Covid-19 – making the most of a ceasefire in the Culture Wars

Making the most of a ceasefire in the Culture Wars

Rod Mitchell, National Chair CCL Australia

We are now well into the Covid-19 crisis and some horrifying things are happening for many people around the world. We are being given a dress rehearsal for things to come and a glimpse of some of the things that might happen as the climate crisis deepens. And we are learning a lot about ourselves, as individuals, as a nation and as a species trying to deal with rapidly changing circumstances.

Some of what we are learning is hopeful!

  • Governments can act quickly when they recognise there is a crisis to be dealt with – they can change direction in response to changing circumstances and even let go of long held ideological positions.
  • Governments are rediscovering the value of listening to experts.
  • When the threat is immediate or reasonably close we respond. We come together, we collaborate, we care about others. And if not too panicked, we can be thoughtful and creative about what needs to be done.

Recently I have given thought to the Culture War – the ongoing war between progressives and conservatives, right and left, pro-climate and anti-renewables. It takes many forms but its primary effect is to divide, distract and confuse. It also consumes a lot of time and energy in mostly useless haranguing, criticism and abuse – in Parliament and in all forms of media, especially talk-back radio and social media.

Underlying it all is the big question of how the planet’s resources get shared or not shared, especially energy-producing resources and side effects like pollution. The climate wars are in many ways a subset of the culture war – people’s positions on climate are strongly determined by their place in the culture wars. In any discussion about climate, facts are rendered almost irrelevant by the beliefs, identities and entrenched positions taken by each side.

A Truce?

A conversation on RN Breakfast this week  between Sally McManus, Secretary of the ACTU and Jennifer Westacott, CEO of the Business Council about their collaboration with each other and with government about the Job Keeper Package was very hopeful in this context. It signified a truce or at least a ceasefire in the culture war – a recognition that we are all in this together, that the virus and its economic effects can take us all down. And now the PM is thanking the ACTU Secretary for negotiating flexible employment conditions for the duration of the Covid crisis.

This truce is a big opportunity for us – it gives us room to connect with MPs while they are still in cooperative, crisis-busting mode and not yet back in the divisive partisan processes of day-to-day politics. And with our valuing of respectful, appreciative relationship-building approaches, CCL is better placed than most to make good use of the opportunity.

Disarmament

We can further improve our approach by recognising that it takes two to engage in a culture war, rather like the tango. Progressives inadvertently perpetuate the war and feed the polarisation simply by engaging in it. The values, language, symbols and interests of both sides easily trigger anger, derision and abuse in the other. Both sides annoy, provoke and even infuriate each other. And each time these feelings are triggered, positions and beliefs can become more entrenched.

CCL’s value for respect, appreciation and generosity is an important counter to the culture war; it disarms people, bridges the divide and enables us to relate as humans with common interests and values. It is a good reminder that we need to practice it in all our interactions and resist being drawn into the war.

This approach is hard to keep up as we become increasingly aware of the damage being done to our planet and its climate system. Anger, disgust and despair are natural reactions to these realisations, but they need to be expressed and released with friends and colleagues, rather than aiming them at the source. By releasing them safely we are less likely to express them in ways that alienate others and entrench them in their beliefs, their identities and their commitment to the war.

Next steps

Our MPs are travelling much less now and probably have more time to meet with us, albeit online. Let’s not allow Covid 19 to hold us back from lobbying – we can reach out now while there is a ceasefire and appreciate them for their collaborative and thoughtful adoption of expert advice and for their ability to respond constructively to crisis. Then we can ask them to consider responding similarly to the climate challenge. We can do this in ways that build bridges over the war, disarm the warriors and extend the truce.