ordinary. Apparently a man of little to no imagination or creativity, he appeared able only to mechanically regurgitate the party line whenever placed under even a modicum of pressure. Baited easily, he repeatedly walked into traps set for him by other panellists. At one point, McGrath apparently decided that a particularly electorally popular hill to die on was the defence of Peter Dutton’s well-earned reputation as a tolerant non-racist. The productive exchange that followed with Waters did nothing but endear McGrath and his party to voters. Viewers would be forgiven for thinking back to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who famously lamented that life was but a tale “told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” Here was an idiot, full of sound and fury, saying nothing.

Ultimately, we are left with a conundrum trying to understand this tragedy for Australia. Perhaps the Senator is really just a post-Modernist disciple of Derrida’s deconstruction theory, trying to demonstrate to us the inherent slipperiness of all language. If this is the case, we probably owe him our admiration and respect. But somehow I doubt this. It is much more likely that Senator James McGrath is an absolutely vapid moron with all the intelligence of a goldfish or a raving cannibal subject to kuru (a very rare, incurable and invariably fatal neurodegenerative disorder caused by the consumption of infected human brains). How could we collectively be subjected to so much stupidity on such a huge scale? This brings us to a fundamental philosophical question: How can we ontologically understand James McGrath’s existence?  His existence clearly has profound metaphysical implications. Scientists recently received plaudits for using the Event Horizon Telescope to image a super massive black hole for the first time. They were able to picture the phenomenon, one of the most secretive entities in the cosmos, at the centre of a galaxy some 55 million light-years away. But why did we waste so many resources looking so far away when McGrath himself seemingly proves the existence of cosmic abysses so deep and dense that not even light can escape? James McGrath is proof that space-time can disappear forever into the maw of a black hole, into swirling entities furiously consuming everything around them.

He is truly a behemoth of nothingness, a testimony to the metaphysical notion that emptiness can be all-enveloping. He is the human manifestation of how we feel when we see the ancient, beautiful Notre Dame cathedral consumed by flames, subsumed by oblivion. James McGrath is unfortunately not up for re-election in 2019, and so we face a few more years of this. Unlucky for us, it seems.

Inside Palmer’s Queensland Takeover Plan


Harry Spicer

‘Aussies Cafe’ inside Parliament House is a funny place. It is where the powerful forces in our democracy collide in their pursuit of caffeine. Naturally, such a place is also the centre of gossip. On budget day, Clive Palmer got talking to a prominent media personality about his plans to seize federal power with a handful of Queensland seats he intends to take at the next poll. Like previous Palmer campaigns, no expense will be spared.

“Five senate seats,” Palmer told the gentleman, “In Queensland”. Of course, winning five out of six senate seats in any state is preposterous. It would require somewhere in the vicinity of eighty percent of the vote. But Palmer’s off the cuff remarks underline just how determined he is to make an impact on the May poll, and how deeply he despises the major parties.

Palmer’s campaign will be incredibly well resourced by a cash flow that comes on the back of court victories over Chinese businesses. He intends to use it to outspend both of the major parties combined, which would mean spending upwards of $25 million on his party’s campaign.

Most of this will be spent on advertisements, which believe it or not are written by Palmer himself. Some of the commercials were churned out in one day as part of that blitz earlier this year with advertisements on seemingly every platform possible – billboards, radio, television, print, and social media. Name a platform and the former senator has advertised on it.

One of the biggest questions is where exactly Palmer himself will land on the United Australia Party ticket. The UAP has announced candidates in most seats, but has left open the seat of Herbert in Townsville and its Queensland senate ticket. Winning Herbert requires a majority vote. At first it appeared he would announce himself as the candidate there, but it looks as if he’s now holding off after failing to shift public opinion in his favour after months of campaigning.

This underscores a fundamental point about a cashed-up campaign. Money can draw attention to issues, but it can’t reverse disinterest from the punters. And voters are well and truly off Clive Palmer after the collapse of his Queensland Nickel firm. It left 800 workers without a job and probably disqualified him from public office in the eyes of the electorate. He continues to fight liquidators in court.

Further, the narrative run by the UAP is not gaining the traction it did in years gone by. Broadly speaking, the party’s values could be described as economically populist. Fears of foreign investment and interference were popular themes in Australia ahead of the 2013 and 2016 elections. But with the passage of laws banning overseas donations and tougher talk from the government on China, interest in these issues has waned.

In the years since, right wing populism has moved to capture the culturally disengaged, appealing to latent racist sentiments in the electorate. It is a sentiment used by One Nation, and its repulsive offshoot Fraser Anning, who has now formed his own party. It is against them that Clive Palmer will compete for votes.

They might have less money than Palmer but Pauline Hanson and Fraser Anning have gained far more media attention of late. The voters they engage will dismiss attacks on them by the media commentariat as bile from a system they see as stacked against them.

Fraser Anning’s horrendous comments about the Christchurch massacre would have seen his primary vote sky rocket in the parts of Queensland where he wants to win votes, likewise for One Nation after its scandalous and failed attempt to secure funds from America’s gun lobby.

A second tilt at politics for Clive Palmer will most likely end in millions of dollars down the toilet. He will spend big and probably gain no seats in the upper or lower house.

The greatest irony of Palmer’s campaign is that it will change very little besides gifting buckets of money in advertising to the very media organisations he has sworn to destroy. To paraphrase one of his self-written advertisements, Queensland’s not gonna cop it!

