As a conservative, I have long been opposed to the call for more conservatives on the ABC. With the pseudo-controversy around Kevin Williamson and The Atlantic, it’s worth digging into the argument a little bit deeper from a conservative perspective to see why it’s so noxious.
Every so often, somebody feels the need to clean up social media. Twitter is full of trolls and Something Must Be Done.
My answer, of course, is regulation. If the State would hold Twitter accountable for its content, it will immediately clamp down on antisocial content like Nazis. But that smells too much like ‘censorship’ for liberals, and so the option is drowned out by a chorus of Voltaire-quoters. Letting the State regulate public discourse is, apparently, a bigger problem than actual Nazis. In my view, this ignores the lesson of history: the reluctance of the State to regulate its extremes is what results in the worst of collective human action.
But that’s for another day.
Without formal regulation, we are left with informal regulation. Into this issue stepped Julian Burnside, one of Australia’s most prominent liberals, with a modest proposal:[tweet https://twitter.com/JulianBurnside/status/980342314768871424]
But is this wise? Do we want public megaphones curating Twitter blocklists?
I haven’t written about movies in ages.
Let’s run through a common argument in the free speech wars: you can’t regulate against offence because two people might disagree about what is offensive.
It’s a nonsense argument. It’s nonsense both in a legal sense and in a non-legal sense. But let’s start with some general points: why does the argument exist at all?
Being conservative, I have strong opinions about art. It goes with the territory. Art has an important social function, developing the ideas and concepts through which we understand ourselves as individuals and as a community. This importance means that it is necessarily a contested space: how should it be funded, how should it be regulated, and what it should achieve are going to have ideologically informed answers.
But it is also going to bring out the sooks. No matter which way the resources are distributed, somebody is going to feel like they’ve missed out. Rather than present some intellectually serious account of how arts funding should be allocated, we hear moaning from all sides of politics about how everything’s so terribly unfair.
Quadrant — which is utter sludge barely more adult than The Spectator — is a frequent performer on the stage of boohooery. Where previously it enjoyed a healthy stipend courtesy of the taxpayer, it now has to seek out other sources of funding to sustain its content: ‘Why the Stolen Generations never happened’, ‘Why the Left is making everybody soft’ and ‘Why the Stolen Generations never happened, the Sequels’.
I read with some surprise Roger ‘If there were justice in the world the ABC would have been bombed’ Franklin cracking the sads that a young woman received funding from the Australia Council for the Arts instead of a bunch of old men at Quadrant. As is routine, his objections are more ‘point and giggle’ than serious engagement with arts policy. Rather than put forward some serious view, he asked ten questions of Senator Mitch Fifield, the Minister for the Arts. Here’s how I wish the Minister would respond:
At some point, we need to understand politics as a workplace. As a workplace, the participants have obligations towards each other to ensure that the workplace remains welcoming, inclusive, and healthy.
‘Remains’ is perhaps the wrong word. It’s more accurate to say that the workplace is unhealthy, exclusive, and discouraging. But the bigger point is that we should want people to feel like they could seek a political job if they wanted it.
Trashing people’s private lives just because they’re politicians actively works against this goal. Trashing the lives of private people just because they’re associated with politicians actively works against this goal. Forcing the family of politicians into the public light actively works against this goal. Politics should be an attractive job to get ‘normal’ people involved: why are we trying to stop this?
Recent media reports have noted the quasi-proposal of Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs, for the public to be more involved in the selection of judges. As far as I can tell, Dutton hasn’t elaborated on precisely what he meant by his comments. It is likely that his comments were part of his broader campaign to shame judges into deciding cases consistently with what he sees as ‘community values’. As much as we might not like Dutton’s comments, it’s his role as a parliamentarian to scrutinise the courts. The problem is that the current state of public engagement in political processes is poor, so this mechanism is prone to being hijacked.
Let’s strip this of identity in the first instance and turn this into a discussion about principles. Should judges be elected?