Passing Bull 100 – A century of bullshit – and identity politics

Greg Sheridan has been at it again.  Being wrong. Read the piece set out below and see if you can pick out one statement of verifiable fact.

What is ‘identity politics’?  Like most labels, it is usually used as a form of abuse, but it is likely to be misleading even when used without malice, or without  looking down the speaker’s nose (as is plainly the case with Mr Sheridan here – and as is the case disturbingly often elsewhere).

I looked up ‘identity politics,’ and I gather it means a set of political views or attitudes held not by the community at large, but by  a group of people who have something in common.

If that’s right, I’m not clear why this phenomenon is so feared and rejected by those at The Australian – and we have seen that Mr Paul Kelly frets awfully about identity politics.  What’s wrong if people of, say, a given faith get together to express views about, say, refugees, or gay marriage, or head scarves?  Business groups and union groups and sporting groups and religious groups do it all the time.  I’ll put think tanks to one side, but look at the Jewish community here and in the U S.  They are renowned for their formidable capacity to advance what their community sees as the best interests of its members on, say, human rights and other issues of importance to the nation at large.  Is there something wrong with the Jewish community?

The Economist, a quality newspaper to which I subscribe, doesn’t appear to be troubled by the phenomenon of identity politics.  In discussing the Dutch election and the merciful rejection of Wilders and his ‘vicious brand of anti-Islam populism’, the newspaper sees hope.  It says that the election result shows that ‘identity politics is not the preserve of the far right.’

Well, that just shows how tricky these labels are.  I rather think that Mr Sheridan and Mr Kelly see identity politics as the preserve of the Left – another label we would do better to avoid.  The Economist says a telling moment came during a debate when candidates were asked whether Holland was doing enough to ‘protect its own culture.’  That, you will know, is the kind of thing that the people at The Australian bang on about endlessly.  (And that ghastly phrase ‘Australian values’ is the purest IPA bullshit.)  Viewers of the debate awarded the prize to a thirty year old Green Left Leader who said he agreed with the proposition and went on to describe a vision of national identity ‘centred on tolerance, openness, and internationalism’ that he said was under siege from the right.  The Green Left Chair saluted a ‘new kind of patriotism.’ That to my mind shows this was just bullshit on bullshit, but the author then went on to talk of ‘the right’s failure to resist the populist temptation’ – doubtless looking over the Atlantic at the same time.  The author notes that M. Macron has a similar platform, and concludes: ‘This is hardly the beginning of the end for the anti-immigrant identity-politicking right.  But it is worth watching.’

Well, let’s go back to people joined by something in common to advance shared political views.  I think I may add from my reading two other elements to what is said to be ‘identity politics’.  The first is that these people often feel rejected.  Indeed, they are frequently plastered with another mocking label – the politics of victimhood.  The second is that they are the white hats, not the black hats.  They have God or Right on their side.  They are unquenchably convinced of their own righteousness – so much so that they quite forget what a pain in the arse self-righteous people are.

Allow me therefore to introduce you to a political identity group par excellence.  They are the people at The Australian on the subject of hate speech and a few of their other demons, like the ABC, climate change, gay marriage, immigration, royalty, coal mining, Islamic terrorism, and  the workers and their unions.

Let us count the ways from the piece of Mr Sheridan below.

These people at The Australian are brought together by their common employment and membership of the profession of journalism.  Their views on the relevant law and its regulators are seamlessly consistent.   (I and most lawyers I know disagree with them entirely, but we can put that to one side.)  The Australian shows no sign of permitting or publishing any dissent – which is a little awkward since they claim, dishonestly, to be defending freedom of speech.

And, boy, do they feel rejected and despised – and downright persecuted.  And, boy, have they got Right on their side.  Bloody buckets of the stuff.

The scandal of the persecution of Bill Leak and of the wholly innocent Queensland students has led to a partial, temporary retreat. These cases were so insanely excessive and managed to achieve such unusual public notice that they became indefensible. But if this wicked legislation survives intact it will inevitably be used to prosecute the destructive agenda of modern, ideological identity politics.

Poor old Bill Leak.  He was just walking down the street one day minding his own innocent business and whack!, he got mugged by the black hats.  And now he’s dead, and another white hat said that he died from the stress put on him by the black hats.  Well, as Ned Kelly said, such is life.

