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on walking away

September means it’s time to sign up to New Matilda‘s subscriber list – a very small monthly payment which will not only pay you back in independent media gold all year long, but also shower you with gifts and make you laugh the self-satisfied laughter of the well-informed citizen.

I have been quiet on the non-fiction front, for the very good reason that I am focusing on the next novel, which is at present sludgy, vague and irksome, so proceeding as per usual. The last six months has been a difficult mix of trying to buy time to write fiction and trying to write what pays; I don’t think I’ve found anything like a balance, but I am still alive and writing, for what it’s worth. I wish I had the energy to dedicate myself to political commentary sometimes, but fiction is a very demanding boss. I will be back on New Matilda before too long, though, providing it is still there.

There are other reasons to make a temporary strategic withdrawal from current affairs. There have been some interesting discussions lately (eg here, here and here) about the poor quality of public discourse in this country and why our government/media are failing us. The lack of courage, compassion and moral imagination displayed by the ALP over the asylum seekers “debate” is sickening and only makes me feel more like leaving the conversation. This is not a new feeling by any means, but it is still disappointing. A democracy is supposed to have a government which is accountable and honest, not one which manipulates public opinion, lives by media polls and focuses on image management rather than policy. Citizens pay experts to do that job because we want someone capable of looking further ahead than the next day’s media cycle. I don’t blame the media for this, although I do think the bullying influence exerted by the Murdoch press in this country has become very clear. I think we are missing some very strong opportunities to reinvigorate our democracy, via technology, public forums, etc. The increasingly discursive and interactive nature of our lives should be cause for enthusiasm and for the exercise of more democratic skills among better-informed people. Instead it feels like a cold bath in shallow water.

Incidentally, an old teacher of mine is speaking at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas on the chances of deliberative democracy amidst all this, which should be very interesting.

The present government looks as if the very idea of democracy has confused and frightened them. The system we have is broken beyond repair. I don’t seem capable of listening to the news lately without wanting to break things. So while it does seem cowardly to walk away from the conversation for a while, I must, as I cannot afford to replace all my crockery.

Of all the difficulties of writing, it is this disengagement with the world with which i have the biggest problem. But it makes a deeper, stronger engagement possible. I hope it makes the work more satisfying.

I think in this political climate outlets like New Matilda are essential in terms of bringing up the level of the discussion and calling government and the mainstream media out on their manipulations. As Jello said, don’t hate the media, become the media – but if you’re too engaged in other work, or battling with your debt like most of us, please, please, support the projects that are trying to keep some of our public conversation above the lowest common denominator.