Don’t teach your babies how to fall in love… @NoPlaceForSheep and Melinda Tankard Reist duke it out

label for dangeous goods, class 8
label for dangeous goods, class 8 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a certain kind of moral crusader whose response to any kind of issue seems more like a pathology than an expression of will.  Like magnesium in hydrochloric acid, they bubble and foam with inflammable gas.

And thus we have the recurring conflict between Dr Jennifer Wilson and Melinda Tankard Reist (‘MTR’).

Although I disagree with a lot of what MTR claims, she definitely gets more than her fair share of abuse.  Most of it is gendered.  Back in January 2012, two fairly prominent Australian male writers, Justin Shaw and Ben Pobjie, responded to MTR’s anti-porn stance with claims that she just needed to orgasm (with a fire-hose, if necessary) and that she needed to watch porn through a man’s eyes.  Dr Wilson went one step further and began to publish personal information about MTR.  It was difficult to know why she did this, if not for the purpose of intimidation.

The latest outrage concerns MTR’s appearance on ABC’s Australian Story:

The sudden appearance of Ms Tankard Reist in the middle of what had, up till then, been an engrossing  portrait of a loved-filled, creative family life complete with what I suspect were rescued greyhounds, was something akin to the shocking effects felt at the  manifestation of a bad fairy at a joyous christening.  [Source: Wilson, J. ‘Dark vision: the world of Melinda Tankard Reist‘, No Place for Sheep]

Continue reading “Don’t teach your babies how to fall in love… @NoPlaceForSheep and Melinda Tankard Reist duke it out”

I seek to cure what’s deep inside… Countering my own death penalty argument

There’s a banality to public discussions that I’ve never been able to understand, perhaps due to my near pathological inability to empathise with others, or some other hideous character flaw (I have many).  Public conversations are mundane and pedestrian.  Do you support onshore processing, or are you a xenophobic monster?  Do you support the abolition of the death penalty, or are you a barbarian?  Do you want to increase funding to Community Legal Centres, or do you hate the poor?  Do you oppose religious education in schools, or are you against teaching facts in schools?  Do you support the Carbon Tax, or do you deny anthropogenic climate change?  Do you oppose the Carbon Tax, or are you anti-industrial?  Are you in favour of the government supporting private schools, or do you think private school kids should be punished?  Do you support offshore processing, or are you in favour of opening the floodgates of illegal immigrants?

When I see these discussions play out, I’m absolutely unable to understand what’s going on inside the head of the participants.  I just don’t get it.  I complain often of the lack of nuance in public discussions, and the fact that there is no subtlety in opinion or analysis.  It particularly baffles me because I know that, behind closed doors, extremely elegant and intricate discussions are being held by political advisers, public servants, organisations, and academics.

Here’s a fun one: do you know why countries spend millions of dollars each year sending officials and cohorts to big international conferences?  The conferences themselves are usually banal — you could probably run them more effectively over e-mails and Skype.  It’s the conversations that happen ‘in the margins’ that are infinitely more productive — the unofficial, off-the-record, casual chats where people can be a little bit more frank and intelligent because they don’t have to worry about the baldernonsense of the media circus.  This is a big part of my criticism of Wikileaks and co: secrecy exists because the open public is stultifying.

Even when the discussions aren’t secret, people don’t seem to be terribly interested in them.  Thinking particularly of the death penalty conversation, there’s an entire community of academics discussing the issue in beautiful, lucid terms.  The public debate — between the right thinking liberals and the vengeance-seeking yokels — in no way reflects this conversation.  It’s hard to imagine Hannah Arendt (who supported the death penalty for particular crimes) in the same category of thinker as the slack jaws from the US Bible Belt, but this is the way the public discussion forms.  In yesterday’s conversation about asylum seekers, for example, I received a torrent of abuse because I’m pro-death penalty.  I would be shocked if the same people would refer to Arendt in the same terms.

The saddest part is that conversations about the death penalty give rise to a fascinating breadth of issues relating to punishment.  In the spirit of being the trouble that I want to see in the world, here’s the sort of conversation that could have happened —

You’re going to do this in dialogue form, aren’t you?

Yes.  I quite like the format for discussion of philosophical subjects.  It doesn’t fit the contemporary ‘write a philosophical essay’ style, but I still like it for ethical discussions.

But aren’t there problems with the format?

