This week I have been unusually tired by the time the kids’ bedtime comes around. So last night, earlier than usual, I snuggled down into my bed and picked up Felix Holt by George Eliot.
I came across the following:
“But what is strength? Is it blind wilfulness that sees no terrors, no many-linked conequences, no bruises and wounds of those whose cords it tightens? Is it the narrowness of a brain that conceives no needs differing from its own, and looks to no results beyond the bargains of to-day; that tugs with emphasis for every small purpose, and thinks it weakness to exercise the sublime power of resolved renunciation? There is a sort of subjection which is the peculiar heritage of largeness and of love; and strength is often only another name for willing bondage to irremediable weakness.”
This passage rang bells in my head and I memorized the page and resolved to write about it today. Yesterday, I listened to a very interesting podcast in which Paul Barclay interviews Erik Jensen about his Quarterly Essay entitled The Prosperity Gospel (a different kind of dissection of the 2019 Federal Election). Jensen is more of a biographer than a political commentator and the discussion was more about personality and motivations than about political analysis.
Of course, the title of Jensen’s essay refers to the fact that Morrison is an enthusiastic Pentecostal. According to Jensen, Morrison took his campaign playbook directly from Church methodologies. He called on the faith and fear of his followers and in this way he managed to sidestep the requirement for policies or plans. He also happily accepted that there would be people who would not like him and was content to leave those people behind and ignore what concerned them (blind to the bruises and wounds, etc).
Shorten, on the other hand, wanted consensus. He aimed to please as many people as he could (which sounds like the obvious way to win an election) but in doing so, only seemed to anger more. According to Jensen, Shorten is too needy for the Australian public. Jensen describes Shorten’s big love-hungry eyes.
En masse, Jensen theorizes, Australians see Morrison as the stronger leader because he has absolute confidence in his own abilities and beliefs and bows to nobody. Shorten came to the election with carefully planned strategy and policy but Morrison led with sheer force of will and self-confidence. While Shorten bleated the details of his plans from a lectern, Morrison got himself on TV by shearing a sheep.
Jensen mournfully asks, if this is the kind of leader we go for, how will we ever get away from Sociopaths?
According to a definition online strength is “the capacity of an object or substance to withstand great force or pressure.” This definition of strength describes a non-porous wall. But leadership (the kind of strength we want in a prime minister) is not a wall. Leadership should act more like the liver – accepting the flow of ideas and then evicting the toxic ones. But to decide what is toxic a great leader must put aside ego.
One little article on Forbes.com says that: “Being a great leader requires constant personal and professional development, regular transparent feedback from the team, self-reflection and taking action on feedback received. Great leaders are rarely satisfied with their performance.”
A great leader should show confidence but arrogance is a step too far.
Where is the boundary between arrogance and confidence? Apparently a recent prime minister declared (in relation to changes needed in the power grid) that Australian law is more important than mathematical laws. This incredible statement reminds me of reading Herodotus when I did Ancient History in high school. According to Herodotus, Xerxes – the King of Persia, had a body of water (the Hellespont) whipped because it flooded and washed away his bridge of boats.
We humans are not stronger than nature. The persistent indifference to all the evidence around Climate Change is arrogance, pure and simple. To insist on coal in the face of every advice to the contrary; to demonize alternative energies by suing wind farms; and to paint electric cars as impractical… it is all walking against the strength of a flooding stream.
Morrison’s government is whipping the river of progress and looking like an ancient fool.