Will Democrats Tear Themselves Apart In The Quest For Ideological Purity? Considering The Case of Mayor Pete


Rory Brown

Few can doubt the notion that tectonic shifts are occurring in politics globally. Once inconceivable ideas, like concurrent Trump and Bolsonaro presidencies, a Corbyn-led Labor party, a Scomo-Prime Ministership, or a presumptive Bernie Sanders nomination, are reality. The last decade has been marked by escalating cycles of polarization, spurred on by the escalating threat of climate catastrophe, financial disaster, terrorism and refugee crises. One of the most obvious manifestations of this cyclically expanding societal divide is the Tea Party-ing, and then the Trumpening, of the Republican Party. What were once pillars of the Republican platform – free trade, family values, small government – have been abandoned in favour of tariffs, executive overreach and support for a serially dishonest and unfaithful bully. Republicans have fallen in complete lock-step behind the President. By contrast, the Democratic Party has no leader. This is a problem for a number of reasons. We know how ineffectual rudderless parties are. Think of the resentment generated by the internal infighting in Canberra; think of the chaos Westminster has seen with a fatally weakened Theresa May in charge of the Brexit process, and Corbyn in charge of a parliamentary caucus that openly despises him. The time has come for the Democratic Party to select a leader. This coming primary process will  shape the future of the party, the country, and the world, for decades to come.

Due to the nature of the American political system, the process of selecting a party leader is inextricably painful and divisive. The coming primary process represents a unique opportunity for the Democratic Party to rise above this – to welcome and reward a plurality of thought in its candidates, in so doing comforting and satisfying a divided base haunted by the sight of the Republican Party transforming into an almost unrecognizable, but nevertheless domineering, political force. The Democratic Party must expand its appeal, and to do this it must abandon safe, mundane, moderate, but consequently incremental and boring, policy positions. The key to this lies in the process of selecting the party leader. If voters can relate to a leader, and feel able to participate in discourse with the party, they won’t feel driven to vote for a party led by a serial adulterer and violently hateful draft-dodger. The narrative being spun by right-wing media in the US is that “the left” is exclusionary, destructive and snarky: look at this SJW, losing their temper at the calm and reasonable Jordan Peterson. Look at Ilhan Omar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who are so incendiary and dishonest. Whilst such narratives are exaggerated beyond recognition and made with poisonous intent, certain patterns of behaviour lend them credence. Not only should these patterns be avoided, but the alternative would bring a welcoming atmosphere to the Democratic Party, where individuals scorched by the apocalyptic battles fought over Donald Trump can find refuge.

The patterns of behaviour I’m referring to are the scourges of disdain levelled by leftists against any Democratic candidate for the Presidential nomination not named Bernie Sanders (and, I suppose, Andrew Yang). Before I proceed, I’d like to add the disclaimer that this is not a criticism of Bernie Sanders – but of fanatical supporters who refuse to waiver in their unequivocal veneration of the 77-year-old Senator. The left needs to approach the primary process in a reasonable, realistic manner – tearing each other apart in the quest for ideological purity does nothing hut help Trump. It contributes to the right-wing narrative that leftist politics are best characterised by an atmosphere of rigid, dogmatic arrogance.The significance of the 2020 Democratic primaries cannot be overstated. If the Democratic primaries are pervaded by smug condescension, instead of warmth and tolerance, how can the eventual winner unify the party? Those on the left who wish to discard candidates out of hand must resist the temptation to do so. They must be open-minded and recognise the value and strengths of all candidates for the nomination. We haven’t even reached debate season yet, and we are already deeply divided.

At a time where class-based and racial divisions are being exploited so readily by the President, ensuring there is space for voices of calm and tolerance in the Democratic Party is crucial. I believe there is one question Democrats must answer in the primaries: who will their leader be? And I believe this question should be answered only through careful, considered, kind, and welcoming debate. To quote Frank Bruni of the New York Times: ”To turn the Democratic primary into a nonstop apology tour when the nominee will be going up against a president never expected to apologise for anything is a risky strategy. It obsesses over the flaws in candidates who have many strengths, defining them in terms of what they seek forgiveness for.”

What inspired me to write this article was a series of absurd left-wing criticisms made of Peter Buttigieg. The notion that Peter Buttigieg is opposed to the BLM movement, or isn’t a true progressive, because of his use of the words “all live matter” prior to its popularization as a subversive right-wing refrain, is ridiculous. Mayor Pete has repeatedly expressed support for the movement and is dedicated to criminal justice reform and reparations. As mayor of South Bend, he made vast quantities of police records public in order to increase police transparency. He has advocated for a Justice Department that supports local departments attempting to eradicate racial bias and punishes departments that refuse to do so. He advocates for the reform of the prison system, expressing his strong opposition to private prisons and support for reinstating the voting rights of former felons. He has called for an end to the disastrous War on Drugs and the legalisation of marijuana. Any vestigial complaints that he doesn’t support the struggle of black Americans should be discarded when considering his stance on reparations: Buttigieg openly agrees with the principles underpinning the push for reparations and supports policies like increasing black entrepreneurship and allocating more funding to areas where historic red-lining occurred. It’s worth noting that Buttigieg is amongst the few candidates openly willing to discuss reparations and meaningful criminal justice reform – Bernie Sanders has a poor track record for flubbing multiple questions on his stance regarding reparations, and Kamala Harris and Joe Biden deserve criticism for their histories strengthening the prison industrial complex.

Other criticisms of Mayor Pete have been equally incoherent. There already exists an element on the fringe, lunar left that have attempted to undercut Buttigieg’s struggles as a gay man; they have argued that because he lacks some of the optics people stereotypically associate with homosexuals, his  struggle hasn’t been significantly public enough to warrant respect. I think the best response to this is to point out where and when Pete Buttigieg came out. Pete Buttigieg came out whilst seeking re-election in 2014, in Indiana, the state that Mike Pence was governor of at the time. Mike Pence – a supporter of conversion therapy, workplace discrimination against homosexuals, and opponent of same-sex marriage and gays in the military. At that time, Mike Pence was fighting to legislate a state constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage. Buttigieg was just 33 years old at the time, and he has talked openly about the struggle he faced, denying himself a love life for fear of public condemnation. His story demonstrates courage and integrity and deserves our respect.