Yeah.  It does mean that you are susceptible to creating strawmen opponents.  But… and here’t the really cool bit… virtue ethics gives us a lot of the tools that we need to do this ‘dialogue’ format really well.  If something is a moral dilemma, two morally excellent people can disagree about the issue.  The bulk of my meta-argument regarding the death penalty is that the issue is still a moral dilemma (which is denied by a scary number of people).  A good dialogue is where you can consider two moral exemplars disagreeing and the arguments they would pose to each other.

I’m sure that’s all very interesting, but let’s get back to the death penalty.  How would you sum up your argument?

The core of my argument is that life imprisonment and the death penalty are actually the same thing: you are punishing a person until they die from it.  Life imprisonment is indefinitely long and abolitionists have turned the act of living itself into a punishment.  The death penalty is more humane: we don’t punish a person indefinitely.

It’s a persuasive argument, I’ll give you that.

You flatterer.

But I’m uncomfortable with the argument.  I can’t quite get my head around why, but I really don’t like the idea of using death as a punishment.

I don’t like the idea of using life as a punishment.  J.S. Mill referred to it as a ‘living tomb’: every time they are cured from illness, their punishment is extended.  The abolitionist’s conception of life imprisonment is a bit fanciful.

Are you conceiving of life imprisonment correctly then?  Isn’t it a sentence of 25 years?

Yeah, but I find that a bit baffling.  Not all people sentenced to life imprisonments serve 25 years — some are locked up for the term of their natural life, getting us back to the start of my argument.  Further, it’s something of an inequitable punishment: I’m in my 20s, so a sentence of 25 years means I still have my adult life as my own.  Does a person in their 70s have the same option?

It’s sort of the same way that parking fines are a bit inequitable.  $70 when I don’t have a job means more than $70 when I’m earning $90k.  The value of the $70 changes, as does the value of 25 years.  I’m sure Gai Waterhouse won’t struggle to find $5,500 to pay her horse racing related sanction…

Fair point.  But something still feels ‘off’ about the argument.  Any help?

Sure.  The key weakness in my argument is that it narrows your options to discussion of only life imprisonment versus the death penalty.  The discussion is narrowed to avoid a very lengthy conversation that we could have now, if you’d like?

Sure.  What other options are there?

You could throw out the whole system, kit and caboodle.  My argument relies on the intuition that crimes should be punished.

That seems like a reasonable intuition.

But is it really?  I think it is because my idea of the morally excellent State is one which maintains order by punishing crime, but it’s not the only conception available to people.  What does the word ‘crime’ there mean?

In the Tao Te Ching chapter 57, Lao Tzu writes that the greater the number of laws, the more criminals you’ll have.  The concept of ‘crime’ in this sense is ontologically grounded in the laws created by the State.  It turns out I can only defend my intuitive position if I also defend a position that the State passes morally good laws, which is surprisingly difficult.  What I’d prefer to do is claim that these morally great laws exist prior to the State legislating them.  The process of legislation turns these anterior laws into something workable by the mechanisms of the State’s legal system.  But then I end up with two concepts of crime: one crime is a crime against the legislated laws of the State, while the other is a crime against the anterior law which existed prior to the State legislating… and it all gets messy.

You could scrap this completely with a much more sophisticated understanding of crime as a function of social problems.  The thief steals because they are poor and hungry.  The addict is addicted because they are self medicating their depression.  A person who is violent and a threat to others is suffering a psychological problem rather than a legal one.

Under this view, the role of the State is not to punish crime but to rectify social problems.  Why punish the thief when the problem is the economic inequality which created the thief?  Why punish the drug addict when the problem is the abject misery of their life?

I like this view.  I prefer to think of the penal system in ‘social justice’ terms like rehabilitation.

Indeed, and you don’t even need to be an absolutist about it.  There’s a spectrum of positions between this concept of justice and my hard line view.  Some people aren’t thieves because of social problems of inequity.  Some people are thieves because they are greedy monsters.  By quirk of our legal system, people who are thieves due to reason of greed tend to be able to afford lawyers and are thus likely to be punished less…



This view also changes how I think about particular crimes.  A person who is violent and is a threat to society doesn’t need to be punished in prison — they have a psychiatric issue.  How can we justify punishing a person for their illness?

Careful there, tiger.  This line of inquiry pushes us close to three areas we don’t want to be.  The first is the most problematic: the idea of people being helpless in the face of themselves.  People aren’t just a function of their diagnoses.  I might be genetically predisposed towards tax evasion, for example, but this would not be a reason for me to be a tax evader.  As our folk-understanding of psychiatry increases, we seem to abandon responsibility for increasing amounts of things to biology.  A person who is, by nature, inclined towards violence and towards being a threat to others has a responsibility to deal with that aspect of themselves.  When we punish them — under my version of the ideal state — we are not just punishing them for being violent and a threat, but for failing in their responsibility to conduct themselves appropriately.

