On the edge of the city, the edge of Ambrosia… Science is culturally boring

A friend sent me an article: Artificial divisions between science and culture hinder creative dialogue and public engagement by Athene Donald.  It’s yet another in a long line of articles about how the humanities and the social scientists — and how the wider public more broadly — should make space for scientists to lay down their wisdom.

Facts are sacred and should be transmitted.

Needless to say, my friend was less than impressed with my response: scientists are philistines, and science is culturally toxic.

Continue reading “On the edge of the city, the edge of Ambrosia… Science is culturally boring”

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Some kind of secret I will share with you… Why we shouldn’t agree to disagree #auspol

Disagreement is weird.

There’s a positivistic view of the world — dominant in popular discourse — that everything should come down to evidence and reason.  Evidence and reason are mixed together in the cauldron of the mind to produce Facts.  You either believe in Facts or — it is asserted — you’re a creepy post-modernist who doesn’t live in the Real World.

We have a whole host of slogans about Facts.  You’re not entitled to your own, for example.  And we’ve popularised scientists as being the Prophets of Facts.  If a scientist says it’s a Fact, then it’s a Fact.  But sometimes marginalised scientists on the fringes of academia are being persecuted (like Galileo) and so those scientists are the True Prophets of Facts and the mainstream scientists are False Prophets of Facts.

In the ideal world of the Enlightenment, disagreements simply should not exist.  Differences of opinion would mean that somebody is factually incorrect.  Two ordinary people, possessed of all the Facts, will agree.  If they disagree, then somebody is mistaken, lying, or trolling.

Continue reading “Some kind of secret I will share with you… Why we shouldn’t agree to disagree #auspol”

We clawed, we chained our hearts in vain… Why you should use the phrase ‘illegal entrants’ #auspol #asylumseekers

Language is important.  Over at AusOpinion, I’ve argued that claims of ‘neutral’ and ‘apolitical’ language are dangerous lies.  There is, in fact, no way of describing something in completely neutral terms (whatever ‘neutral’ may mean).

As part of my set up to discuss something even more interesting than language — images — I made a quick mention of the asylum seeker debate.

The Government — perhaps inspired by Genesis 2:19 — has begun a process of renaming the policy issues formed of the air, land, and sea.  Under the ‘Call A Spade A Spade‘ policy, ‘asylum seekers’ (already a contentious term — are all people who arrive by boat seeking asylum?) will be called ‘illegal entrants’ (a term the minister assures us is analogous to ‘stolen goods’).  Shadow Immigration Minister, Richard Marles, complained about the terminology, stating that it was ‘language being used for a political purpose’ which ‘clouds the debate and it acts to work against trying to achieve bipartisanship in the area of immigration policy.’  He didn’t explain what he meant by implying that language could be used for a non-political purpose, or why bipartisanship was the most important goal of immigration policy. [Source]

One day, I’ll learn my lesson and be sufficiently wise to leave well enough alone.  That day’s not today.

Many people are — entirely understandably — outraged at the new terminology.  They believe — entirely incorrectly — that other words and phrases are more ‘neutral’ or more ‘correct’.  Blinded by outrage, they don’t see that the change in terminology provides an excellent opportunity for asylum seeker activists to change the course of the public discussion.

Continue reading “We clawed, we chained our hearts in vain… Why you should use the phrase ‘illegal entrants’ #auspol #asylumseekers”

Have some sympathy, and some taste… Re-imagining the role of the critic (ping @childers_g) #arts #auspol

English: Canberra Centre City Walk entrance wi...

Despite having a fraction of the population, Canberrans consume art like a major city.  I’d heard the statistic before — Andrew Leigh uses it to make a fascinating argument about the value of community — but this time I was hearing it in a different context: Jack Waterford, editor-at-large of the Canberra Times, was framing a conversation about the role of the critic.  If Canberra has such an appetite for the arts, where are the critics?  What is their role?  How do they link artists to audiences?  And — perhaps most strangely — why does Canberra lose its critics to the larger cities, Melbourne and Sydney?

If you ever get the chance to hear Waterford talk, take up the opportunity.  Even when he’s dead wrong, he’s engaging and thought-provoking.  I’m still mulling over ideas and it’s now several hours since I saw him talk as part of a panel hosted by the Childers Forum here in Canberra: The Role of the Critic.

Continue reading “Have some sympathy, and some taste… Re-imagining the role of the critic (ping @childers_g) #arts #auspol”

Does the dispute between RadFems and the Trans-community reflect a genuine dilemma? (A reply to @cheshireb)

Whenever I try to write about something that’s potentially fraught, I dispense with my usual custom of quoting song lyrics.  Once again, we’re in the territory of discussing something that invariably results in somebody getting really upset and everybody feeling worse off for the experience.