To my mind, the only fair criticism levelled against Buttigieg from the left has been his stance regarding Israel. But even this criticism cannot stand up to scrutiny. Buttigieg is strongly in favour of a two-state solution: he’s gone on record saying he doesn’t believe that Israel can be both a democracy and a Jewish state without a peace agreement that recognises Palestinian sovereignty. He has refused AIPAC funding and made himself known as a strong critic of Netanyahu. Buttigieg’s ‘pro-Israel’ comments amount to little more than support for Israel’s existence as a state, alongside a Palestinian homeland. He hasn’t strongly condemned Israel, but neither has he expressed any hawkish pro-Israel sentiments. Labelling Buttigieg a staunch ”pro-Israel” supporter is misleading. 

These examples serve to illustrate the ways in which debate within the Democratic Party has been debased and distorted by those obsessed with ideological purity. Don’t fall into the trap of believing that any one candidate is the only way forward, to the exclusion of others: it leads to a political atmosphere of distorted half-truths and hostility between factions. Instead, engage with each candidate and evaluate their strengths and weaknesses with care and consideration. This is the way to welcome people into the party and encourage them to participate in the democratic process. Their preferred candidate might not achieve victory, but if they feel their views and concerns have been honoured and treated with respect,  they will feel welcomed by the party and won’t be driven away into apathy or outright hostility.

Like it or not, elections are won by swing voters. Many Obama voters supported Trump in 2016. If the Democrats wish to vanquish the current president, they mustn’t lose these voters again – and conducting the primary process with respect and kindness is critical to that end. If the debate is conducted respectfully, the next leader of the Democratic Party will be conferred legitimacy and popular support – qualities integral to the leader of a political party in this turbulent era.

The Ramsay Centre and UQ

Education, Politics

Drew Pavlou

In considering the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation’s proposed partnership with UQ, we need to think clearly about a fundamental question: What is the purpose of the  university in the modern world? I’m going to try and put forward an answer to this question. And in so doing, I’m going to argue that the Ramsay Centre’s plan for UQ threatens to devalue everything that makes this university great. The brainchild of arch-conservatives Tony Abbott and John Howard, the Ramsay Centre may talk of upholding the great traditions and institutions of the Western world. In actuality, the Ramsay Centre threatens to undermine the very foundations of Australia’s great institutions of higher learning and the rich vein of scholarship in the humanities our universities produce year on year. If we really care about the humanities and the rigorous study of culture, we must resist the Ramsay Centre’s radical right-wing agenda and its push to politicise universities and the study of the humanities in this country.

The Role of the University in Society

What is the purpose of the university in the modern world? There is a quotation carved into the sandstone above the tower entrance to the Great Court. The quotation itself is quite brief but I think it is really profound; it gives expression to a hope I think we all share. That this university will prove itself to be: ”A place of light, of liberty and of learning.’’ The founders of this university etched these words in stone, giving them solid form. Giving this great hope physical expression. These words were meant to weather the trials and tribulations of the years. They were meant to endure.

How does a university make itself into a place of light, of liberty and learning? Well, what is liberty? Here, I take political theorist Patrick Deneen’s view. Liberty is the learned capacity to govern oneself using the higher faculties of reason and spirit through the cultivation of virtue. By educating students in what it means to be human, the university cultivates the free person and the free citizen. The great university educates free persons by means of deep engagement with the fruits of long cultural inheritance. The truly liberating university is committed to the rigorous, in-depth study of the greatest works of our culture and through this study gives students the ability to truly establish themselves as fully actualised individuals with the ability to exercise true freedom. Studying the great questions of existence, exploring the fundamental dilemmas of the human condition, we can learn to be free, to exercise self-government over our basest instincts. The university gives us the ability to understand and make sense of a world that is at once beautiful and incomprehensible; by cultivating the wisdom of the past, the great university endows us with the ability to navigate this world with all the responsibilities that are incumbent on us as free individuals. The university of light, liberty and learning is both character forming and soul expanding.

The Ramsay Centre’s Threat to the University

The Ramsay Centre’s program threatens to strip university education in this country of its liberating potential; the Ramsay Centre shuts down the processes of critical investigation and exploration of thought that make the university a liberating place. Instead of critically reflecting on the great works that make our culture, students will simply be sold an ahistorical, political narrative of Western civilisation pushed by some of this country’s most hardened right-wing culture warriors. This is clear from the fact that the Ramsay Centre infamously refused to sign on to a memorandum of understanding with ANU that included support for the idea of ‘’academic freedom.’’ Principles such as academic autonomy, integrity and freedom – principles we would probably all agree are important to whatever Western civilisation actually is – are out the window. Tony Abbott made this clear in a piece he published with Quadrant, that famous organ of the feverish, conspiratorial right. Making it clear that Ramsay was a right-wing organisation and would so remain, Abbott argued that any Ramsay program would not ‘’merely (be) about Western civilisation but in favour of it.’’ There’s a fundamental arrogance to such a statement that has no place in a university that wishes to be a place of light, liberty and learning.

Abbott made it clear in the same article that Ramsay’s ambitions were ultimately not educational but political: ‘’[Differences] could be made by small numbers of committed and capable people … Person by person, the world does change. A much more invigorating long march through our institutions may be about to begin!’’

The political nature of the Ramsay project is absolutely brazen. Right-wingers might retort here with some hoopla echoing Nazi propaganda against the Jews: universities are already political because they have been captured by a shadowy cabal of Cultural Marxists intent on destroying the West with their rootless globalist agenda, etc blah blah blah. Such are the musings of those divorced from reality, jacked up on exotic cocktails of hard drugs. No such conspiracy exists.

