Another response to the Christchurch tragedy

In a recent post, I wrote about our need to make sure that people who do evil things are somehow distinguishable and distinguished from ourselves.  We’re not evil people.  We could never do evil things.  Therefore, there must be a factor which differentiates us from them.

They’re Muslim.  It’s such a handy explanation because it explains nothing.  To white middle Australia, absolutely no understanding of Islam is required, but it’s a monolithic Other.

But sometimes violent people aren’t Muslim.  There must be another reason why they’re not one of us.  Maybe they are mentally ill?  Autism has been particularly convenient on this front because we all know that autistic people are weird.  The ambiguous nature of mental illness really means that they either have a diagnosis or we can suspect that they were undiagnosed.

The more I thought about this schema, the more I realised there was a bit of a gap: and it’s when an atrocity occurs which is what the mainstream secretly want to see in the world.  What happens when somebody attacks those whom we already demonise, whom we already suspect are a problem in society, and who need to be dealt with?

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Give me back my broken night, my mirrored room, my secret life… On sentencing and the rights of the guilty

When are we entitled to think a person guilty?  The answer is whenever you want.  The presumption of innocence is strictly confined to a very narrow set of social interactions: specifically, legal ones.

I wrote before that it’s become an article of faith that George Pell’s conviction will be overturned on appeal.  I want to move away from that specific case to discuss the concept of guilt and the rights that we afford the guilty more generally.  Do people really need to be convicted before we treat them as if they’re guilty?  And why don’t we strip the most depraved guilty people of all their rights?  Part of this is thinking not only about powerful elites who have committed unspeakable crimes, but also talking about the other end of the spectrum where the marginalised have engaged in conduct that is reprehensible.

Continue reading “Give me back my broken night, my mirrored room, my secret life… On sentencing and the rights of the guilty”

Give me back the Berlin wall… Public Servants and Freedom of Speech: the next chapter

It’s been a while since I’ve visited this subject. In some senses, the topic is boring: is our preoccupation with the freedom of speech a rational, reasonable one?  How often the debate feels more like a reflexive, adolescent rejection of authority and responsibility.  A person should be able to do whatever they want; if other people have a problem, that’s an issue for them.

Racist speech which places a high emotional tax on minorities participating in political processes? Freedom of speech. Vilifying speech which skirts the technicalities of defamation law in order to sell newspapers? Freedom of speech. Video games which present women and minorities as targets for violent fun? Freedom of speech.

Perhaps I am jaded because I’ve had to deal with some high profile ‘free speech’ advocates on social media coming after my job on a few occasions. In two instances, those same advocates also passively encouraged some rather gross threats of violence towards me. Because I’m conservative, the threats always come from progressives.  Progressive friends of mine have had similar attacks from right wingers with similar ‘free speech’ views.  No side of politics has a monopoly on the deranged, and ‘free speech’ seems to be a unifying call of awful, awful people.

With that context as prologue, we emerge again in another discussion about public servants and freedom of speech. The High Court has scheduled the hearing of Comcare v Banerji for March.  This is the case that originated way back in 2013: Banerji v Bowles – the case of the public servant who tweeted ‘harsh and extreme’ criticism of the government and colleagues on social media, contrary to the Code of Conduct.

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A conservative take on the conviction of George Pell

One of Gerard Henderson’s longest held grudges is about an episode of Lateline which aired in 1975.  In his words:

It was in Ashbolt’s time that the ABC phenomenon emerged where debates were held in which everyone agrees with everyone else, including the presenter — all in a leftist way. And so it came to pass on July 14, 1975, when Richard Neville presented a Lateline program on pederasty where three adult men proclaimed what a great idea it was to have sex with boys. No other view was heard on the program.

Not surprisingly, the Lateline program on pederasty was subjected to considerable criticism by, among others, the Reverend Fred Nile (then of the morally conservative Festival of Light) and The Sydney Morning Herald. Needless to say, Nile and his fellow critics were dismissed and ridiculed. In his 1979 book Outside Interference: The Politics of Australian Broadcasting, ABC friend and one-time board member Richard Harding declared that the pederasty program “was too much for the susceptibilities of some worthy citizens”.

However, the most extraordinary intervention in the debate came from the then ABC chairman, Richard Downing. He said that “in general, men will sleep with young boys and that’s the sort of thing the community ought to know about”.

In a letter to The Sydney Morning Herald, published on July 19, 1975, Downing argued that “the phenomenon of pederasty” was “appropriate for public discussion in a society which, if it is to be open, democratic and responsible, needs also to understand the diverse natures of the people who compose that society”.

