I play both good and evil parts… Beware the rise of Young Liberals

While most conservatives have one eye firmly focused on the past, a better conservative will also have an eye looking into the mid- to long-term future.

A good conservative

I endeavour to be a good conservative, but it’s particularly difficult when my side of the political fence has more than its fair share of undesirables.  The Right now seems quite at home with xenophobes, homophobes, and libertarians.  The less said about the ‘Christian Right’, the better.  It wasn’t always the case — many of the great politicians of the past have been conservatives.  There have been things that conservatives got wrong (both factually and morally), but that’s been true of all sides of political debate.

But there is a patina building up on the old conservative pillars.  There’s been such little movement from the sort of conservatives with whom I politically identify that even our dust is collecting dust.  In less than twenty years, we went from being the principled, noble, and — alas — elitist side, to the populist muckrakers of today.

It would be wrong to say that this came out of nowhere.  Even as far back as Menzies, we had unfortunate spates of populism, exemplified in the Communist Party Case.  It’s so out of character that Malcolm Fraser states in his memoir (co-written with Margaret Simons) that Menzies wasn’t really a fan of the dissolution act but had his hand forced by factions in his party.

As bleak as the present situation is, the future looks worse.  In his Quarterly Essay ‘Trivial Pursuit’, George Megalogenis  notes that the current ‘generation of politicians was drawn from a narrower gene pool just as the nation was becoming more diverse’.  He cites John Button’s critique of the ALP ranks, which noted the transition from Hawkes’ socially mixed ministry to Beazley’s mostly homogeneous opposition party of ‘political operators’.  The complex system of factions in the ALP all but necessitates that the future ALP will be an amalgamation coughed up from the stomach lining of the current machine.

The ALP gets a disproportionate amount of criticism about its factions.  The media seems almost obsessed by factional differences between the ALP left, the ALP right, and the various unions, but ignores (often) more significant rifts in the Coalition.  While some might try to suggest that factional splits are historically more problematic for the ALP (the biggest split caused anti-Communists to create their own party), those people would be forgetting that the Liberal Party was created when Menzies burnt the cosmic ratnest, the United Australia Party, to the ground.

Despite attacks on the ALP for being a party of ‘career politicians’, similar accusations could be levelled at the shadow cabinet:

Abbot (Press Secretary for Hewson), Abetz (Australian Liberal Students’ Federation), Brandis (Young Liberals), Hockey (University and State politics), Pyne (Worked for Vanstone, Young Liberals), Robb (Party director, Chief of Staff to Peacock), Turnbull (Federal Treasurer of the Liberal Party), Hunt (Adviser to Downer), Morrison (State Party director), Mirabella (Australian Liberal Students’ Federation),  Bilson (Adviser to Kemp).

I couldn’t find any evidence of significant, pre-parliamentary party activity from Bishop, Truss, Scullion, Joyce, Macfarlane,  Johnson, Dutton, Andrews, or Cobb (but it is interesting that National Party politicians are more likely to be in this latter group than the former).

AnonymousLefty makes a good point about why ‘career politicians’ are becoming more prevalent:

It wouldn’t matter how much my views had changed, any youthful indiscretion or internet quote that could be taken out of context and misrepresented, would be, and it wouldn’t matter how transparent the motives and how ultimately irrelevant the attack – it’s the personal smears that get remembered, that stick. I get enough of that abuse as a minor blogger – you can imagine how much would come back to bite me if I ran in an election. [Source: AnonymousLefty]

Which is a shame.  Even though I disagree with him about pretty much everything (including his ability to count and breathe through his nose), he’d stick to his principles (even in the face of all reason and maths).

So it looks like the best place to look for the future of the Liberal Party is with the Young Liberals.

Le sigh.

Out of eleven ‘executive’ Young Liberals, there’s only one female.  If the Liberal Party were serious about improving female representation in the party, this would not be the case.  You can’t tell me that only one female out of eleven is meritorious.  But, no.  It’s important that women don’t feel tokenistic in the Young Liberal sausage-fest.