Yes, alongside the study of the great works, contemporary scholarship in the humanities focuses on some of the more profoundly disturbing questions about our Western civilisation – racism, genocide, imperialism, patriarchy, class oppression and environmental degradation. This does not represent some kind of left-wing attempt to undermine and ultimately destroy Western culture. Scholarly, critical investigation of Western culture isn’t new; it formed the basis of the Enlightenment, one of the most important movements in Western intellectual history. Those academics that rely on the principle of academic freedom in order to ask challenging questions of our culture, history and society in reality do the Western tradition a great service. It is only through sustained critical reflection and scholarship that we might hope to build a better, greater, more just culture. And this is what the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation fundamentally misunderstands about scholarship, the role of the university and the nature of education itself.

The Ramsay Centre doesn’t care about educating students in what it means to be human; it isn’t interested in the fundamental questions of human existence or critically interrogating the darkest recesses of the human soul. It isn’t interested, as the humanities are, in critiquing culture’s worst excesses. It simply wants to mould a generation of culture warriors, steeped in Howard and Abbott’s feverish, meth-tinged, chauvinist, ethno-centric view of the Western world. It wants to derogate everything that actually makes our culture worthy of study and celebration. It wants to make the university a place of group think and intellectual slavery, where liberation is impossible. We must not allow this to happen under our watch. To keep UQ a place of light, of liberty and of learning, we must resist the Ramsay Centre’s efforts to establish itself on campus.


Yemen: Status and Suffering


Tiarni Miller 

Revolution To Proxy War

The way the West views the Arab Spring remains contentious. On the one hand, we triumph it as a series of anti-government protests in response to authoritarian, oppressive regimes. For many, the collective action that emerged out of the Arab Spring was a symbol of people power in societies where fundamental human rights were routinely abrogated. However, marches soon turned to riots and voices turned into violence. Where passive resistance was ignored, active resistance was born, and anti-government insurgencies took hold across North Africa and the Middle East from Morocco to Iraq. In the rubble of weak states, opportunistic Islamist actors emerged, charged with the will of the angry and an unflinching desire for power. Of all the countries that fell into what is now called the Arab Winter, Yemen represents perhaps the most devastating example. Opportunists labelling themselves the Houthis seized the existing government in 2015, triggering what would soon become the world’s most pressing humanitarian crisis.  How did this happen? This essay will explore the internal and international historico-political origins of the Yemen war through scholarly discourse.

Internal Actors

The collapse of the GCC-sponsored reconciliation process created an ideal environment for the deposition of the Hadi government by rebel forces. Opportunistically taking advantage of the general power vacuum created by the Arab Spring, the Houthis quickly formed an association with former Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh in 2015. Backed by Iran, Houthi rebels have demonstrated little desire to protect civilian life, participating in indiscriminate warfare and exploiting child soldiers. Some have criticised what they see to be the demonization of the Houthis. In an article published in Foreign Affairs in 2015, historian Asher Orkaby argued that the Houthi assault on Sana’a and the deposition of the Hadi government was “less a struggle between external forces than the continuation of a longer struggle between the northern tribes and the Yemeni republic.” Western analysts have obscured this accurate evaluation of the Yemeni Civil War through the oversimplification and misrepresentation of the parties involved. We often see a conflation between the complexity of regional ideological distinctions and religious sectarianism, such assumptions hindering the establishment of effective diplomacy. As political analyst Peter Salisbury argued in his opinion piece, Building Peace in Yemen From the Ground Up, we can see a cognitive gap in Western understanding of the Yemeni conflict, significantly in our limited conceptualisation of internal actors positioned against Houthi rebels.

Contrary to popular belief, the extent to which the Yemen National Army is controlled by the deposed Hadi government is highly contestable. Through a more nuanced evaluation, with further analysis of regional history and tribal geography, it can be observed that the Yemen National Army is instead comprised of northern tribesmen, southern secessionists, Salafists and military units affiliated with Yemen’s main Sunni Islamist party. It is this common reductive misconception, that both Orkaby and Salisbury have described as a counter-productive force in ongoing peace negotiations. However, four years have passed and whilst we can still recognize the origins of the conflict in tribal divisions, we have since witnessed an increased interest by several international actors and an expansion of the beneficiaries of a lucrative war economy.


How did this seemingly internal war become internationalized? In accordance with their long history of taking advantage of international alliances, the Houthis accepted military support from Iranian armed forces. To Iran, the Houthis were an effective tool in their pursuit of regional hegemony. To the Houthis, Iran offered arms, intelligence and men. While the extent to which the Houthis are dependent on Iranian arms is highly contentious, states such as Saudi-Arabia and the UAE have treated this as a matter of great concern. Their intervention in the conflict is a matter of great controversy.

Whilst Yemen’s Gulf neighbours have been vocal in their calls for the re-establishment of Yemen’s previous leadership, anxieties over Tehran’s influence in the region act as a much more powerful motivation for their military presence in the country; a presence costing Saudi-Arabia alone an estimated $100 billion USD. Whilst Saudi Arabia has spearheaded the GCC’s military campaign, particularly further north and far south, the UAE has also acted as a significant player in south Yemen, due to their strong tribal connections in Aden. Operation Decisive Storm saw the Saudi-led coalition seize Sana’a airport (preventing the much-needed distribution of humanitarian aid to the Yemeni people) while indiscriminately firing explosives into civilian areas and torturing innocents.  Whilst scholars and commentators in the Arab media have depicted this warfare as a manifestation of existing Saudi-Iranian tensions, a much more obvious factor is at play. As argued by international relations scholar May Darwich, the uncharacteristically aggressive Saudi-led intervention is representative of a broader switch in Saudi foreign policy; the Kingdom’s will for regional and international status.

