Come to my room, I’ll lower your IQ… Why do we force minorities to justify themselves?

I’ve seen a number of good movies recently.  They were good because I enjoyed them and I engaged with the themes and ideas that they offered.  When somebody says that they enjoy a movie, we tend not to require that the person defend their view with any kind of sophisticated aesthetic theory.  As fun as it would be, very few discussions about the movies that we like end up in heated arguments about the finer points of Hegel’s Lectures on Aesthetics.

A number of political issues, on the other hand, appear to require participants in the debate to have mastered complex (and contentious) theory.  The marriage equality debate, for example, forced the LGB community to become educators about the nature of sexual attraction.  For whatever reason, it wasn’t enough merely for two consenting adults to be attracted to each other in order to have their relationship considered valid.  There had to be a theory.

We see it also with the trans community.  It is not enough that they feel more comfortable expressing a particular gender identity, there is an expectation that they will also be sophisticated gender theorists.

And also with race and Indigeneity.  If you’re born with the ‘wrong’ skin colour, you better have been born with a copy of Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks in your hand because white people will quiz you about colonialism whenever you complain about structural racism.

I want to argue two things: first, because we don’t make the same expectations of straight, white men, we normalise the expectation that Others must validate their identities; second, it encourages performative politics.

Continue reading “Come to my room, I’ll lower your IQ… Why do we force minorities to justify themselves?”


Reading, writing, arithmetic are the branches of the learning tree… Independence and the ABC

I’ve argued before that debates about ABC funding are poorly constructed.   The nutshell point: we should have a clear vision of what we want from the ABC before we get embroiled in arguments about its funding:

That clear vision of the public good might sound subjective, but a pluralist approach is amenable to reasons.  That is, a clear vision of the public good should inform programming and editorial decisions and we can engage in criticism where we can argue that decisions are clearly not motivated by the public good.  Calling a person standing for office a ‘c-word’, for example, seems to fall outside anybody’s reasonable articulation of the public good.  The jester liberalism nonsense that pollutes Wednesday night ABC in general is very difficult to justify with a reasonable conception of the public good.

The argument also works to motivate a defence of the ABC.  If there were a clear vision of the public good articulated by the ABC, the public would be more inclined to defend it against budget cuts.

We still don’t have that clarity of vision in the debate, but we do have a new element: the role of the Minister in running the ABC.  The prevailing wisdom is that we need an ABC that is independent of the ABC, with a few voices (like that of the former Chair, Justin Milne) saying that there needs to be a ‘conduit’ between the Government and the ABC.  It’s a point worth interrogating.

Continue reading “Reading, writing, arithmetic are the branches of the learning tree… Independence and the ABC”

My days end best when this sunset gets itself… I gave up after one session of TEDxCanberra. The puzzle of ideas festivals

My organisation was dealing with a problem.  It wanted to reform its business processes to put it in a better financial position.  The solution had already been decided long before the problem was fully understood: we were going to introduce a new piece of software.  This was contentious and, very quickly, there was little good will left to make anybody believe that the proposed software solution would work.

To address this problem, senior administrators called a meeting.  No agenda.  No real communication about what the meeting would cover.  But it was time to call everybody together into a room in order to ‘talk’.  The session began with five minutes of trying to make the audio visual system in the room work, before we realised we were going to be subjected to a TED Talk that had been uploaded to YouTube.  Make sure the important things are in the goldfish bowl before adding the unimportant things.

This is the popular association with the TED Talk: vapid ideas that focus on the presentation and style of delivery rather than critical engagement with the ideas themselves.  There’s a real problem in your organisation, life, or community?  Here’s a ten-fifteen minute hot take about what your problem is and how you can fix that with a bit of inspirational thinking and elbow grease.

Today is the ninth TEDxCanberra session.  I gave up after the first session and went home to read instead.  At $160 for a ticket, I was strongly tempted to try to endure it… but why?  The key idea on display was that ideas festivals are broken and they need to be rethought.

Continue reading “My days end best when this sunset gets itself… I gave up after one session of TEDxCanberra. The puzzle of ideas festivals”

And no one sings me lullabies and no one makes me close my eyes… Do we need to be ‘exposed’ to bad ideas?

Another week, another controversy about freedom of speech and the ‘need’ to be exposed to ideas that differ from our own.  This time, it’s Steve Bannon, a former adviser to Donald Trump, who is openly a white nationalist.

