Stalinism of the right and the left, and Sydney turns Tokyo

An Obadiah Slope column

Taylor Swift and the totalitarianism of the right: The Other Cheek can’t bear to be the only part of the internet, not to mention Taylor Swift. So Obadiah will oblige, pointing to the deluge of conspiracy theories about Ms Swift and her footballer boyfriend Travis Kelce, a “tight end” for the Kansas City Chiefs team.

And as the hype about the Superbowl grows, the Chiefs play the San Francisco 49ers on our Tuesday, and so do the conspiracy theories. Including “that Ms. Swift is a secret agent of the Pentagon; that she is bolstering her fan base in preparation for her endorsement of President Biden’s re-election; or that she and Mr. Kelce are a contrived couple, assembled to boost the N.F.L. or Covid vaccines or Democrats or whatever” according to The New York Times.

The bonkiness of the rumours has upset more moderate but very conservative commentators such as John Podhoetz who edits the Jewish magazine Commentary. He points out that the need to view Taylor Swift through a political lens – “Nothing is outside of MAGA” – is a Stalinism of the right. Even a songstress and a footballer’s relationship and the media attention it is getting in the US.

In Stalin’s Soviet Union, everyone had to follow the party line on everything. Even art – it was social realist or degenerate. In the conspiracy theorist world, there is a correct line on everything. It is the mirror image of the Stalinist left, which likes to have a correct line on everything. Except people have been cynical about Stalinism for some time.

“Everything is political” is an old lefty trope, not an especially useful one in retrospect but the conspiratorial right seems to have taken it up.

Ross Douthat of the New York Times – reprinted in the latest Weekend AFR – explained why the right seems to want to entertain weird theories. “There are two key reasons for this self-defeating weirdness, both of them downstream from Trump’s 2016 victory. The first is the realignment that I’ve discussed a few times before, where the ideological shifts of the Trump era made the right more welcoming to all manner of outsider narratives and fringe beliefs (including previously left-coded ones like vaccine scepticism) while the left became much more dutifully establishmentarian. This realignment made the right more interesting in certain ways, more inclined to see through certain bogus narratives and official pieties — but also more inclined to try to see through absolutely everything, which, as C.S. Lewis observed, is the same thing as not really seeing anything at all.

“The second reason for the right’s abnormality problem is that even normal people in the Republican coalition overlearned the lesson of Trump’s election. Having made the safe and moderate choices in 2008 and 2012 and watched both John McCain and Mitt Romney go down in defeat, Republicans made a wild-seeming choice with Trump and saw him win the most improbable of victories. And there was a reasonable political lesson in that experience, which is that sometimes a dose of destabilization can open a path to new constituencies, new maps, new paths to victory.”

Obadiah thinks analysing things in terms of power can be useful. Asking “who benefits” can be helpful too. But not all the time. Everything thing is political. Yes. But talking about everything being political all the time turns the world into agitprop sludge. There are other lenses to view the world through. The gospel, for instance. The best lens of all.


Lefties: Sometimes intersectional modernism is called the new Puritanism – actually, The Rise of the New Puritanism is the name of a new book by National Review writer (and Commentary contributor) Noah Rothman.

“The Left used to be the party of the hippies and the free spirits … The New Puritans can judge a person’s moral character by their clothes, Netflix queue, fast food favorites, the sports they watch, and the company they keep. No choice is neutral, no sphere is private.”

If Rothman were a Christian, maybe he would not have named the Stalinist tendencies of the progressive left after the Puritans, who tend to get a bad rap from the commentariat of the left as well as some of the right. The real Puritans aimed to live joyfully.

Having criticised the Stalinist right and censorious left both for their tactics of viewing everything as part of the Trump World or progressive land, Obadiah wants to make a plea – let’s not do the same as Christians. Within the limits of modesty, there is not a Christian way to dress, eat or football code we should play. Or, in Obadiah’s view, a hard and fast rule about whose wedding you can go to. (See this article about last week’s controversy about attending transgender weddings.)


Tokyo-fication: Obadiah is feeling weird, too. After a few weeks in Japan, touching down at Sydney Airport felt like coming home to a country town. Everything seemed very small. And the trains empty.

For years, memories of Tokyo, Obadiah’s first time around, had Obadiah talking about the “Tokyofication of Sydney” as transport oriented development (TOD) springs up. Think Chatswood and Parramatta’s dense nodes around railway stations. Box Hill in Melbourne is not far behind. Maybe Coorparoo Junction in Brisbane.

These TODs are no Shibuya or Shinjuku – which are truly massive TODs in Tokyo. Thirty-seven million people in one conurbation have to go somewhere. This return to the Great South Land had Obadiah gasping at how spread out it was. How undeveloped Sydney was. And conversely, we have the time to do densification in the bigger cities well. Even better than Japan.

This NIMBYish pic comes from the local Croydon (Sydney) Facebook page. It shows a scene of Clarence Street Burwood, the suburb next door. It is intended as an awful warning of what the latest NSW State proposals to densify near railway stations will mean.

Sharp-eyed Presbyterians will have noticed this picture is taken down the street from their Christ College, one of the multi-storied develpoments already in Clarence Street.

Ther’s probably no perfect way to densify. An alternative is to do what China does and demolish kilometre-wide blocks in towns and fill them with towers. Unlikely. But concentrating development around railway stations seems sensible to Obadiah. How many stations is a live question.


Un-humble: Sometimes, just when you think you are being spiritual, you realise you are not.

Obadiah was picking up tennis balls for disability tennis, thinking he was being nice and tolerant of the personal trainer working with a client near the court. Because Obadiah was irked by the noise the last time the guy was there.
So Obadiah was pleased that he was not getting upset – and pleased he was thinking how nice he was being. Didn’t the trainer have a right to earn a living?

But then Obadiah reflected on his train of thought. He recalled thinking ‘We are paying the council to use the tennis court, the personal trainer is free-loading probably.’ That’s what led Obadiah to have empathy.

But the Obadiah realised – he was feeling he was more righteous than the trainer and only then began to have empathy.

Hmm: it was only self-righteousness that allowed Obadiah to feel for the other guy.