Western involvement adds fuel to the wildfire with the US, UK, Australia, Canada and France providing arms, logistical support and intelligence to the Saudi military. How did we get to this stage? Having supported Saudi-Arabia since the Kingdom’s establishment, the US further endowed the Kingdom with legitimacy by siding with Saudi proxies in the Iran-Iraq war and later against Saddam Hussein in 1990. Things began to change under the Obama administration. The 2015 US-Iran nuclear deal defined a new American relationship with Iran, something that would prompt a significant shift in Washington-Riyadh relations. Perhaps in order to shore up Saudi relations, the Obama administration and the United Kingdom agreed to assist Saudi-Arabia in Yemen, through the distribution of weaponry, logistical support and intelligence. It is also to be noted that in addition to Saudi-Australian arms deals, the Australian Royal Navy has helped train the Saudi naval blockade.

A War Against the People

It’s easy to conclude from Yemeni political history and Saudi Arabia’s brutal intervention that the conflict is another Middle Eastern proxy war. Perhaps a more controversial yet appropriate way of viewing the struggle is as a war against the Yemeni people – unarmed civilians, their only crime being born in the wrong place and time. Despite their differences, we see both the Saudi-coalition and Houthi rebels actively obstructing humanitarian aid, committing war crimes, exploiting children for military purposes, torturing detainees and participating in the indiscriminate firing of explosives into civilian areas. It’s easy for Western media outlets to criticise Saudi Arabia for its shocking treatment of women and terrible human rights record. Bur perhaps it is time Western media outlets ask why we have been so eager to abet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s brutal terror campaign against the Yemeni people.

Michael Jackson and Cancel Culture: The Lasting Effects of Leaving Neverland

Music, Politics

Scott Murray

I’m going to start this piece by saying I never had any care for Michael Jackson. That isn’t to say that I disliked him – to me he was irrelevant. He was just a weird guy that was in the news when I was growing up, I didn’t even really take any note of his music until after the man died.  All I knew of Jackson prior to his death was what I had picked up from the satirical digs laid against Jackson in cartoons like the Simpsons or South Park. That is to say I knew that Jackson’s relationship with children was untoward but little else.

After the media circus surrounding his death, I don’t think I ever really thought about Michael Jackson, other than blaming it on the boogie with The Jackson 5 or watching his episode of The Simpsons. That’s why I was stunned when I first heard the hype surrounding the Leaving Neverland documentary, which I went into with very little background other than knowing it was damning for Jackson’s legacy. I found that as I watched I could not look away – the harrowing stories of those boys affected me more than any piece of media ever has.

I was so shocked that this information was only seemingly coming to the fore now – after all, at the time of Jackson’s death I was aware of the open secret that was Jackson’s relationships with children. So naturally when I finished Part One of the documentary I found myself frantically googling, trying to find any information regarding past allegations. Eventually I found the ’93 accusations and the ’05 court case which was ultimately covered in the second part of the documentary.

It was here that I realised that the public had known that Wacko Jacko was more than just an endearing nickname for an esoteric man. It was recognition of the insane man that he truly was, dangling his own children from hotel balconies, relentlessly pursuing the purchase of the Elephant Man’s bones, and consistently sleeping in the same bed with a slew of young boys. Yet society ignored these warning signs and waived them off as the eccentricities of an emotionally stunted child star.

But Michael Jackson continued. He was a larger than life figure that came into his own during a time that society was celebrating weirdness and the idea of welcoming the other. This was seen through sitcoms like Perfect Strangers and Mork and Mindy, where we saw the weirdo welcomed with a warm embrace into our collective living rooms. Similarly, Leaving Neverland mentions the way that the Safechuck’s used to get Jackson to hide in their car so he could escape his home unnoticed. A scene eerily similar to the way ET was smuggled away on Halloween in order to phone home.

This is to say that society allowed Michael Jackson his eccentricities because culturally they had become used to otherworldly, larger than life characters in their living room every week. They forgave him of his childlike obsessions because he never had a childhood and was coming to terms with the lasting effects of that childhood being stolen.

People have emotional baggage that they carry from their childhood, that is an undisputed fact. We are all a product of our influences and sadly for some, those influences are traumatic childhood experiences. Despite this we do not automatically dismiss the behaviour of people effected by childhood trauma. We, as a society, use all of the information available about a person to create a wholistic view of a human being as a product of many different influences. We did not do this for Jackson. This consistent acceptance of behaviours led us as a society to idolise, and monetise, a man that many of us would not sit next to on the bus if he were a normal member of society.

As a result of this broad acceptance of Jackson’s idiosyncrasies, we have reached a point where we cannot “cancel” Jackson like we have with the stars that have faced allegations before him.  It was easy enough to avoid films featuring Kevin Spacey, or to simply cut Louis C.K. out of our lives. But thanks to Jackson’s pervasive influence on the music industry as a whole he cannot be cancelled.

After all, if you were to “cancel” Michael Jackson you would be cancelling the essence of modern pop music. Artists like Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars, and The Weeknd are so deeply influenced by Jackson that to erase him from our collective memory would be to remove an essential part of pop music as an art form. Regardless of what you think of Michael Jackson as a man there is no arguing the lasting cultural impact of his art.

I am aware that the allegations laid against Jackson by Wade Robson and James Safechuck are far more repulsive than we have seen within the Me Too movement, and some may not include the allegations of Leaving Neverland as a part of the movement. Culturally however, Leaving Neverland occupies the same space as the Me Too movement. It alleges another story of a high-profile celebrity abusing their power to further their sexual agenda.

So far, as a society we have simply “cancelled” problematic artists, choosing to ignore their legacy entirely and remove them from our sight. The peak of Cancel Culture seemed to come when Kevin Spacey was literally removed from All the Money in the World and replaced with Christopher Plummer with reshoots taking place a month prior to the film’s release. Personally, I would not mind if Christopher Plummer were to reshoot the scenes of every problematic actor in perpetuity. But this solution is simply not viable, much like the concept of Cancel Culture as a whole.

Choosing as a society to cancel the work of a problematic artist seems effective on paper – it damages the finances of those accused and removes their influence from our culture as a whole. However, this is where the issues arise. When we cancel an artist, we are cancelling more than their art. By ignoring the artist we are in some way ignoring the allegations of victims.

