Australia’s dangerous obsession with the Anglosphere

Dennis Altman, author of the article partly reproduced below, has been queer since before it was fashionable and was also born a Jew. Both those backgrounds probably have a role in making him alienated from the Australian society in which he lives. So much so that he clearly does not understand mainstream Australians -- which could also be due to his many distinguished academic appointments.

Academe is a very different world of its own. I saw it close up in my own academic career. In that career I did a lot of social surveys using general population samples and it was amusing how different the results I got were when compared with the conventional literature of social and political science. "The people" are not as academics conceive them. Most academics live in a complacent Leftist bubble from which all dissident thought is rigorously excluded. And if a disturbing thought is forced into their consciousness, they foam with rage -- as Donald Trump has shown.

So, for various reasons, Dennis just cannot understand why our news media and cutural outlets do not focus on Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and New Delhi. Geographical considerations would suggest that our focus should be there but it is not. We hear ten thousand times more about Donald Trump than we do about Narendra Modi (Who's Narendra Modi?). The fact that Dennis finds that wrong is a very interesting commentary on his thinking. He elevates geography over the social sciences. Once again we see that people are a puzzle to him.

I reproduce below only the opening blast from his very long and repetitious article but I think that that suffices to give you a very fair indication of his drift.

It's what he doesn't say that is more enlightening, however. He fails to get to grips with the ancient truth that we get on better with people like ourselves and find people like ourselves more interesting. That simple truth explains the "perversity" that Dennis sees in the world about him. Both genetically and culturally the UK and the USA are very similar to us and that is the end of it. We will always be more interested in them than in the doings at Ulaanbaatar, historically important though Mongolia has been. Dennis's claim that we should be less preoccupied by ethnic and cultural similarity is pissing into the wind. He certainly does not explain why something so normal is a "dangerous obsession"

Over the past three weeks the ABC program Four Corners has presented special reports on American politics, which involved one of our best journalists, Sarah Ferguson, travelling to the US on special assignment. I watched these programs and I enjoyed them. But in part I enjoyed them because they covered ground that is already familiar.

If the same effort had gone into bringing us in-depth special reports from, say, Jakarta or Mumbai they would have been less familiar, but perhaps more interesting. Most important they would not be stories already covered by major English language media to which we have extraordinary access.

As we struggle to make sense of a changing world order, in which the role of the US seems less defined and dependable, our fascination with things American continues to grow. It is one of the ironies of current Australian life that preoccupation with “the Anglosphere”, a favourite phrase of former prime minister Tony Abbott’s, is in practice shared by many who regard themselves as progressive.

What is the Anglosphere? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “the countries of the world in which the English language and cultural values predominate”, clearly referring to Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. A surprisingly recent term, it was coined by the science-fiction writer Neal Stephenson in his 1995 novel The Diamond Age, and then picked up by a number of conservative commentators.

The Churchillian notion of near-mythical bonds created by the English language and British heritage has always attracted Australian conservatives. Chris Berg from the Institute of Public Affairs wrote in 2012:

"Our heritage is not something to be ashamed of. It is not a coincidence the oldest surviving democracies are in the Anglosphere. Or that a tradition of liberty, stretching back to the Magna Carta, has given English-speaking nations a greater protection of human rights and private property. We ought to be proud, not bashful. Sure, it’s more fashionable to talk of the ‘Asian century’. But the Anglosphere will shape Australia’s cultural and political views for a century. It’s a shame only conservatives feel comfortable talking about it"

Both former foreign affairs minister Bob Carr and former prime minister Kevin Rudd attacked Abbott’s enthusiasm for the Anglosphere. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is far less likely to invoke the term, and the election of Donald Trump means the idea has gone out of fashion on the right, who are struggling how to respond to a US president who is both their worst fears and their greatest hopes made flesh.

Yet despite 50 years of governments talking about Australia as part of Asia, now somewhat rebadged in the concept of the Indo-Pacific, our cultural guardians continue to behave as if nothing has changed. We may be wary of Trump’s America, and a little bemused by the reappearance of Little Britain, but we still look unreflectively to the US and Britain for intellectual guidance.


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