Speaking of festy, I when I tried to find information about these Young Liberals, it was easier to find comments about Whittney Jago’s appearance than it was to find comments about her ideas (Crikey didn’t do much better: a young woman drinks?!  Quelle horreur!).  That seems to be par for course: one blogger tried to be funny by showing how ‘hot’ the female Young Liberals were (NSFSanity: Contains a picture of a girl reading Ayn Rand).  When Andrew Bolt calls you out for being offensive, you know you’ve crossed a line.

Despite being founded by Robert Menzies — cough, ‘ [W]e are [not] to return to the old and selfish notions of laissez-faire. The functions of the State will be much more than merely keeping the ring within which the competitors will fight. Our social and industrial laws will be increased. There will be more law, not less; more control, not less‘, cough — the Young Liberals seem overwhelmingly libertarian (with more than a slight Randian flavour).

Vice-President Roderick Schneider, for example, appeared on Thursday night’s Hack on Triple J, only to act like a complete buffoon.  You know you’re doing it wrong when even I think Senator Sarah Hanson-Young is the sane party in the debate.  She also won that position by default: Schneider did whatever he could to talk over everybody.

‘Strategic Engagement Chair’, James Patterson advocates privatising the ABC and sings the praises of the Tea Party.

Long story short, the Young Liberals is basically an echo chamber for those with an extraordinary sense of entitlement.  A number of them are older than me, and yet write as if Fightback! had been their wet-nurse.  If these are the sorts of people floating to the top of Young Liberals (and cream isn’t the only thing that floats), old school conservatives are going to be a rare breed.

They’re not half as bad as me say anything and I’ll agree… Geoffrey Robertson and Big Tobacco

Advocates of an Australian Charter of Rights concentrate almost exclusively on its humanitarian benefits, ignoring the obvious ways in which the wealthy and powerful will exploit their good intentions.  One of the least critical champions of an Australian Charter of Rights is celebrity QC Geoffrey Robertson.

In Statute of Liberty, Robertson outlines a proposal for a charter of rights.  The book exemplifies the shallowness of thought which has plagued Robertson in recent years (see, for example, The Case Against the Pope).  While his arguments in favour of a charter of rights are eloquent and articulate (if wrong-headed), he dismisses any opposition to his case as ‘charterphobia’.  An interesting development in Australian law is about to show precisely why the ‘charterphobia’ was rational.

The Australian Government has outlined its proposal to enforce plain-packaging for cigarettes.  Various health groups are in favour of it and it doesn’t seem as if the opposition will oppose it.  British American Tobacco Australia, on the other hand, will and will mount a case defending their intellectual property rights.

Let us imagine, for a moment, if Robertson’s charter had been adopted complete with its ‘property’ right.  Instead of being a difficult argument to mount — that BATA has an investment in its brands which should be protected by law — Robertson would have given them a free kick.  It would have been trivially easy for BATA to argue that the charter of rights protects their property and, as such, the Government’s proposal is unlawful.

When thinking about rights issues, it’s not enough to trumpet what you’ll receive; you also have to wonder what others will take away.  We dodged a bullet.

Smooth the lines on the face of an old enemy… A sane case against R18+

As promised…

First, I’m mid-twenties, an atheist, and a fairly avid gamer.  Apart from being conservative (and I sincerely apologise for basically everything the conservatives have said and done since Reagan; we haven’t had a good 20 years due to libertarianism and the Christian Right), I fit the same demographic as most of the people advocating for R18+ video games classification.

Instead of bringing the argument for censorship down to ‘Think of the Children!’ or tenuous appeals to dodgy science, I think the case for censorship can be adequately justified by asking whether Australian society has a legitimate interest in protecting itself from extremely violent games.

Some theory is needed to get there.  Basically all of government action (or passive action, in the case of R18+ classification) comes down to balancing the rights of the individual against the interests of society.  Only libertarians and anarchists disagree with this, but they’re hardly the most rational groups of people.

Richard Dagger writes extremely eloquently about this balancing act.

