There are worse James Bond movies. Much worse. But does that mean that Atomic Blonde was good?
Because a bunch of politicians can’t fill out their paperwork correctly, people are calling for a referendum. Some (journalists) are even saying we need to scrap the Constitution and start again.
First up, it is utterly, utterly horrendous that we are even contemplating this discussion when we have real work before us: to enshrine Indigenous Australia in the Constitution. I find it nothing short of offensive that actual problems with the Constitution have been eclipsed by the needs of our political class.
Worse, the debate about the Constitution has been dominated by people who don’t understand what they’re talking about (journalists again). There appears to be an unspoken assumption that the Constitution is supposed to be convenient to them and their needs. My concern is that the broader community depends on these journalists to give them the information they need to participate in debates about the Constitution and whether it continues to suit our needs.
In exchange for getting privileged access to information and power, public servants give up a range of rights. This should not come as a surprise. I’ve written about this issue before with regard to the Federal Court case of Banerji v Bowles, in which a public servant’s unhinged behaviour on Twitter was not found to be protected political speech.
Today’s announcement that the government has issued more restrictive advice about appropriate behaviour for public servants on social media has reignited this debate. Of course, most of the debate is just media beat up because the new guideline is not all that novel, but there are some broader discussions that are worth considering.
‘It is better that ten guilty persons escape than one innocent suffer’
– William Blackstone (1765).
‘It is better 100 guilty Persons should escape than that one innocent Person should suffer’
– Benjamin Franklin (1785)
There is a lot of discussion about the failings (actual or perceived) of the criminal justice system to punish appropriately a white man who killed an Indigenous boy by chasing him down with a car. Already, there are the usual bunch of liberal weenies who want to talk about the presumption of innocence and how he was entitled to a fair trial and that the prosecution clearly did not prove its case.
The problem is that the 10:1 ratio or the 100:1 ratio isn’t colourblind, genderblind, or classblind. The presumption of innocence is clearly skewed in favour of wealthy white guys and against Indigenous kids.
If we are going to be serious about protecting the presumption of innocence, we need to have some serious explanation when situations arise where the system appears to fail those who want justice. It is not good enough to say to grieving families: ‘Trust us, justice is very fair even though it seems white people can mow down your children and escape punishment, and black kids can’t steal an apple without risking being sent to a juvenile detention centre. Trust us, justice is very fair even though it seems a person arrested for protesting outside the court might serve a longer time in jail than the person who killed an Indigenous kid.’
It is not good enough to rely on trite slogans from the 1700s to explain away what seem like manifest injustices.
Holy shit! Who would have guessed that s 44 of the Australian Constitution would bite as hard as it has over the past year or so? Rod Culleton (One Nation), Bob Day (Family First), Scott Ludlam (Greens), and now Larissa Waters (Greens) have all fallen victim of s 44, either through High Court intervention or through voluntary resignation to inevitability. Technically, Bob Day was twice ineligible under s 44. And there’s another case on the boil: National Party MP, David Gillespie.
What I find interesting — really interesting — is how difficult it is to intuit the purpose of s 44. It’s a provision that excites popular imagination. Perhaps it’s a relic of a racist past. Perhaps it is a protection against foreign interference. Perhaps it should be amended. Perhaps it shouldn’t be.
But perhaps it’s not the technicality of the provision that we should consider, but bigger theories about constitutional democracies. Why should there be restrictions on who can become a parliamentarian? Shouldn’t we be able to elect whomever we want?
Simone saves the Spectator a fortune in salaries. Early experiments with using children as columnists had proven unsuccessful. No matter how young the child was. It really didn’t make a lot of sense. Social media would go wild for pithy anecdotes of woke infants telling hard truths about politics, but long form essays written by toddlers rarely went viral. And now the company has started to get the lawsuits. Did we knowingly expose children to hazardous workplace environments? Were we really responsible for the psychological damage to these children? Weren’t they, as we suspected, already severely broken to begin with?
Costs had to be cut, the Spectator had to be saved, and Simone was the solution.
Simone is the perfect replacement columnist: a simulant who recreates the moaning of a right wing pundit. She works for free and produces three flawless opinion pieces per day. Absolutely flawless. The pieces are full of all the usual hateful, spiteful, indulgent nonsense that her human colleagues could produce, but we don’t waste any of the usual time fluffing her ego or managing office politics with her.
Quand une guerre éclate, les gens disent : « Ça ne durera pas, c’est trop bête. » Et sans doute une guerre est certainement trop bête, mais cela ne l’empêche pas de durer. La bêtise insiste toujours.
When a war breaks out, people say: ‘It won’t last – it is too stupid!’ And, of course, war certainly is too stupid, but that does not prevent it from lasting. Stupidity always insists.
(Camus, La Peste, 1947)
I don’t believe that the current world is significantly worse than any other period in history. As a conservative, I always think that we are in some kind of degenerate state but I don’t believe that this degenerate state is worse than any other.
The churn in Western democracies at the moment is questioning a lot of wisdom which we have not, on a grand scale, questioned for a while. We have a moment to reexamine the received wisdom that many people — far too many — accept entirely without challenge. We have intuitions about democracy, freedom of speech, and liberty that, on closer reflection, do little but support tired power structures in society. And I say this from the conservative end of politics, reflecting on the incredible expansion of the market that has filled the void where traditional state authority used to be.
But it is rare that so many people are invited and encouraged to challenge liberalism, centrism, and even democracy to engage in a discussion about what sort of a society we want and how we can go about realising that society.
It might be a career-limiting move to opine too much about research bureaucracy when you’re doing your level best to punch into an academic career, but danger is the spice of life and these hot takes aren’t going to pepper themselves.
Over on The Research Whisperer, Tseen Khoo has raised a puzzle about the impact of university metrics on the way that researchers undertake their work stating that she doesn’t need money to do her research. Meanwhile, on the LSE Review of Books, Derek Dunne talks about the historical relationship between bureaucracy and research (with bureaucracy being a form of social control). They are both interesting pieces, strongly flavoured by personal experience and anecdote, but I’m not sure that they completely grasp the puzzle at hand.
To some extent, very little of this is going to be surprising. I think Liberty Victoria are a bunch of goofs and it was always going to be unlikely that I’d think any of their reports were worth reading. Liberty Victoria is the face of the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties. Their role in the advocacy ecosystem is to promote the perspectives of civil libertarians, regardless of how vapid. This means writing reports like Playing God: the Immigration Minister’s unrestrained power and giving the ‘Voltaire Award’ to Gillian Triggs. They trade in controversy because attention is their only tool for pushing an agenda.
That’s not necessarily pejorative. Liberty Victoria sits in the swamp of liberalism along with libertarian groups like the Centre for Independent Studies and the Institute of Public Affairs. Getting attention encourages to think about concepts like ‘liberty’, ‘freedom’ and ‘human rights’ in left wing terms. But it also means that they are systemically incapable of engaging in serious discussion about the issues they worry about. They’re after bombastic, flash-in-the-pan interventions that cause a bit of stir.
And that’s what we get with Playing God: a report that will, no doubt, fire up the core supporters and maybe get them to donate a bit more money to the cause. But it’s not an intellectually serious report, in the same way that giving the Voltaire Award to Triggs was an intellectually serious decision.
Anyway, because s 80.2B of the Criminal Code is real, I am definitely not advocating violence. Violence should never be advocated because we are a tolerant liberal society and tolerant liberal societies make it an offence to advocate violence. Don’t do it. I’m certainly not doing it.
But what is violence? I thought about nerding out on this question but, really, I just want to talk about one thing. One horrible thing. One unforgivable thing.