In other words, Downing stated that pederasty or “boylove” was an acceptable form of sexual behaviour which needed to be understood.

This week, the suppression order was lifted on George Pell’s conviction related to sexual abuse of two children in the 1990s.  Gerard Henderson has been one of the people who has consistently criticised those who thought Pell had a case to answer.  He has been especially critical of the ABC: ‘It’s all of its own (taxpayer funded) amateur detective work.’  Dr Henderson (for a doctor he is) has not retracted his claims against the ABC now that we can all talk publicly about the conviction.

Instead, Dr Henderson has pivoted to quibbling over microdetails in the commentary about the conviction.  Among mainstream conservatives, the possibility that the conviction might be overturned on appeal has become grounds to deny that Pell is actually guilty: ‘The reason there is a court of appeal in criminal cases turns on the fact that juries sometimes make mistakes.’

It would be wrong to say that Dr Henderson is alone in this regard.  Sydney lawyer, Gray Connolly — who routinely appears on The Drum to give a ‘conservative perspective’ — spent years claiming that the ABC was pursuing Pell improperly: ‘Media esp ABC hunt for Cardinal Pell stands in distinction to its pursuit of other churches & institutions afflicted by same evils & abuses‘.  When the suppression order was lifted, Connolly very broadly interpreted his duties to clients to avoid retracting his earlier claims against the ABC.

But it’s not just those on the fringes of conservative opinion who have been running cover for Pell.  Even those well-established in the News Corp stable have been forthcoming with defences for the now convicted Pell.

The argument needs to be stated clearly: Australian conservatism needs to be more than in-group/out-group dynamics, and the Pell conviction has instead demonstrated the moral void at its heart.

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Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove… On the Phelps medical transfer Bill

Public debate about asylum seeker policy is a bin fire of hot trash. It’s emotional, highly complex, and people are encouraged to have a hot take on it regardless of how much they actually know. Political parties are in an insane performance of trying to convince people that their intuitions are somehow based in fact, reason, and logic, regardless of how factual, reasonable, or logical those intuitions are. Thus, it’s a sandpit of bad faith actors who (rightly or wrongly) are committed to the view that their ends justify all means.

And thus we get to Kerryn Phelps’ Migration Amendment (Urgent Medical Treatment) Bill 2018.  It’s a complex Bill but, according to Twitter, the only analysis available is ‘Do you care about sick children? Support the Bill if yes, oppose it if no.’

Continue reading “Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove… On the Phelps medical transfer Bill”

How misapplying legal reasoning distorts social conventions

(As per my usual policy, when I’m discussing something difficult, I abandon the lyrics in the subject line.)

A story from the ACT is already doing the rounds with misogynists.  A woman has been sentenced to three years in jail for making a false sexual assault allegation against her ex-boyfriend.  It’s unusual to see these stories published so widely. This one might have been published because of its long and complex history.

The problem with reporting these cases is that they discourage women from coming forward with sexual assault/harassment allegations.  Women who make these claims should be believed, and we shouldn’t encourage an environment which is hostile to them speaking up.

Where things become difficult is the near total elision of legal norms with broader social norms.  All too frequently, we hear legal concepts being used as if they apply outside of courtrooms.  Presumptions of innocence, balances of probabilities, &c., &c. These are concepts that only make sense within a specific and narrow context and are not applicable to wider social conduct.

It’s important to get these things right because otherwise it fuels the misogynists and Mens Rights Activists who, let’s face it, never seriously believed in the broader principles to which they appeal.

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Like a long stream I’ll bear all this echoing… Trying to revisit ‘The Legend of Zelda’ @NintendoAUNZ

The Legend of Zelda series is arguably one of the greatest video game series ever created; very possibly the greatest video game series.  Perhaps its real strength is how entry after entry in this series has captured the sense of exploration and adventure.  As a child playing A Link to the Past, I would dream about how I could solve an unsolvable dungeon, testing out my theories the next day about what might help me to push the game forward.

In 2019, I’ve decided to try to play all of the games in the series (with the exception of Link: The Faces of Evil and Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon).  I fired up my Switch to see if I could download any of the old games, but came up empty.  Confronted by this minor obstacle, I let myself become overwhelmed by theorising. Continue reading “Like a long stream I’ll bear all this echoing… Trying to revisit ‘The Legend of Zelda’ @NintendoAUNZ”