Take Mel Gibson as an example. After information about his 2006 DUI and subsequent anti-Semitic rant became public, he was “cancelled” with his prolific career being forced to the sidelines as society came to understand who he was as a man. It wasn’t until 2010 that Gibson landed his next role on the big screen. And even then, his career heavily stagnated. It was only through the passing of time that society came to embrace him once more.

Soon enough Gibson was back to his previous level of stardom and was able to direct Hackshaw Ridge, a film with a story powerful enough for society to forgive and forget. And this is where the problem truly lies with Cancel Culture. It is an effective tool to starve problematic artists of income and push them into obscurity in the short term. In the long term however it is problematic.

This is a result of the obscurity these artists are pushed into. Sitting on the sidelines cancelled artists can rebuild, rebrand and re-enter the mainstream when society forgets the actions that got them cancelled in the first place. Woody Allen is still making films after all.

The allegations detailed in Leaving Neverland are far more severe than almost any that have come before. But Michael Jackson was more pervasive in society than all of the artists we have “cancelled” combined. Because of this I believe that the aftermath of Leaving Neverland will be far more significant than simply negatively impacting the legacy of Michael Jackson. It is a watershed moment for society as a whole as we choose how to handle Jackson’s art from this point on.

I don’t think that society will ever truly be able to separate Jackson’s art from the allegations levelled against him. One need look no further than the music video for The Way You Make Me Feel. The clip is already problematic enough in the Me Too era, depicting Jackson chasing and catcalling a woman while making various sexual dance moves as the woman runs away from him, eventually reaching her home with Jackson still in pursuit. I don’t feel the need to explain the negative behaviours that are already present in the video.

But when viewed with the knowledge of the allegations of Leaving Neverland the video can be seen as much more than Jackson perpetuating the negative behaviours of men relentlessly pursuing women. With the awareness of Leaving Neverland it can be interpreted as an attempt by Jackson to cement his heterosexuality, akin to his marriage with Lisa Marie Presley which seemed a direct reaction to the accusations levelled against Jackson by Evan Chandler.

The solution isn’t simple. In re-watching that music video I contributed to the assets of Michael Jackson’s estate. But I also witnessed red flags that come to the fore thanks to the lens of Leaving Neverland.

I don’t think there is a solution to the problems of Jackson. The allegations levelled against him are so monstrous that it would be remiss of society not to acknowledge them. Consumers can delete Jackson’s music from their playlists and therefore stop donating money to the legal defence of an alleged paedophile. But despite everything I have written, Jackson’s music, and influence, is so embedded in our culture we cannot choose to ignore him.

The lasting impact of Leaving Neverland will be on more than just the reassessment of Michael Jackson’s legacy. It will ultimately decide how society handles problematic artists and will finally answer the question: “Can you separate the art from the artist?”

An Ecological Home

Environment, Philosophy, Politics

Lachlan Green

In today’s world of urbanised humanity, homes are commonly thought of as a building, or a piece of land to be bought and sold. It’s a common concept to “own a home.” In a university you’d be more likely to hear millennials despair at never “owning a home”. Yet, Arne Næss (renowned mountaineer, activist, environmental philosopher and founder of the Deep Ecology movement) wrote of home in a very different sense. He referred to the concept as one’s Place, where a person belongs and connects to the environment as a “delimited, ecological self”. Lot’s of interesting terms and strange ideas … What does it mean, and how does it apply to a modern-day Queenslander?

Næss spent his adult life writing and postulating about humans and their relationship with the natural world, all while working on his own relationship with nature by spending many years living in a small cabin in the Norwegian wilderness. This cabin, on the mountain Tvergastein, was the centre of his Place. From here, Næss was able to conduct amateur science, observe animal and plant life, engage in his hobby of mountain climbing, and explore the complex needs of humans in their Places. This frames the concept of an ecological home (which Næss refers to as Place), as a place where a person can have an individual relationship with nature. And, as displayed by Næss, a person’s relationship with their Place is not just some abstract, hippy idea of “feeling right” or “getting the right vibes” – although there may be some level of these unknown elements, it is a tangible relationship defined by what a Place can do to fulfil us. We’ll go through some possible criteria for finding our own Place shortly.

From the idea of the ecological home comes the idea of an “ecological Self”. Many of us restrict our idea of the Self to what is directly linked to what makes us individual, for instance my narrowest definition of my Self may include my job, my university degree, and where I currently reside. Sometimes, when we really reflect, we can define our emotional Self by identifying what causes our common moods, and how we’re commonly perceived by others. The ecological Self extends the definition even further. While thinking of ourselves in the narrow way explained above, we allow ourselves to relate with other humans. But, by locating our Place and extending our idea of the self to include our place in the ecosystem, we can identify with all living beings. Næss follows this up by stating that an understanding of one’s ecological Self could lead to an understanding of our meaning on Earth. Rather grandiose claims that I won’t delve into, but it further frames what Næss set out to achieve through his time in his Place.

So, with this brief understanding of Næss’s work, how do we go about finding our Places? We must first define what we’re looking for, and already we’ve hit a pot hole. It’s, unfortunately, quite impossible for me to layout exactly what each of us should look for in our Place. While our basic needs as humans can be quite easy to define (it’s recommended that someone’s Place should have relatively easy access to food, water and shelter), the fulfilment of our social and emotional needs vary greatly. While I may go looking for a place in close proximity to the ocean with a thin spattering of human contact and plenty of trails to feed my desire for hiking, a hydrophobic, extrovert with a passion for golf would have a very different set of criteria. Those of us that find great value in biodiversity and have a good understanding of our place in an ecosystem may use an ecocentric lens, searching for an ecosystem that can house us comfortably. Yet for others, it may be important to identify ourselves in the narrower definitions of Self outlined in the previous paragraph. Essentially, we need to identify what we require from life in order to be fulfilled individuals, a daunting task to say the least. No matter what other criteria we’ve decided upon, the crucial decision can be made by asking the final questions, “Can I see myself spending lots of time here?” and “Will I be fulfilled here?”