The challenge is to bring the claims of the individual and community into balance.  To meet this challenge is to find and support forms of community that promote not simply individuality, but the kind of public-spirited individuality that recognizes how much it owes to others and strives to discharge this debt.  [Source: Richard Dagger, ‘Individualism and the Claims of Community’, in Contemporary Debates in Political Philosophy ed. Christiano and Christman]

This balancing act is made more difficult by popular notions of entitlement.  Censorship, for example, is invariably seen as, prima facie, a violation of individual rights (usually right to free speech).  This notion of entitlement ignores that we necessary have limitations on individual rights.

Those who support the slippery slope argument warn that the consequence of limiting speech is the inevitable slide into censorship and tyranny. Such arguments assume that we can be on or off the slope. In fact, no such choice exists: we are necessarily on the slope whether we like it or not, and the task is always to decide how far up or down we choose to go, not whether we should step off the slope altogether. [Source: ‘Freedom of Speech‘, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy]

The question at play here is whether society has an interest in protecting itself against simulations of extreme violence (especially simulations of extreme violence against women).  With a video game, you’re not merely an audience to the simulation of violence; the gamer is an active participant.  It becomes easier to justify censorship when its noted that this simulation is for enjoyment.  Of course society has an interest in discouraging violence.  Making the same violence that we’re trying to discourage into the subject matter of entertainment is not consistent with that interest.  It’s not a case of whether or not the simulations encourage people to act out in real life; it’s that, as a society, we do not condone gratuitous violence and do not think that it is appropriate to simulate.

That’s legitimate and rational.  It doesn’t require any appeal to religious authority and doesn’t require moral panic.  It’s derived from and, as such, is consistent with other values we have as a society.  It is therefore up to the advocates to show why an exception to our values should be made to permit retailers to sell these games.

‘But!’ you might cry, ‘The games are already available due to the internet or due to the inconsistent way the classifications are used at the moment!’

Neither of these are reasons to allow retailers to sell them.  The difficulties posed by the Internet relating to extremely problematic material is a much broader issue.  ‘I can launder money really easily over the internet; therefore, money laundry should be legalised’ isn’t a rational argument.

The inconsistencies in the way classifications are applied is similarly not a reason in favour of the new classification.  As part of the review, I hope the application process will be analysed to make it more consistent.  That some games are getting weird classifications is not, in itself, a reason to introduce a new classification.

The best argument in favour of R18+ classification has been the analogy to films: ‘We have lots of films which are R18+; why can’t we have R18+ games?’

I think it comes back to the role the consumer plays.  When you’re watching a film, you are not an active participant of the violence being represented.  In other words, the representation in the film is not really a simulation of inflicting violence.

Where I think R18+ advocates might have a better case is the simulation of sex in games.  There are certain forms of sexuality which, in films, causes an R18+ rating but, due to the lack of classification, gets released as an MA15+ game.  This, I think, has more to do with our almost toxic cultural narrative about sex and less to do with video game classification.  It’s one place where I think my fellow conservatives are 100% incorrect: we have a society which considers the expression of intimacy more taboo than violence.  Children’s movies can now have characters touch each other in anger but not in affection.  Go Team Conservative.

Tonight, make it magnificent… R18+ video games debate might be impoverished on both sides

In response to my last post, Penmonicus pointed me in the direction of this post by Mark Serrels on Kotaku.  I’d previously argued that Serrels doesn’t provide a reason in favour of the games, only a complaint that it’s somehow unfair that the games aren’t available for sale.  In the article linked by Penmonicus, Serrels again doesn’t make an argument in favour of the games, but makes a much more worrying claim:

When someone, in the face of overwhelming evidence, refuses to adjust his or her opinions, you have to ask yourself – is this really a discussion? Or is it something else entirely – something far more insidious. A discussion involves both sides listening to one another, and responding in kind. From what I’ve seen, those on the other side of this ‘discussion’ have done a whole lot of talking, but they clearly haven’t been listening to a word we’ve been saying. How could they be?  [Source: Mark Serrels, ‘R18+: Rationality is Dead’]

I agree with him entirely, but he’s not talking about the R18+ advocates: he’s talking about the ‘pro-censorship’ side.  He’s talking about my side.