The second problem is distinguishing which ‘crimes’ are mere psychiatric illness.  In the above paragraph, I used tax evasion which is clearly stupid… unless tax evasion is somehow the symptom of some other biological malady.  Perhaps I have a compulsive need to feel smart and I was compelled to evade taxes as a result of this compulsion: ‘I had to battle wits with the system, your honour!’  Paedophiles sometimes claim that they have a psychiatric compulsion to be attracted towards children.  Some shoplifters make similar claims of compulsion.  Is the drink driver suffering from alcoholism?  Even the act of committing a crime (in my earlier sense) can be folk-diagnosed as ‘oppositional defiant disorder’.

The third problem is recognising the dignity of the victim in the act of a crime.  When a crime is committed against a person, they have a need to feel that their value in society is respected by punishing the person who wronged them.  If you start declaring that rapists are suffering some kind of psychiatric disorder and they should therefore not be punished, you devalue the status of rape survivors.  They haven’t been wronged, they’ve just had an encounter with people who deserve our help and pity.  It gets a bit gross down this end of the conversation.

The more I think about this concept of justice, the more I’m confused why anybody would oppose it.  If the system can be used to create meaningful change in society, then it should.  The stigma surrounding convictions and prison sentences is damaging to the individuals involved.

There are some horrible positions in response to the social justice scheme.  Libertarians, for example, don’t like the idea of the State existing to pursue an agenda of social justice.  This version of the penal system is incompatible with the ‘minarchist’ conception of the State: why should law-abiding citizens pay for the rehabilitation of criminals?  How much of my salary belongs to the disadvantaged person who won’t get a job and pull themselves up by their own bootstraps?

There are also hard edged positions in response.  Crime is crime is crime is crime, they would argue, and it needs to be punished.  Thinking about crime as a social problem is the sort of woolly-headed thinking that leads to being eaten.

For what it’s worth, I think that it’s an actual dilemma.  A morally excellent person could advocate for this version of a justice system.

So why don’t you?

Because it sits poorly with other things I consider virtues.  Under my scheme, the authority to punish the criminal is grounded in the criminal’s unlawful act.  Under the ‘social justice’ scheme, the authority to rehabilitate the ‘criminal’ is grounded in an aspiration to create a particular future state of affairs for everybody.  It’s a consequentialist scheme where  ‘punishment’ is a kind of social engineering (and even a form of wealth redistribution).

Kant, for example, argued that we should not treat other people as means to ends, but this social justice system does nothing but treat people as means towards ends.  Reeducation camps, for example, are extremely consistent with this view of the penal system.  The ‘criminal’ needs therapy in order to become a rehabilitated member of society, so we put them in a facility where they are conditioned to accept appropriate social values, &c.  The authority for these acts is not grounded in the acts of the ‘criminals’, but in the aspiration for a ‘utopian’ future.

I also believe that my respect of other people’s dignities involves considering them responsible for their actions.  The social justice version detracts from that individual responsibility and collectivises it.  Dr Jones isn’t a criminal because Dr Jones is a selfish, irresponsible dirtbag, but because society created Dr Jones.

The social justice element also fails to give expression to our need to be recognised as the victims of crime.  As I noted earlier, the rape survivor doesn’t want their attacker to be conceptualised as a victim.  They want to see their victim face justice.  When the white supremacist goes on a killing rampage, I want to see them brought to justice and not pandered to as if they couldn’t help themselves.

This aspect is often derided as an ’emotional’ or ‘visceral’ left over from our barbarian days, but I think it has an important place in our moral considerations.  I’m writing about the legal theory aspects of Game of Thrones, and there’s an interesting moment when Tyrion is given a trial by combat to decide whether he is guilty for the attack on the young Stark lad.  When Tyrion’s champion wins, Catelyn Stark looks visibly distressed.  Although the process of justice has taken place, it does not ‘feel’ like justice to her. There hasn’t been the atonement for the crime.  The criminal has gone unpunished.  This emotional aspect of justice, I argue, is the same sensation that causes us to get outraged at moral crimes in the first place.  Part of being a morally excellent person is finding a way to express and understand (rather than suppress and ignore) this non-rational aspect of justice.

Fair enough, but I still prefer the social justice version because it seems more pragmatic.  It doesn’t rely on big idealistic principles.

