Passing Bull 70 – What’s wrong with being an activist?

Activists are people who are active about trying to change the world to make it better.  They are rebels with a cause.  What’s wrong with that?  I was once diagnosed as being prone to rebellion, and that is one diagnosis that I am proud of.  (There are a few that I’m not.)

Well, some activists make some people tetchy.  A lot of animal rights people do that for me – a bunch of drama queens who would prefer to see me get killed by a roo, snake or a shark – the first may be the most lethal if you live and drive in the bush – rather than undertake the necessary cull.  They have a view of creation that I find very odd, especially in a people most of whom eat killed meat or fish.

But of late, ‘activist’ has become a term of abuse in the mouths of some.  The main targets are those who bring to our conscience our treatment of refugees.  Most Australians don’t want to know the cruelty being done to others in their name, so the silencers have a ready audience for their facile labels.  For the silencers, the whole of the ABC is just one heaving mass of activists.

In the name of heaven, the mere sight or sound of Peter Dutton would be enough to drive the quietest person to the most frenetic activism.

Let me reflect on some of the better known activists.  Take Jesus of Nazareth and Socrates.  Well, we fixed each of them up for their troubles.  Take Kant and Spinoza.  The first got warned off by the King of Prussia; the latter got excommunicated, something a lot of Jews will say is impossible.  Take Muhammad Ali – well, Uncle Sam fixed him up.  Above all, take those who led the campaign to abolish slavery in England. Here was the first orchestrated political campaign to change public opinion.  This was a colossal triumph for civilisation and Christianity, in particular the Church of England and the Quakers.  The latter knew what it was like to be on the outer, both in England and in America.  Why were they on the outer?  Because they refused to conform.

May blessings be upon those who are ready to stand up and be counted.

Poet of the month: Verlaine

The Innocents

High heels fought with their long dresses,

So that, a question of slopes and breezes,

Ankles sometimes glimmered to please us,

Ah, intercepted! – Dear foolishnesses!


Sometimes a jealous insect’s sting

Troubled necks of beauties under the branches,

White napes revealed in sudden flashes

A feast for our young eyes’ wild gazing.


Evening fell, ambiguous autumn evening:

The beauties, dreamers who leaned on our arms,

Whispered soft words, so deceptive, such charms,

That our souls were left quivering and singing.


Hillary Clinton

T S Eliot once made a remark to the effect that Hamlet shows a level of emotion beyond what the evidence dictates.  The same goes for Hillary Clinton.  Like everyone else, she has her faults, but flirting with truth and a hunger for power are not disqualifiers for a politician; the contrary is the case.  Why is she loathed, and why does that loathing lead people to refuse to vote against the lowest form of life ever to have crawled out from under a rock, and the greatest threat to world order since Adolf Hitler?  I ran into an American woman who told me that women could not forgive Hillary for not ditching Bill.  Since this woman was full of God, this seemed a curious view of the sacrament of marriage.  It confirmed my suspicion that the loathing was irrational.

That is the view of a very well-reasoned piece in The Economist.  It goes over all the evidence.  On the emails, it refers to Michael Chertoff, the lead Republican counsel in one of the many probes into Mrs Clinton.  He has endorsed her and said that the emails are ‘very, very insignificant compared to the fundamental issue of how to protect the country.’  It is very, very hard to formulate the contrary view.  The Economist concludes that ‘it is hard not to conclude that latent sexism is a bigger reason for her struggles.’  We know something about that here, but even we didn’t wear T-shirts  saying ‘Trump that bitch’ or ‘Hillary sucks but not like Monica.’  As the paper says ‘the first baby-boomer president and his pushy wife presented a cultural shift that much of America feared.’  We have spent eight years watching precisely the same reaction to the first black president.  Anyone who believes a word that Trump utters is not too bright – the paper quotes a recent poll that says that 73% of Republicans say the election could be ‘stolen’.

The American press has a lot to answer for. ‘Mrs Clinton’s strengths, including the most detailed platform of any candidate, do not make interesting news.’  It is worse than that.  Research at Harvard of eight mainstream outlets, including CBS, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, found that they were more critical of Mrs Clinton than any other candidate on either side.  For six months, she got three cons for every pro; for Trump, it was two to one the other way.  ‘Whereas media coverage helped build up Trump, it helped tear down Clinton.’

Propaganda playing on prejudice not adequately scrutinised by the press leaves us on the brink.

Frauke Petry

The New Yorker has a piece on Frauke Petry the leader of AfD, the far right party in Germany.  She attracts the names ‘Adolfina’ and ‘die Führerin’ and placards ‘Voting AfD is so 1933’, but she is appallingly bright and good looking, and therefore very different to our model.  Interestingly, and worryingly, the membership is 85% male.  I wonder what the figure is here, but you might read this note with the one above.

George Brandis

To a lawyer who has spent about equal time on each side of the profession, the latest blunder of the man they call Bookshelves derives from his wanting to be able to shop around for politically congenial legal advice.  Justin Gleeson is obviously very bright, an excellent lawyer, and a truly independent professional.  Brandis is none of those things.  Naturally, Laura Tingle got it right in the AFR, but the folks at The Australian got it hopelessly wrong, in the case of Chris Kenny, hilariously so.

Even by Bookshelves’ standards, this is bloody serious.  Too many soi disant leaders of my profession just sing the club song and fail to give independent professional advice.  Quite possibly the worst Law Officer in our history is now lending his considerable weight to that decline.

As political train wrecks go, Brandis is up there with Dutton.  God help us.

One thought on “Passing Bull 70 – What’s wrong with being an activist?

  1. A fine post. Did you read the Waleed Aly article in NYT yesterday? Chilling to think you and are in a minority of only 27%. Met a woman at my club on Tuesday who was signing Justin Gleeson’s praises. He had acted for her in the High Court. Gather she is no alone.

    Leigh Mackay 0409017244

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