Hunting around the more prominent advocates of the status quo, I find it difficult to disagree with him.  Looking through the various arguments for introducing the new classification, his comments also seem to hold true (one forum I found even claimed I was part of the Christian lobby.  Just so we’re all clear: I’m an atheist.  Atheists sometimes disagree with each other.  It happens).

From the looks of it, it appears that we’ve got two sides of a debate where neither of the participants are saying anything intellectually interesting.

For the record, I think most of the arguments put up by the pro-censorship crowd are rubbish.  ShootStraight, for example, takes out most of the low-hanging fruit here.  Take out most of the pundits pleading with us to think of the children, to look at all this evidence they’ve cherry-picked about violent video games turning children into psychopaths, &c., &c., and the pro-censorship side hasn’t said very much.  To be fair, I haven’t put up much of a positive case for censorship either.

At the same time, if you ignore the ‘How dare anybody tell me I can’t do something?!  HULK SMASH!’ posts from the pro-R18+ side, you’ve effectively ignored 99.99% of their arguments.  The 0.01% remaining is confusing guff.

For example, in the above-linked post by Serrels, he says:

There are claims that “vested commercial interests” are attempting to force an R18+ rating through with “propaganda”. There is next to no commercial gain here – Australia is a tiny market, and a miniscule amount of games are refused classification. In the grand scheme of things video game publishers couldn’t really care less whether an R18+ rating is passed or not – in fact, before the matter was raised again last December, publishers had informally agreed to stop pushing for one. Why? Because it doesn’t affect their business in any significant way.  [Ibid.]

Because, of course, publishers are the only ones with a commercial interest.  On The Drum, Greg Barnes pleads with us not to ‘potentially limit [the] economic potential [of R18+ games] if [they] cannot be classified in a particular jurisdiction‘.

There’s nothing rational about the R18+ advocates’ case.  If ShootStraight believes my argument reduces to merely ‘I feel’ statements (and I agree but don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing), then R18+ advocates’ arguments reduce to an unsubstantiated ‘I have a right to access everything’.  As Sherrel says: ‘This is not a discussion, this is not a debate – if it was it would have ended years ago, rationally.’

[Note: As I said to Penmonicus, I’ll compose a positive argument in favour of censorship and post it here tomorrow.]

I did not take to analysis so I had to make up my mind… R18+ video games still fail to be justified

There’s quite a good post on ABC’s The Drum about the impact of violent video games on the behaviour of young people. Lo and behold, there isn’t much evidence supporting the ‘but think of the children’ argument. Colour me shocked.

At the same time, advocates of R18+ video game classifications are still refusing to provide any argument in their favour.  Greg Barnes (the same guy who still can’t come up with a model for an Australian Republic) has this to say about the issue.

[N]o censorship regime can hope to ban video games and therefore to refuse to sign off on a national scheme that provides certainty for the video game industry, suppliers and users is simply a case of putting religious fervour before reality. [Source: Greg Barnes, ‘Video game opposition pointless’, The Drum]

I was a bit startled to read that.  As an atheist, I’m fairly sure I don’t have any religious reasons why I think R18+ video games are a bad idea.

Despite this, Barnes drops the word ‘Christian’ as often as he grammatically can to show why R18+ games should be sold in Australia.  Australia should sell the games because Christians are naive.  Riiiiiight.

Every teenager knows how to access violent games. That’s the beauty if you are a libertarian or the curse if you are a prohibitionist, of the Internet. Anything can be downloaded. Not only that, but there is plenty of opportunity to smuggle into the country pirated copies or even burnt copies of violent video games. In other words, the porous borders of the world of technology will find their way with concomitant ease around fulminating censors like Mr Clark and his fellow lobbyists.  [Ibid.]

Because ‘You can already get it on the internet’ is justification for so many things, like weapons manuals and recipes for explosives.  Personally, I think it’s a great thing that I don’t have a local 4Chan vendor in the main street of town.  Just because somebody can download this rubbish doesn’t mean somebody ought to be permitted to sell it.

