I — without reservation or qualification — recommend reading David Marr‘s essay in The Quarterly Essay, ‘Power Trip: The Political Journey of Kevin Rudd‘.
For foreigners and people disinterested in politics, Kevin Rudd is our most recent former Prime Minister. Australia had a bit of a problem: it had a political reader who wasn’t engaged in the public discourse and lacked a popular narrative. To the average person, he was something of an unknown quantity. When the Government faced problems, the inability of the public to understand the Prime Minister resulted in plummeting popularity polls — from his record-breaking highs to remarkably average results in only a few months.
When dealing with historical figures, writers situate them in a context which provides a coherent picture for analysis. There’s nothing new about this: writers such as Livy and Tacitus used these techniques to provide crisp images of their subjects: what drove these people? what made them who they were? what part of them could we emulate in our own lives? what part of them should we avoid in our own lives? Continue reading
Over on …in the woodshed, there’s a post about seeking encouragement from the story of the Hebrews in the Wilderness.
Naturally, I disagree with the post in the strongest terms. That’s not the interesting bit. The interesting part is this:
Yet after a couple of days in the desert, the Israelites started grumbling to Moses: “Would that we had died!” It reminds me of that story about Holocaust survivors, liberated by the Americans one day, and complaining the next day because they got tomato soup instead of chicken soup. The problem was that their hearts were still enslaved to Pharaoh, the principle being that you can get the people out of slavery, but you can’t get the slavery out of the people. At least, not without a long, loving process. Israel failed to see that they were free, but their hearts and minds were still in bondage to the oppressor. – …in the woodshed.
I hear sentiments like this a lot regarding people who’ve had a rough trot having the audacity to complain about something trivial. In the analysis given by …in the woodshed, the trivial complaints are caused by a psychological enslavement: they complain because they are still oppressed in their hearts.
The reality is quite different. We are lucky to live in an age where we have quite a considerable amount of research about all sorts of behaviour: complaining is but one of those. Research into complaining put on its grown up pants back in 1992 with ‘Complaining Behaviour in Social Interaction‘ by Alicke et al. in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin. The article inspired quite a bit of further research, including a particularly good article which I can’t find online. I suck.
The general idea is that it’s not always the content of the complaint which is the relevant aspect. More philosophically, in situations where the content is relevant, the trivialisation of the complaint is a defence mechanism of the empowered protecting their self image as rescuers (they expect to see gratitude for their actions and the complaints are seen as negating the gratitude: by rescuing, there is a social dynamic of the rescuer to the rescuee, even if the ‘rescuer’ in the dynamic is not the person who physically performed the rescue). Continue reading
A few people have told me that they feel sorry for Kevin Rudd.
For the life of me, I can’t work out why. His political career appears to be a less eloquent version of Macbeth – except Rudd played both the title role and the role of the three witches: ’All hail, me, I shall be king hereafter!’ All the character flaws play their role — the arrogance, the rage, the inability to maintain relationships — and then he’s toppled (interestingly not by a man of woman born… though the execution of this part makes Rudd seem more like the Witch-king of Angmar than Macbeth). Continue reading
My car broke down last night during the rain. I was about a fifteen minute walk from home and I had a brolly, so off I went.
The path home is not always particularly well lit and I’m a quick walker. I’m also a quiet walker. While overtaking a woman who was walking along the same road, she decided to confront me.
‘Are you stalking me?’
So much went through my mind when I was challenged with that. On the one hand, personal security is a reasonable consideration for a woman walking home at night in the dark and wet. On the other hand, what could I have done differently to stop this situation from cropping up? My car had broken down and I was walking home; I had no idea that it would be unreasonable for me to use the footpaths in order to walk home. And how do you escape from this Gordian Knot of social interaction?
As I wasn’t stalking her, the answer to her question would be ‘No.’ If I were stalking her, I wouldn’t admit it, so the answer to her question would be ‘No’.
So I figured the answer would be to make my actions predictable and let her know where I was going. That way, she would know if I were an illegitimate traveller if I deviated from my established path.
It all seemed fairly reasonable. She apparently didn’t seem to think so.
Is there a way out of this problem? Or do guys have to decide between taking a cab or risk being accused of stalking?
A few years ago, I had cross words with a friend of mine when she indicated to a black guy that she was uncomfortable with him using the same footpath. She thought it was great that he apologised and crossed the road. I thought — and still think — that it was a crappy thing to do: in order to escape the stereotype that ‘All black guys want to attack white women’, he had to stop using the same footpaths as them.
This doesn’t seem like a reasonable outcome.
While it’s been around for a while, I highly recommend this post about Disney princesses.
The problem isn’t a new one: Disney does not always promote positive images of women. It was a problem they inherited from the source material: folk stories do not always promote positive images of women.
While the Disney princess is all very terrible, not a lot of attention is placed on the Disney villain. The default position is: if they’re male, they’re English; if they’re female, they’re hot. This was particularly the case in early films: Maleficent (Sleeping Beauty) and Grimhilde (Snow White). Both evil, both smoking hot. There’s a bit of deviation, but not much.
What’s interesting is that these female villains are very overtly sexualised. They’re powerful and attractive, thus they’re evil. The objects of the prince’s desire are cute, innocent, and require protection. Continue reading
Far be it from me to besmirch the mighty boffins at the Institute of Public Affairs –
Wait. You haven’t heard of them? But they provide such excellent opinions, such as
– but there comes a time when you have to scratch your head and ask: ‘In which libertarian wet dream are you living, Chris Berg?’
In an article for The Drum, Berg takes a vague and pointless swipe at ‘growth sceptics‘. The assertions ranged from the absurd to the crazy.
Growing richer means getting healthier. People in wealthy countries live longer - this graph, which compares GDP per capita with life expectancy demonstrates that clearly enough. — Berg.
The graph is worth a look. It charts life expectancy at birth against the GDP per person adjusted for purchasing power. Take a look again and notice the x-axis.
This isn’t a straight line correlation at all. Check out how close together 1,000 and 2,000 are compared to 5,000 and 10,000. If you tease out the numbers with a consistent x-axis, you note that everything goes all over the shop and that beautiful line vanishes.
What the graph actually shows is that there are no high life expectancy countries which are poor. What it doesn’t show is that growing richer means getting healthier. If it did show that, there’d be a straight line correlation and countries like South Africa and Equatorial Guinea would be placed higher on the y-axis. Continue reading
Okay, I haven’t updated this in a while because I’ve been fairly solidly buried in work, study, and play. I am procrastinating and, thus, we get an update.
There is a legal principle in common law systems that people — generally and normally — behave reasonably. The idea is that every person is rational — or ought to be rational — and that they behave in a generally rational way. Those people include legislators and, when they write up statutes, it’s presumed that they did so in a reasonable way. Those people also include parties to contracts and, when they form contracts, it’s presumed that they did so in a reasonable way. Those people also include people who are criminals and, when they perform some criminal acts (the ones involving mens rea), it is presumed that they knew that they were performing some act which a rational person would condemn.
It’s called the objective test and it posits some hypothetical person — ‘the man on the Clapham omnibus/Bondi tram’ — and asks ‘What would he think?’
What’s curious about this reasonable person is that he is invariably white, male, and educated. This is due to a wonderful feature of our thinking called ‘normativity’. It’s where we consider the default — ‘normal’ — position to be that which is most dominant in our social framework. In common law countries, this is invariably white guys. So the default perspective is that of a member of the hegemony. Continue reading