Armed with this knowledge we can venture out in, what I deem to be, the most exciting step; searching for our Place. Where do we start? Now, we’re all on our own. It may be best for us to start local, revisit places that we already feel a connection to. Or, it may be best for us to jump in somewhere completely unexplored, journey somewhere brand new so we can apply our criteria to a clean slate. No matter where we begin, we need to be critical and analytic in our approach. We can use our decided upon criteria to create a lens through which we’re able to analyse whether a place is suitable to be our Place.

To give a brief example, I’d like to share one of my experiences in Queensland. My personal search recently took me camping in Springbrook National Park, a rainforest site in the Gold Coast hinterland. My first checkbox was ticked before I even arrived – the site was only 40 minutes from the beach. On from that, the ecosystems varied immensely. I had the ability to explore eucalypt forests in one direction and sub-tropical rainforests in the other. The bird life was plentiful – a Tawny Frogmouth made itself at home nearby and our campsite was frequently visited by Fairy-Wrens that dutifully hopped about collecting insects. The two days of walks barely scratched the surface of the trails that weave their way around the mountain, leaving plenty to be explored. I can definitely see myself spending more time there, but I’m unsure as to my level of fulfilment.

Our analysis of each place we explore doesn’t need to be anywhere near this formal, it doesn’t even need to be written down. We may even be able to make the Place critique a subliminal process. Yet, it can be applied wherever we go in order to get a sense of how we can connect to a location’s natural world.

We are privileged to live in a place where ecological wonders are commonplace. Where, even in this world of rapid urbanisation, we have access to undisturbed wildernesses within an hour of driving. Australia is a precious place in the modern world, and Queensland even more so. So, get out there, do some exploring, find your Place. Who knows if we’ll ever be able to buy a home. We can definitely find one.

Author’s note: This article only aims to give a brief and broad overview of Arne Næss’s writings in an applied sense. For those interested, I highly recommend his works included in Ecology of Wisdom (the bare basics of which create the foundation of this article).

Why America Should Not Intervene in Venezuela


Jess Kiss

The United States’ decision – and that of its allies, both in the west and east – to endorse the opposition-controlled National Assembly’s leader, Juan Guaidó, in Venezuela ignores the logistical obstacles endured by president Nicolas Maduro. America’s support for regime change/foreign intervention in order to ”aid” Venezuela during its “monumental” humanitarian crisis will subsequently amount to failure if realised as the nation’s social, political and economic structural weaknesses have not been adequately considered.

Ideology has ruled conversation on Venezuela since Hugo Chavez won the 1998 election with a variation of socialist policy pledges. Discourse surrounding contemporary Venezuela’s unprecedented levels of poverty has since focused on increased state control over oil reserves – the largest in the world – corruption, tax reform, foreign debt renegotiations, revenue re-allocations to increase public welfare programs and general negligence.

Indeed, nobody can deny the degeneration of the country’s oil sector and the role that this has played on its oil-dependent economy. Mismanagement and corruption have played an integral role to Venezuela’s impoverishment. What those in favour of US-led intervention fail to acknowledge is the historically coercive role oil has played in Venezuelan politics since its significant reserves were discovered at the beginning of the twentieth century. Long predating Chavez, Venezuela’s capitalist regimes established oil concessions and access for political allies which have continued to dictate the nation’s economics and politics.

Following the failed US-backed coup of 2002, Chavez implemented currency controls alongside numerous pay-offs to secure investors within the unstable political and economic setting. Maduro inherited this fundamentally unstable aspect of Venezuelan politics.  Yet his regime has attempted to maintain such pay-offs in spite of the monumental oil crash of 2014. 

This “political mortgage” has no doubt been to the detriment of the Venezuelan population, who have suffered inflation as Venezuelan bolivars were printed in an attempt to compensate for Venezuela’s shrinking revenue from oil sales. The United States & co. have since used the pay-offs as justification to impose strict sanctions on the nation, with direct losses over three years of around US$38 billion since their implementation. These sanctions have only exacerbated the crisis facing Venezuela and its population post-2014 crash. Most importantly, they have been enacted without considering the structural weaknesses that underpin an economy dependent on one industry or resource. The blight of corruption which parallels the power of oil is evident throughout all regimes in Venezuelan modern history and such corruption will continue despite a change in regime.

No matter the motivation and intent of a potential regime change in Venezuela, we also must consider the turbulent history of the United States regarding intervention in Latin America. Whether justified by protecting the population of the United States, its economic interests, pre-empting conflict or policing governments they deem corrupt; too often US intervention has resulted in lingering dictatorships and internal conflict.

Perhaps the most overt example is that of Nicaragua. The rebel army of the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN) led a left-wing revolution as a broad coalition from 1979, before Reagan’s administration trained, armed and financed counter-revolutionary ‘Contras’. Known for their use of death squads, the Contras wreaked havoc over the Nicaraguan population, perpetrating thousands of killings, kidnappings, tortures, rapes and displacements. Reagan’s illegal support for the reactionary group continued until a peace agreement was reached in 1989.

At the height of the conflict in 1985, Daniel Ortega was elected as president (under the FSLN). He led the left-wing party until their defeat at the 1989 post-peace agreement election and was again elected to lead Nicaragua and the FSLN in 2007. Ortega, despite once representing a party that spurred American anti-communist action, no longer represented “the ideals that so many Nicaraguans fought and died for”, as described by former Vice President Sergio Ramirez. American interests have prevailed in the country as Ortega now supports corporate interests and centres Nicaraguan politics around a purely capitalist ideologue.