But this is my favourite part:

Justice Minister Brendan O’Connor wants to use the July meeting of the nation’s Attorneys-General to agree to a proposal which will see an 18+ rating for video games. It is a proposal that has been around for almost a decade. Currently the highest rating is MA 15+.

This means that makers of games edit material to ensure it comes within that rating, even though it might contain extreme violence. As O’Connor said last December, the absence of an adults only 18+ rating means he is “concerned that there are dozens and dozens of games in this country that are currently accessible to 15-year-olds that are not accessible to minors in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.”  [Ibid.]

Imagine the game is ‘Spot’s First Blood Bath‘.  It is, in every way shape and form, identical to Spot’s Big Red Ball except the final page is Spot massacring his neighbourhood in a gorefest.  The Australian government says, ‘You can sell that here but you have to remove the final page.’  According to the reasoning of the above quote, the restricted material is available to minors even though it’s been censored.  Does that make sense to anybody who can read without moving their lips?  What part of the word ‘edit’ doesn’t he understand?  The restricted material has been removed, now 15-year olds can’t access it.  They’re not accessing restricted material.

To me, the argument comes down to whether we want to live in a society where torture-porn is easily accessible.  It’s rarely noted by advocates that it’s not uncommon for the material to be extremely misogynistic in its violence.  If there were some artistic or cultural reason for allowing the material, I’d could even bring myself to support it.

But nobody’s raising these arguments.  Personally, I can’t think of any arguments for it and so I think we’re better off without them.

Instead, advocates are just claiming the opposition is ‘pointless’ and assuming that the pointlessness entails legality.  The debate remains adolescent.

Hold it now and watch the hoodwink… Margaret Simons on Freedom of Speech

The more I contemplate the media’s articles about the Andrew Bolt court case, the more I realise that it’s a case of the foxes running the chicken coop.  I’m rather shocked that I found myself surprised that so many media personalities would uncritically trumpet the right of the media to publish whatever it wants without regard for its social impact or its affect on individuals.  Other blogs seem unwilling to curtail speech unless violence is incited.

In Crikey, Margaret Simons writes why we have to hope that Andrew Bolt wins his case.  A careful analysis of her article shows that the first pronoun in the title refers to her and her media chums.  It’s certainly not an inclusive ‘we’.

This case is not about whether or not Andrew Bolt is a nice person or a good columnist. It is about the limits of freedom of speech. [Source: Margaret Simons, ‘Why we have to hope Andrew Bolt wins his case’, Crikey]

Is the case about the freedom of speech?  On the face of it, it’s not.  The case is about whether people are entitled to live in a society which does not attack them on grounds of race.  A secondary question to this is whether media personalities have a right to publish material attacking members of society on the grounds of their race.  Media commentators seem unwilling to shift away from the question of free speech.  Free speech first, everything else second because publishing offensive material sells advertising space.  The inability to create inflammatory and controversial content strikes at the heart of their business model.

But that’s as nothing compared to the strangest sentence of her article:

If that precedent is to the effect that we must not offend people when talking about race, then all those involve [sic] in publishing and reading will rue the day [Ibid.]

Rue the day!  Verily, if they are unable to make your ethnicity a topic of conversation, there will be gnashing of teeth in the publishing houses.  Editors will wear sackcloth and rub ashes into their hair.

Then she twists herself in knots trying to show how the racial discrimination law is somehow different to legitimate infringements of the most basic human right: the right to publish objectionable nonsense:

Of course, freedom of speech is not absolute, and there are limits. For example, we have the laws of defamation,and censorship, and there are other laws that deal with things such as incitement to violence.

But the law of defamation does not prevent publication. It allows those who have been defamed to seek compensation. [Ibid.]

This is nothing short of pencils-up-nostrils-shouting-‘Wibble’-crazy.  In an extremely simplified nutshell, defamation law works as a deterrent against damaging reputations.  It’s supposed to prevent publication under penalty of getting sued by the people you would otherwise defame.  Does Simons think that the law was developed like a royalties system?  Oh, you can print these outrageous lies but you’ll have to pay the person you defamed for the right to do so.