I hope I haven’t misled you into thinking that.  It’s still idealistic, but we have a habit of not thinking of consequentialism in terms of ‘ideas’ or ‘principles’.  It’s got a good run of being presented as the default rational position, but we shouldn’t believe it.

A conversation for another time, perhaps?

Sure.  Anything else you wanted to ask?

Nope.  I could sure go a drink.

So could I.

Your blood drool attracts the flies… Agreeing on how to disagree #QLDlitprize

I wrote an article on New Matilda about the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award.  In short, it’s a vanity project for premiers; it achieves very little and is difficult to justify when cuts are going to be made to important programs.

There are ways to dispute my argument.  You could say that there’s some error with my reasoning.  Even though it only advantages a very small number of people, that small number of people do amazingly wonderful things which is good for the community… or something.  You could say that there’s no error in my reasoning but there’s a bigger picture; despite me being correct about everything I’ve said, there’s some bigger issue.  Even though it’s true that it’s a vanity project for premiers, advantages a vanishingly small number of people, and will mean that important projects will be cut by an extra quarter of a million, that’s all okay because there’s a prophecy that Space Nazis will attack the Earth if the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award is abolished.

These are, broadly, the two ways people have a discussion or engage in discourse: find an error in the interlocutor’s reasoning or identify how the interlocutor could be correct in the specifics of their argument but incorrect in the broader application.

I’ve said it over and over again, but the number one reason why politics and the media are spiralling down the lavatory vortex is that people can no longer engage in discussion sensibly and productively.  I noted it in passing with the ‘300 bills = good’ discussion: no matter what I said, no ALP supporter can explain why 300 bills is an indication of a good government.  This is the reason why there are no productive discussions about the ABC; people complaining about ‘balance’ have no workable definitions — it’s just bellyfeel reaction to anything IPA-related or rightwing-related.  It’s why conversations about important policy issues go utterly nowhere: you have teams and you yell your teams mantras until one of you passes out from exhaustion.

The colloquial expression is: ‘to talk past each other’ and I’m now seeing this problem emerge routinely in news websites and blogs. I’m also worried that we see it more and more on shows like Q&A and Insiders where the hosts quickly shuffle on to the next topic instead of moderating deeper discussions between parties who disagree.  As the guests know that they’ve got vanishingly small time to get their message across, they resort to one-liners and triviality in order to be remembered.

If we want to see better political discussion, perhaps we need to get better at it ourselves.

Madness? This is Sparta… Do 300 bills make a good government? #auspol

This post is about two parts to the same story: is there any room left in political discussion for debate?

Like many, I’m not terribly enthused by the Gillard Government.  I find it difficult not to see them as dysfunctional.  If they’re not trying to assert their brand of populism against those of the Greens and LNP, they’re bickering internally.  I feel like they are poor communicators.  Even when I bypass the ‘mainstream media’, I get confusing messages from them.  Rally cries rather than reasons.

I don’t know what they stand for.  I don’t know what sort of vision they have for Australia.  I don’t know how they would respond to various issues because I find their positions on issues to be inconsistent and, generally, reactive.

As an engaged but disillusioned political junkie, I feel like the only thing the ALP has in its favour is that it’s not the LNP or the Greens.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen the same response over and over again to the above.  Recently, it was made by @Gwillotine:

SO the 300 or so pieces of legislation that have all gone through parliament have all been spin have they? [Source]

The idea seems to be: ‘If the Gillard Government is so terrible at governing, why has it been able to pass over 300 bills?’

Does this follow as an idea?  Why the number of bills a government passes an indication of good or bad government?  If the ALP had only managed 299 bills, would this be an indication of abject failure?

The idea seems to be that, as there is a hung parliament, 300 bills indicates the ALP’s ability to negotiate and facilitate a functional government.  The assumption here is that, if the wheels haven’t completely fallen off the train of government, the ALP is doing a great job.

Clearly, it’s faulty reasoning.  A government might be great at passing lots of legislation, but be utterly rubbish at other — perhaps more important — areas of governing.  For example: the ability to lead, to share a vision, to communicate effectively with the electorate.

Good luck having that conversation with anybody.  When I suggested that the quality of the bills passed might also be an indicator of whether a government was doing a good job, the Political Sword’s Bushfire Bill entered into the discussion with:

Can disagree with SOME of 300, but how else to view Coalition’s 0/0? [Source]

The assumption here is that it is illegitimate to criticise the ALP because, regardless of how we understand success, the LNP is dreadful.  The Coalition — with neither the resources of government or agreements forming loose alliances with the Greens and independents — ought to have passed some legislation in parliament.  Because they haven’t, they are terrible and the ALP is great.

