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‘Hubris’: excessive pride or self-confidence, excessive pride towards or defiance of the gods, leading to nemesis. The word came into my mind when I was contemplating the recent pronouncement of ‘the parrot’ aka Alan Jones, Sydney’s Radio 2GB’s perennial shock jock. In arguing that Scott Morrison should “shove a sock” down Jacinda Ardern’s throat, Jones may have gone a step too far. While Jones insists his Ardern comments were a “mistake”, his detractors pointed to his growing rap sheet including calling for Opera House chief executive Louise Herron to be sacked last year for not allowing advertisements to be projected onto the building.
Before that he had suggested that former prime minister Julia Gillard ought to be “tied up in a chaff bag and thrown in the sea”. He read a text message on-air in the lead-up to the 2005 Cronulla riots, urging “Aussies” to “support the Leb and wog bashing day”; and had a $3.74 million defamation payout in 2018 to a family Jones wrongly implicated in the flood deaths of 12 people. Jones’ comments about our NZ friend have resulted in several companies withdrawing their advertising from 2GB’s breakfast show, including Anytime Fitness and hardware chain Total Tools.
Alan Jones has enormous power as a commentator, and in attracting advertising revenue, but there is, however, a dark side to his power, which derives from its mind-changing effects on the people who hold it. Subordinates are reluctant to criticise or question the power-holder, leading to the illusion of infallibility. The early outcomes of bold decision and sustained success blur the boundaries between judgement and recklessness; personal status within an organisation generalising into a belief in ‘special qualities’. He has gone just a little too far, and may suffer a fall from grace as a consequence.
George W Bush’s embarrassingly premature announcement of “mission accomplished” aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln two months after the allied invasion of Iraq is perhaps the most celebrated recent example of hubris in the political sphere. That was until Donald Trump came along. The contrast between the self-confidence of the leader and the devastating aftermath of their decisions has become commonplace. For example, Tony Blair taking the British Army into Iraq after successful minor ventures in Kosovo and Sierra Leone, or Margaret Thatcher beating down the coal miners in England, and the Argentinians in the Falklands, followed by the gradual erosion of her power and authority to
As a child, I was made to read Gibbons’ Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. It made a lasting impression on me that such a mighty and powerful entity could just, over a couple of centuries crumble and vanish. And then, over time, I noticed that many of the world’s great empires, including that which I had been a part of, the British Empire on ‘whose boundaries the sun never set’, were now no more. I am reminded of Ozymandias, Shelley’s poem about massive ruins in the desert with the half-buried inscription “My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
The rot sets in from the top, from the caesars down. And now Boris Johnson has just prorogued, shut down, the mother of parliaments until he can get the messy Brexit exit out of the way without awkward intercession from those who can see the dangers inherent in so egregious an action. Then what? And across the Atlantic, it is widely conceded that POTUS has entirely lost the plot, whilst here, we are riven by ancient loyalties and the cost of economic growth, and dither over Chinese internecine conflict imported into our universities. And in a move with far-reaching implications, we have committed the health and welfare of young Australians to a police action in the roiling maelstrom of the Middle East. Our commitment is relatively trivial, but the diplomatic damage significant.
We don’t know what our people will do there: if they are fired upon, if our frigate is torpedoed, our sole aeroplane hit by a surface to air missile, and we have no plan for extrication if the worst hits the fan. This is not an act of strategy, it is a weak yielding to a playground bully picking, and we may become seriously unstuck.
Icarus, you have a lot to answer for!
John Fleming II
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