Saturday, February 11, 2006

The exquisite morality of a ratfink

What does cartoonist Michael Leunig think about the Danish cartoons affair? His answer, as set out in The Age today, appears to be this: treating people with respect is more important than freedom of speech, unless the people are Westerners, in which case they should rightly have ridicule dumped on them.

Think I'm being unfair? Well it's true that Leunig dresses up his argument in much moral finery of expression. Even so, it's not hard to recognise the primal emotions bubbling away underneath: an uncritical adulation of the outsider and a vilification of his own society.

But here is Leunig in his own words:

Some very vile and vicious things are done in the name of freedom. Mischief and bad motivation attach themselves, surreptitiously and parasitically to noble ideas. We've seen a lot of that lately ...

I am also suspicious of the motivation behind the commissioning of the famous Danish cartoons. I suspect that hatred may lie at the heart of the matter, even though hatred is a condition the West increasingly disowns.

The anti-cartoon riot story, as ugly as it is, must surely be the consequence not only of a handful of dull cartoon cliches, but of the accumulated anger resulting from the humiliation, persecution and suffering inflicted on Islam by the West. [See it's all our fault.] The cartoons are taunts, probably deliberate, to an aggrieved and traumatised spiritual community who feel at the mercy of the West's contempt, ignorance and ruthless military might. [It's all our fault, just in case we didn't get the message the first time.]

Any cartoonist with a heart or conscience (from whence good cartoons come) would not mock or taunt such a group in this formally transgressive way. [I almost fell of my seat laughing at this point: a liberal complaining about transgression? Liberals transgress as readily as they breathe. The cultural history of the West during my own lifetime has been one of transgression.] I like Manning Clarke's advice here: look with the eye of pity, which implies mercy and respect, the qualities which redeem a society more than the quality of raw freedom. [Manning Clarke was a fellow traveller who couldn't quite make his mind up about communist Russia.]

Any Australian who has lingered in an indigenous community learns of the traditional sacred protocols and chooses to respect them or not. To publish a photograph of a recently deceased Aborigine is something a white photographer might be asked to avoid. It is a matter of respect and character whether a photographer complies. [Note: Aborigines get respect.]

Public cartoon ridicule is properly dumped on the slick and the mighty, the officially powerful, on our own smug mob, on the triumphant ones protected by helicopter gunships and offices of state. [Note: Aborigines are not "smug", Muslims are not "smug", but we are, so we don't get respect.]

Cartooning is psychoanalytic and it is best when it discomforts us, not them ...

And on it goes. The underlying assumption is that morality works as follows: if you are strong you are morally bad, if you are weak you are morally good.

As a consequence it pays in a Leunigian world to be weak. You get to be morally justified. The strong, in comparison, get a guilt which no amount of mea culpas is going to wash away.

It is all very unhealthy. It requires the adoption of moral double standards. It justifies a most basic disloyalty to your own community. And it irrationally makes strength a vice and weakness a virtue.

Leunig makes considerable use of the phraseology of traditional morality to make it all sound more palatable, but no amount of rhetorical gloss will ever make his arguments sound.


  1. Leunig is very much a character in the vein of the villains in an Ayn Rand novel: glorifying victimhood and weakness, reviling ability and strength.

    I think one of the prescriptions necessary for Western revival is going to have to be movement away from this worship of the weak and back to a morality that celebrates the strong.

    Look at the works of Homer for example. I can't recall the exact verse or wording but I remember first reading Homer and being struck by the morality of the central character, who was described as being great because he had slain many enemies, captured much territory, and so on. What an utterly different worldview from that prevalent in the West now! Imagine actually celebrating the strength, vitality, masculinity, and conquests of your own people!

    The West has the power it has as a legacy, in large part, of the conquerer morality of our ancestors. The black slaves in the U.S. for example are here because my people were strong and decided they wanted slaves and went and took them - and the Africans couldn't do a damned thing about it. I think that perhaps the shame of slavery should fall not on whites, who were strong enough to take slaves when they wanted to, but on blacks who were too weak, unorganized, backward, and incompetent to protect themselves. They couldn't even free themselves - they are free only because whites decided to let them be free, and could be made slaves again if whites wanted them to be slaves.

    This is not to advocate slavery, or to advocate invading and slaughtering other peoples' nations. But neither should we hang our heads in shame for being the strongest people on earth for the last 500 years.

  2. Mark, in our own tradition the strong were meant to protect the weak (chivalry). It was thought noble to do so.

    In other words, being strong, far from being tainted with guilt or evil, was associated with high moral standards and nobility.

    There is a faint echo of wanting to protect the weak in Leunig. But it has become psychologically perverted and self-destructive.

    There is nothing the strong can do, in Leunig's world, to act morally except to renounce their natural loyalties and their strength, in favour of the hostile "other".

    And yes, the West will have to overthrow such a modernistic view promptly if we are ever to revive.

  3. I guess we saw his cartoons were entered in the Iranian hate a jews campaign sweepstakes.
    It's hilarious.