I’d hate to be accused of misrepresenting Bill’s argument, but I can’t understand how Abbott’s performance tells us anything about Gillard’s.

When I asked how the number of bills passed indicates the quality of a government, I was told:

I think you need to do some homework [Source]

Honestly, you don’t need the media to tell you how to think [Source]

I like you but as I said bills passed are the measure [Source]

We no longer focus on skills of persuasion or rational engagement.  Our assumptions and assertions about the world must be correct and, if you question them, you are an outsider.  This is the sort of groupthink rhetoric into which political discussion has fallen.  You’re either on our side of the fence, or you’re dumb, deceived, or delusional.

The problem with this line of argument is that it’s routinely hijacked by troublemakers and trolls.  People saying outright racist things, as a matter of course, respond with: ‘Stop calling me racist.  I’m just expressing my opinion.  Stop marginalising me and excluding my views from the discourse.’

So how should we engage in political discussion so that we leave the door open to people who disagree with us, but not so wide open that all the crazies come and gatecrash?

Part of it has to be self-reflective.  Are the views I hold falsifiable?  What evidence could somebody present to me to make me change my views?  Further, could I justify my assumptions to somebody who is rational, charitable, but who disagrees with my views?

I wonder if the reason so many of us are rubbish at discussing our views is that we so rarely keep serious company with people who disagree with us.  Many of my friends see me as their token conservative.  By and large, people’s social circles are made up of like-mindeds.  Our social framework is geared towards echo chambers.

This, in a nutshell, is what I see as the problem.  We need to learn how to foster debate instead of rallying troops.

[[Sources broken: Twitter webpage seems to have collapsed… I’ll fix them soon]]

Feeling you giving me directions I don’t need… Can men be feminists? No.

Over the past week, a strange amount of energy was devoted to the question of whether men could be feminists.  It’s important that, in a movement designed to empower women, men know where they stand.

The recent brouhaha started off with Corinne Grant’s post specifically about the term ‘male feminist’.

I could slide here into a discussion of comedians as social commentators.  I don’t know if this is true in other countries, but I feel that social commentary is dominated by people who are better at being funny than insightful.  Grant fits into this category along with Tim Minchin and everybody involved in The Chaser.  Catherine Deveny would fit into this category but she’s not funny.  There’s probably another post in here somewhere about our need to be entertained rather than informed, but this post is about why guys can’t be feminists.

The boring answer is that it depends on what we mean by ‘feminists’.  I’ve spoken to a lot of people about this topic over the last week, with people much more intelligent than me.  What’s striking is the diversity of the term.  Does it mean ‘a person who thinks that men and women should be equal’?  Does it mean ‘a person who critiques social power structures which disempower women’?  Is it both?  Is it neither?

I’ve surprised at least one of my friends by being both conservative and having an understanding and appreciation of privilege.  It goes to show that you can be both conservative and not stone stupid.

I think — and I could be incorrect — that ‘feminist’ has to mean something more than just ‘believes in the equality of men and women’.  People who are advantaged by privilege are in the worst position to judge what is ‘equal’.  In the Andrew Bolt case, far too many people thought that it was ‘unequal’ for racial minorities to be granted protections in law denied to the white majority.  What they failed to grasp was that the legal protection was to bring them on equal footing with our socially guaranteed protection.  Nobody is going to attack me for being white.  Using exactly the same language, we can disagree wildly about what is ‘equal’.

But if feminists are just those who critique the social structures which disempower women, we’ve neutered feminism into a dry academic discourse.  Feminists are those who write the US-centric essays about unpacking privilege.  Feminists are those who can reposition Marx’ material dialectic into a gendered discourse.

I don’t mean to disparage feminism as an academic endeavour.  I’ve got a low opinion of gender studies as a discipline, but the quality, meaty, intelligent output is superb.  It’s just that it’s filled with so much guff (probably a by-product of its links to Continental philosophy, which has the same problem.  The great stuff is magical, sublime, and exceptional.  But most of it is rot).

But if it is this academic endeavour, guys aren’t part of that project either.  Part of privilege is that society renders the power structures invisible to those who benefit most.  We’ve normalised it: it’s the background stage upon which we strut our funky stuff.