Most critically, the death squads which were responsible for the chaos and destruction of the 1980s have returned. The social and political climate of Nicaragua remains haunted by the groups so willingly supported by the Reagan administration. As parallels emerge today between the two eras – the Nicaraguan government under Ortega has lethally suppressed left wing protests, barred its political opposition from elections and repressed civilians – the highly destructive impact of US intervention and influence becomes apparent. While America has left the country, Nicaragua’s political instability and turmoil has remained.

Ironically, the United States & co have used Venezuelan military spending as a paradigm for Maduro’s negligence toward the starving population. If the United States wished for foreign governments to avoid directing vital funding toward military purposes, it should consider retracting rhetoric which threatens the sovereignty of nations such as Venezuela. It is also deeply hypocritical when considering the current military budget of the United States in comparison to the deepening impoverishment of much of its population.

The political bargaining power of oil has been exploited for over a decade in Venezuela. United States intervention will prove inept in aiding “democracy” and the economy as oil and the corruption linked to it will continue to dominate the country’s politics whether Venezuela has a socialist-inspired regime led by Maduro, or a model dominated by the free market as aspired to by Guaidó. If the international community truly wished to aid Venezuela, it would recognise this crisis not as one of regime, but a result of the structural weaknesses that underpin economies dependent on one resource/industry. It would empower the nation with the prospects of diversification necessary to make the country less vulnerable to temperamental oil markets and it would remove the sanctions which have exacerbated the crisis. It would rescind talk of American-led intervention  based on a Western analysis that fails to consider the structural flaws inherent to the nation regardless of regime type. By so doing it would avoid repeating actions which have historically destabilised so much of the world.






Opinion: If You Support Sex Work, You Are Not Only Anti-Feminism – You Are Anti-Human-Rights


Adele Asoski

Often regarded as ‘the world’s oldest profession’, sex work is an integral topic to past and present feminist discourse. Up until, and including, the start of second-wave feminism, sex work was rightfully regarded as exploitative, dehumanising and primarily driven by capitalism. Contrary to this view, liberal feminists – who compose the majority of third-wave feminists – argue that sex work is ‘empowering’ and ‘freeing’. This article aims to argue why this is not the case when the first-hand experiences of sex workers are examined.

Take into consideration the demographics of feminists who are arguing for sex work and you will find that they are overwhelming privileged, white, Western women. This is important to consider, as the vast majority of sex workers do not share these traits, but are rather most often poverty-stricken, uneducated, women of colour. If sex work is a free choice, why are the women with the fewest choices the ones most often found doing it? (MacKinnon, 2007). Sex work reinforces every ideal that feminism originally aimed to disempower; that women are objects to be traded and sold, that men are dominant over women, that consent can be gained in coercive sex. Money acts as coercion in sex work as physical force does in rape, therefore the validity of consent in sex work is highly problematic, and most likely not even possible (MacKinnon, 2009). No person can truly consent to their own oppression (Barry, 1995). You cannot view an industry as inherently feminist or empowering when up to 70% of workers have experienced sexual abuse as children, 65% have been raped before the age of 15, 82% have been physically assaulted since entering the profession, and 46% have been raped by clients (Silbert, 1982; Farley, 1998). It is obvious that these women are the most vulnerable, on the fringes of society, and should not be subjected to further victimisation in this way. When so many have experienced such serious oppression and abuse before they have even begun working, it is clear that these women are not choosing sex work out of free will, but because they feel they have no other choice.

Argue this view-point however, and you will often be labelled a ‘prude’, or ‘sex negative’, or even a ‘SWERF’. The use of any of these ad hominems displays a clear misunderstanding of radical feminist theory; we do not oppose sex workers, we oppose the victimisation and oppression they experience that is inherent in participating in sex work. Many radical feminists argue for the ‘Nordic model’, arguably the only solution to protecting impoverished women without punishing them for the work that they participate in. The Sex Buyer Law – as it is known in the countries in which it is enacted – decriminalises all those who participate in sex work, provides support to help them leave the industry, and decries the purchasing of sex as a criminal offence. This model enables women to seek help without the fear of persecution that they often face in countries without such laws.

Sex work is especially prevalent in South-East Asia, where an emerging industry known as ‘sex tourism’ has become prevalent. It is common for struggling families in rural areas from these regions to sell their children to human traffickers, who take the children to cities to perform sex work for the tourism industry (Samarasinghe, 2008). 11% of Thailand’s gross domestic income is from the sex industry, showcasing just how widespread this phenomenon really is. Even here in Australia, 70% of sex workers are migrants, of which 44% are from Thailand specifically (Renshaw et al., 2015), showing that even when these women flee their home countries, their oppression follows them, and without access to support, they are left without other options to obtain income. To make matters worse for these women, unprotected sex is the norm, which has led to preventable sexually transmitted diseases becoming the second most important risk factor for disability and death in developing countries (Glasier et al., 2006).

If sex work was truly empowering for women, then we would not see the correlation that we do between sex work and drug abuse, physical abuse, rape, suicide attempts, and poverty. 67% of sex workers in one study met the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD from experiences related to their profession. 92% stated that they wished to leave the profession, but felt they had no other options (Farley, 1998). 86% have used illicit drugs, with the majority using in a way that further exacerbates the risk of related diseases, especially HIV (Potterat et al., 1998). How can anyone deny these statistics and chose to support this cruel and dehumanising industry? It could not be clearer that, from the first-hand experiences of sex-workers, it is an industry that does not belong in a post-Universal Declaration of Human Rights world. Articles 4 and 5 of said document specifically boycott all forms of slavery and servitude and proclaim that no person should be subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment (United Nations, 1948). Therefore, sex work is inherently incompatible with human rights, as these violations are fundamental to sex work. It stands to reason then, that if you support sex-work, you are not only anti-feminism, but also anti-human rights.