Further, you can seek an injunction to prevent defamatory material from being published.  So, yeah.  She’s flat out incorrect.

Simons argues for something like a ‘pub’ test.  While Bolt might be obnoxious, ‘[y]ou’ll find the same things said in most pubs.’

We should worry if we are going to start prohibiting people from publishing views that, while we strongly disagree with them, are common in the wider society.  [Ibid.]

I’m not sure when Simons was last in a pub.  The last time I was in a pub,  I was treated to such excellent opinions as:

  • Why we ought to shoot ‘Abbos’.
  • Why we ought to shoot asylum seekers.
  • Why Jews are conspiring against the rest of the world.

These sorts of opinions do not have a place in civilised society.  Simons seems to think that these ignorant, beer-fuelled slurs should be permitted in our mainstream media just because they’re not uncommon in our drinking dens.  It’s not difficult to take the evidence Simons cites and make an entirely different argument: ‘You’ll find the same things said in most pubs.  We should worry if we are going to start publishing views which are also repugnant in our nation’s pubs.’  While they might be uttered in pubs, they shouldn’t be.  There’s no place for those views anywhere, not even in pubs.

Then there’s some gibberish about how if we hold News Ltd to a ‘higher standard’ then the government might come after you, dear bloggers.  And you don’t want the King of England coming in here and pushing you around, do you?

If you use defamation law as a vague measure, you’d know that if you’re an influential, substantial somebody, you’re more likely to have people sue you for racial vilification.  Defamation law applies to everybody at the moment, but I can slag off lots of people and nobody’d give a toss because I’m not worth suing.  Similarly, if I publish terrible things about how the Swedish Ambassador to Australia isn’t really Swedish (but just claiming it for political gain), I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to get their lawyers on to me.  Technically, they could but we live in Reality Land where the effort isn’t worth the gain.  The racial vilification law scares the media because people will sue it more than they sue other kinds of people.  The same is true of defamation, weirdly enough.

So if they can beef up this ‘OMG, racial vilification law is ridiculous and a threat to your freedom of speech’, they get the benefit.  It’s another example of the media wanting unfettered rights without having to accept responsibility.

My reflection, dirty mirror… The Conservative Pickle

I’m mid-twenties and conservative.  For most of my adult life, I’ve found it extremely difficult to vote for the Coalition (in the last election, I succumbed to commonsense and submitted an informal vote).  Not coincidentally, for most of my adult life, the Liberal Party have been the most vocally homophobic, xenophobic, and libertarian.  Merging forces with the very ugly views of the National Party, the Coalition has increasingly seemed more like a nasty Brady Bunch and less like an alternative government.  Former Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser seemed to agree that something had gone rotten in the right and handed in his party membership.

The leader of the Coalition now seems to be seeking the support of the pants-on-head crazy fringes of the Australian electorate: the homogenously white, vocal, angry section of the community that Abbott calls ‘middle Australia’.  With very little effort, you can find the videos the ‘No Carbon Tax et alia’ protestors made themselves.  Despite their whinging, you’ll see that the media did not misrepresent their views much.  The charitable interpretation is that they’re misinformed crazies; it is more probable that they’re wilfully misinformed crazies, Astroturfed by radio shock jocks.

Whatever your views of the crowd are, Abbott (accompanied by the less desirable lurkers of the Coalition) was happy to stand among the mob and to bask in the sickly glow of misogynistic and xenophobic placards.  As the dust settled on the media frenzy, we were left puzzled by Abbott’s inability to distance himself from the loudest of the Tea Party-esque sentiments.  How could a conservative leader associate with such populist ugliness?  How could they be so wrong-headed as to legitimise the crowd’s offensive (by any rational standard) slogans?  In their defence, the right wing cronies could muster little more than ‘Tu quoque!’ Even this week, a right-wing commentator wailed that the Greens ought not to criticise Abbott’s poor choices because the Greens have been equally willing to join mobs with dubious ethics.