In truth, ‘feminism’ is probably going to sit in the grey area between the two extremes of the popular and the academic.  But the arguments as to why a guy can’t be a feminist at either end still apply in the middle.  There’s no way for a guy to not think like a guy.  We’ve been socialised to do it.  Feminism requires non-guy thinking.  It’s the external critique to show us that the things we think are ‘normal’ or ‘obvious’ or ‘default rational’ aren’t.  That critique, that discourse, can’t happen if we’re on both sides of the fence.

But — as an extremely learned and excellent friend of mine pointed out — in making this argument, I’ve dichotomised gender.  By dividing the world into two groups — those who can be feminists and those who can’t — along gender lines, I’ve forgotten the fluidity of gender.  What about trans-folk?  Are homosexuals similarly unable to critique the dominant masculinist mode?  Is it just a certain kind of guy who can’t be a feminist?

The long answer is: I don’t know.  There are so many conceptual issues with gender fluidity that I think the brutal ‘Guys can’t be feminists’ needs to take on some subtlety and nuance that I can’t muster here.

The shorter answer is: maybe there might be exceptions, but when we’re talking about guys being feminists, we’re not usually talking about anything except cismen who declare proudly that they’re ‘male feminists’.

Guys can’t be feminists.  Not really, at least, because merely by interacting with the world, we’re taking advantage of all the privileges we don’t need to acknowledge.  We won’t understand what it’s like to be women and, frankly, the guys who describe themselves as feminists are sort of pretending that they do.  Guys should be content with ruling the world and stop trying to conquer and dominate the spaces created by women to advance their equality.

Say it once, say it twice, roll the dice, take a chance… In praise of Hallowe’en

I’m miles behind schedule with this post…  Sorry…

Do you know what I hate?  The Americanisation of our society.  All this boohooing about Bills of Rights and Parliamentary Budget Offices and Republics and Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party and the media saturation with who’s ‘winning’ the Republican primaries race and the hatred of the letter ‘u’ and the excruciating abuse of the English language…

It all stems from one thing: too much American television on Australian screens.

And yet despite my somewhat rabid hatred of American culture, I am 100% a supporter of adopting Hallowe’en in Australia.

Holidays and festivals have a focus: a driving message which legitimates and justifies.  Christmas and Easter have long since shed their religious significance for a lot of us, replaced with an excuse to visit our families.  Melbourne Cup holiday is a chance for Australia to pretend that it’s a civilised place to live (it isn’t).  Australia Day has become a holiday to platform a lot of intellectually meaty and confronting ideas about who we are as a nation.

But Hallowe’en is a celebration of the community rather than a celebration of the family or of the nation.

We let our kids dress up as terrifying beasties and let them loose (under supervision) into the community.  It’s a transformation of our neighbours from strangers who co-locate into members of our environment.  It’s an induction into our Welt.

I was raised in a one adult household (even when my father was there, that statement remains true). It was physically impossible for my mother to be around us every moment of the non-school day.  One day, my brothers and I were at home after school before mum had returned from work.  It was about five thirty when a really nasty storm hit and knocked out the power.  My brothers and I were a bit freaked out, so we went ’round to our neighbour’s place who looked after us until mum got home.

For thousands of kids, the parenting situation is the same.  One parent having to do the work of two, but there’s only so much that is physically possible.  To an extent, we need our communities to provide support.

When I raised this point with a friend (who has kids), they immediately rejected my argument: ‘I don’t know who my neighbours are.  I certainly couldn’t trust them with my kids.’

Trust is built on the back of knowledge.  When we know the people who surround us, we begin to trust them.  Festivals like Hallowe’en provide an excuse to get to know the neighbours and introduce the next generation to them.  The neighbourhood becomes part of the kids’ support network.  When they rebel and decide to run away from home, wouldn’t we prefer that they run only as far as the end of the street to be with somebody whom they already know and trust?

Hallowe’en fills a gap in our socialisation which the other holidays don’t.

The other key reason to introduce Hallowe’en into Australia is its excellent impact on adults: it is a licence for silliness and absurdity.  We don’t have enough opportunities throughout the year to indulge in immaturity, to let our hair down and just have fun.  Hallowe’en provides the perfect remedy.

Do I worry about the gender narrative caused by Hallowe’en, with it becoming commonplace to refer to any female costume as ‘slutty’?  Well, yes.  I wouldn’t be a good and proper conservative if I didn’t.  But I’m also sensible enough to know that Hallowe’en just provides a focal point for the misogyny and sex-shaming already in society; it’s not creating new evils.

So make Hallowe’en a common event in Australia, I say.  Let our kids become familiar with the neighbourhood and let’s indulge in some childish costumes.