ABC’s Four Corners decided to interview Bannon, giving him a platform to claim that he wanted his style of right wing politics to come to Australia.  There are two issues here.  First, what do Australians get out of Australian journalists reporting on American politics that we don’t already get from American journalists?  More than ever before, we have easy access to the very best journalism from around the world.  Paying Australian journos to cover American politics seems weirdly redundant, especially when we have an actual need for more coverage of our local region (and even some parts of Australia).  Second — and more importantly for what I’m going to write in this glorious blog post — what do we get out of giving Bannon yet another platform to engage with Australian audiences?

Continue reading “And no one sings me lullabies and no one makes me close my eyes… Do we need to be ‘exposed’ to bad ideas?”

My set is amazing, it even smells like a street… You can make politics better

It started with one of The Drum‘s hosts complaining that it was hard to find conservatives to appear on the ABC.  Dr Julia Baird listed some names of people they’d approached who had declined: Miranda Devine, Rita Panahi, Chris Kenny… all people who already have a prominent platform to voice their opinions.  Baird later claimed that the problem was ‘silos’:

It’s incredibly frustrating to witness silos of ideas calcify in Australia. But when conservative advocates, thinkers, pundits and policy analysts like those from the IPA do appear on the show, Twitter automatically erupts with abuse – irrespective of what they actually say.

And it ended with Greg Jericho using the image of a ‘virus’ to describe conservative thought:

It has led to the point where there are barely any conservative commentators worth reading or listening to. It’s not that there are no intelligent conservative thinkers, but the lunacy of climate change denial and distrust of expertise has so infected the conservative media that prominence is now almost exclusively given to those for whom a worldwide conspiracy is more believable than reports by multiple universities and public agencies.

As a conservative, I find these contributions to public debate unhelpful.  They don’t engage critically with the underlying problems of public debate that affect both ‘sides’ of politics, and they encourage smug, centrist responses: conservative thought is calcified and diseased.

And what it strangest of all is that Baird and Jericho both have platforms where they could make public debate better.  In smaller ways, we can all make debate better.  But we don’t and we need to know why.

Continue reading “My set is amazing, it even smells like a street… You can make politics better”

Quick Post: The argument for why your employer should be able to sack you for political speech… sometimes.

Cricket Australia sacked one of its employees (apparently) for her public comments in favour of changing Tasmania’s abortion law.  With the usual caveats about never believing what you read in the newspapers, that looks terrible.  And the public response is always (quite reasonably) what should we do at the general level to prevent this specific thing from occurring.  Based on the article, I think that Cricket Australia should not have sacked Angela Williamson and, certainly, the argument that she brought the organisation into disrepute is rather hard to sustain in the face of the public backlash.

So I want to move as quickly as I can to the general point about private regulation of speech.  And I want to do that via a general comment about public commentators’ habit of looking only at one side of the equation.  We perceive that somebody has suffered some wrong, we get outraged, and we wonder how we can protect everybody in that situation.  But the lived experience has been that these protections get disproportionately used by the powerful to protect themselves from scrutiny or sanction.  Classic example: the First Amendment has been a far better friend to Klansmen and Nazis than it has been to refugees and paupers.

Continue reading “Quick Post: The argument for why your employer should be able to sack you for political speech… sometimes.”

The outside looks no good and there ain’t nothing underneath… One truth @BernardKeane can’t admit

  1. The ‘Professor of Everythingology’ model of the commentator is bad for democracy

Twitter is often exhausting.  Perhaps there was once a time when the number of opinions you heard on a subject was countable.  Maybe you had an extremely opinionated colleague at work.  It could be that a family gathering meant that you were exposed to the fiery views of some uncle or idiot cousin. But now!  Now I get several thousand half-cooked (and several dozen deeply cooked) opinions on every subject under the sun.  Hot takes on everything from macroeconomic policy, national security operations, and Greek citizenship law can come streaming forth from the same source: some nerd with a BSc in Information Technology from a university I’d struggle to locate on a map.

This sneering condescension might be unfair given our media outlets seem to encourage exactly this kind of behaviour.  Communications specialists, editors of student newspapers, and former speech writers from the bowels of the public service have sprouted in the daylight, a fertile ground for unforgiving opinions on literally everything.

And such it was with Bernard Keane’s ’10 truths the Left can never admit’, dishing out stone cold facts on a wide range of topics including the benefits of capitalism, asylum seeker policy, s 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, and education funding.  What a magnificent mind to be an expert in such a diverse spread of complex policy areas.

Except, of course, he isn’t.  I have a professional background in two of the areas he dished out ‘truths’ and he got them wrong.  I’m also right wing.  So it seems passing strange that declarations disbelieved by some conservatives on account of their factual inaccuracy should be in this list of ten truths the Australian left refuses to accept.

Continue reading “The outside looks no good and there ain’t nothing underneath… One truth @BernardKeane can’t admit”