As if that somehow makes Abbott’s actions justifiable.  We conservatives used to pride ourselves on being better than the uncouth left.  We’d never stoop to the thuggery of the socialists and ‘greenies’.  We’d never be so crass or so vulgar.  Perish the thought!  We’re all about values, principles, and traditions.  The conservative way was to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.  It was not to return to the old and selfish notions of laissez-faire.  I’m pretty sure I heard that somewhere.

Worse, there’s more than a garden mile between associating with the anarchists of the far left and associating with misogynists and xenophobes.  Not all crazy was born equal.

I’m supposedly on the same side of the left-right political spectrum as Abbott and I’m baffled by his actions.  This isn’t what we expect from conservatives.  I tried to imagine Malcolm Fraser or Robert Menzies at a similar sort of rally.  This taxed my imagination too greatly, so I resorted to Photoshop.  The resulting images remind you of Escher’s pictures: your brain knows that it can’t be seeing what it thinks it sees.

Being young and conservative, I wonder if Abbott thinks that his recent antics makes others like me more or less likely to vote for his party.  Here’s a hint: the answer is ‘less’.  How many more votes can he abandon while courting crazy?

Stand in the place where you live, now face north… Cherry picking ‘facts’

In a debate about homosexual marriage, a friend of mine trumpeted: ‘Christians weren’t even interested in marriage until the 13th Century’.  When I noted that there were references to marriage in Ephesians, my friend was unaware that Ephesians was a book of the New Testament.

I find it increasingly strange that people will ‘know’ all kinds of wacky, obscure ‘facts’ which support their position, but won’t know basic, entry-level facts about the subject first.  My friend is lovely and I don’t think it’s a reflexion on her.  We see it far too often in public debates.

Consider people who deny climate change and anthropogenic climate change.  Holy crap, those people must be reading all of the journals published everywhere in order to find tiny ‘factoids’ which support their position.  Don’t worry that 98% of climate scientists agree with anthropogenic climate change; we’ve found the one crank who disagrees.  Mention very basic things about climate science and their jaws slack gape.

We are building an information landscape in which people never have to be confronted by anything which does not agree with their prejudices.  We’ve even got people arguing that children shouldn’t be exposed to things which disagree with their parents’ biases.  How did we get to this point?

This morning, I read more of George Orwell’s essays.  In an unused preface to Animal Farm, Orwell complained that:

If publishers and editors exert themselves to keep certain topics out of print, it is not because they are frightened of prosecution but because they are frightened of public opinion.  In this country intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face, and that fact does not seem to me to have had the discussion it deserves.  [Source: George Orwell, ‘Proposed Preface to Animal Farm’]

The newspapers, he noted, were ‘extremely centralised, and most of it is owned by wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics.’

Instead of silencing ‘alternative’ viewpoints, there is money to be made in drowning them out.  It makes me cringe to think that I just referred to best available science as an ‘alternative’ viewpoint, but that’s what it’s become.  Just as in Orwell’s day, the publishers are frightened of public opinion.  Views which challenge readers will get overlooked if readers are able to shield themselves from challenging views.  If readers shield themselves, then they can’t look at the pretty adverts publishers are trying to sell.

But surely there are places for public debates in the media.  Doesn’t Andrew Bolt appear on Insiders every week or so to provide a contrasting view?

Not really.  Dissent is okay so long as it’s arena-style combat, providing a spectacle which will attract advert-reading viewers.  The point is not to challenge the reader: the point is to attract attention.  The reader has their champion in the field ready to use whatever rhetoric device is necessary to shield the viewer from being challenged.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t think this is a right-wing/left-wing thing.  My Greens friends are generally more shielded from reality than my Nationals friends.  For every ‘Climate Change is Crap’ chanter on the right, there’s a Green blowhard on the left chanting similarly asinine mantras.  Post what you like to refute their arguments; they’re not going to listen (and try to justify why they’re not going to listen).

Infotainment killed news, but when did we all start thinking that it was okay to just cherry pick convenient ‘facts’?