When I wrote about the Festival of Dangerous Ideas and how the controversy market has squashed our ability to engage meaningfully with genuinely ‘dangerous’ ideas, Fatima Measham asked me what ‘dangerous idea’ would I like to see explored at FODI.

I’ve written before about a particular form of privilege: the assumed right to stay disengaged from the problems of others:

It is in this way that we can start to discuss privilege.  As a straight white guy, I can ‘win’ these discussions in two ways.  First, I can simply refuse to engage with them.  Somebody’s saying something that makes me uncomfortable?  I can ignore them.  I have the ability to pick and choose conversations which suit me in a way that marginalised people can’t.  More than that, I can instigate conversations to an increased degree than marginalised people can’t.

Second, I can further marginalise people who try to raise these conversations.  Are you saying something which confronts my intuitions about the world?  I’ll mock you and make you a figure of ridicule rather than engage with your ideas.  Checkmate, Holmes. [Source]

For me, the Dangerous Ideas are precisely these ones — the ones which the vast majority of people keep at arm’s length, passively suppress, and refuse to engage.  Unfortunately, actually confronting people with things they don’t want to hear doesn’t end up selling tickets to events.   Continue reading “Does the dispute between RadFems and the Trans-community reflect a genuine dilemma? (A reply to @cheshireb)”

Quick Post: The Culture Wars and your weak Culture-Fu #auspol

The Left should start using Don Quixote as their mascot for the ‘current’ ‘Culture War’.

I’ve had more than a few beers with people lately who are worried about the Culture War.  Few of them can explain precisely what they mean by the term.  Few can explain precisely why they think winning this war is a good thing.

The idea of the Culture War (and its antecedent idea the ‘Kulturkampf’) is extremely interesting.  Typically, we frame the Australian discussion around the identity of former Prime Minister John Howard.  Howard had this clear idea of what he saw as ‘ordinary’ Australia and he wanted to use the organs of State to realise that vision.

It’s fairly obvious that a Culture War is a good thing.  We look to the Government and the Opposition to share with  us its vision of an ideal Australia.  When it looks ten years into the future, what does Australia look like?  What values does it share?  What culture does it have?  How are you going to make that happen?

If you’re telling me that the Labor Party spent six years in power not prosecuting a campaign of promoting a particular culture in Australia, then those six years were more of a failure than we thought.

Howard’s ‘success’in his Culture War was in normalising his activities by promoting the intuitions of his preferred Australians as default rational.  ‘This isn’t ideology,’ he could be paraphrased as saying.  ‘This is just commonsense.’

But this has become the great sadness of the Liberal Party: its rejection of thinking about ideology.  Ideology is bad.  Ideology isn’t practical.  Ideology doesn’t connect you with ‘ordinary’ Australians.  Thus, the ideology is to reject discussion about ideology.

It’s a magic trick which only works because the audience doesn’t question it.  Indeed, it only works because the magician performing the trick also doesn’t question it.

This is why Howard and his successors will continue to win the culture war: it relies entirely on inertia.  Axing departments isn’t done for ideological reasons; it’s done for practical reasons.  Trying to save money.  Trying to streamline processes.  Trying to get rid of the ALP waste.

But it’s a weird way to use the word ‘win’.  Does gravity ‘win’ when the apple falls from the tree?  Does water ‘win’ because it is wet?  Does 8,128 ‘win’ because it is a perfect number?  The Coalition ‘wins’ the Culture War by being completely unable to do anything except pander to the intuitions of their ‘ordinary Australian’.  See, for example, what happened with WorkChoices: it did not accord with the intuitions of the ‘ordinary Australian’ and, thus, looked like ideology.  Howard was toppled.

The only way for the Left to fight — let alone win — the Culture War is to show to ordinary Australians that their non-ideology is, in fact, ideology.  It’s not about showing that the Culture War exists to other lefties who only see Culture Wars when they’re not in power.  It’s about getting ordinary Australians engaged and involved in thinking about ideology.

Until they do that, it’s a very amusing puppet play for those of us conservatives who understand ideology.

‘We must fight that giant!’

‘That numpty writing in The Guardian thinks it’s a giant.  It’s a windmill!  What a dunce!’

‘If that imbecile had correctly read my analysis of windmill-giants, he would have found that I am arguing that it’s both a windmill and a giant!’

‘Wouldn’t it be good if more sociopaths were involved in this debate?  Does anybody have Mike Carlton’s telephone number?  I bet he has good views about windmills.’

‘THIS ARTICLE SAYS MEAN THINGS ABOUT THE “FUCK TONY” T-SHIRTS.  WHAAAAARGBLE!  I REFUSE TO BE SILENCED!’

Enjoy fighting among yourselves, guys.