Let’s look at some other features of this tawdry kind of identity politics.  The language is rarely measured.  Their side can do no wrong and the other side can do no right.  A law cops ‘wicked’ twice.  And this hauteur often comes with a lofty claim of personal intellectual superiority – which in turn leads to a heavy sulk if the claim is rejected.   A bull-headed Donald Trump spoiled child sulk.

I have had a bit to do with human rights commissions in Southeast Asia. Without exception, a key priority for the genuine ones is freedom of the press and free speech. In our country, the Human Rights Commission is the enemy of free speech and the enemy of a free media.

That’s a bad sign, for it shows a nation that has lost sight of what human rights actually are and has substituted the narrow, toxic aims of ideological conformity instead.

Does anyone out there really swallow this sort of bullshit?  It’s the usual old sulky rant.  And it is mind-numbingly boring, like a scratched old 78 rpm vinyl record.  Don’t the people at The Australian just get downright bored saying the same nothings day after day?  When was the last time someone said something novel?

And the last quotes show a very tired devotion to labels and communal put-downs.  As do the following:

But if this wicked legislation survives intact it will inevitably be used to prosecute the destructive agenda of modern, ideological identity politics.

I have spent a lot of time in nations whose chief civic identity is communal rather than citizenship-based. It’s never very pretty. It is a sign of the derangement of our times that we now push in that direction. In some senses, fighting identity politics is as important, or more important, than the arguments about free speech.

Golly. He gets about, doesn’t he? And do you see how pessimistic, how neurotic, is this world view?  How very different from that of The Economist?  You would need years of industrial strength Prozac to get over it.  It’s a truly tragic level of victimhood.

But then there is the ultimate in hypocrisy.

And, of course, identity politics, or communal politics, is always accompanied by a hysterical, populist fear campaign.

I have set out my views before on the shocking way in which this newspaper has sought to exploit the death of an employee for a cheap political trick.  This newspaper has been running a ‘hysterical populist fear campaign’ on hate speech for bloody years.

Backhanders of absurd lengths are handed out to political enemies – which include all ALP and all unionists – on the ideological hot spots of Mr Sheridan and other members of his identity group.

Our naval ship builders will need independent back-up generators in South Australia, which Premier Jay Weatherill has reduced almost to Third World status as an investment destination.

The ACTU lady has been the subject of a beat-up by this claque, but Mr Sheridan administers his dose after dropping the F-bomb – ‘fascists’ – by condescending to inform us that he is aware of a distinction in ethics that would be way over the heads of the workers.  You would need to follow the ontological argument for the existence of God and Kant’s celebrated refutation – existence is not a predicate – to understand Mr Sheridan’s most gracious reference to the distinction between ‘unjust’ and ‘unconscionable.’  (I have no idea what he means.  That is doubtless my fault.  I’m just an equity lawyer whose training in philosophy at Melbourne and Oxford has not equipped me to enjoy the metaphysics of counting how many angels can dance on the point of needle.)

Then there is the lament about the loss of faith in democracy.  Has that come from the awfulness of our politicians and the incestuous proximity of their compromised commentators?

Finally, there is the simple failure of advocacy that blind devotees of a political cause are prone to commit.  If you have a point – and I don’t think The Australian does – make it, and don’t bugger it with a dud.

It is no small thing that a former prime minister, Tony Abbott, and a former Labor Party leader, Mark Latham, have both called for the Human Rights Commission to be abolished.

In the sweet name of the son of the carpenter, I don’t have the libel protection that Mr Sheridan enjoys, so I will content myself by saying that each of those politicians was sacked, and remains entirely unmourned, for reasons that grow more obvious and compelling day by day.

Similarly, the relentless ideological denigration of Western civilisation in the humanities departments of our universities betrays a loss of self-confidence. Even Australia Day is attacked.

Not for Mr Sheridan, but certainly for other contributors to that paper, ‘Western civilisation’ is code for white supremacy and a crude rejection of the faith of Islam, just as ‘libertarian’ is code for fascist.

And just how do you attack a bloody day?  With a musket?  With a bayonet? And why should I be sent into transports on the anniversary of the day that the English opened their slammer here and started to rob the blackfellas?

It’s all so very, very sad.  I wonder if Greg now regrets knocking back that plumb job and broad sunlit uplands that his good mate Tony offered him all those years ago?

Well, that’s one way to bring up the ton.  The second volume will shortly be on Amazon’s electric shelves.  As with the first volume, most of the bullshit has been kindly donated by Mr Rupert Murdoch, that ageless walkabout construct of true Australian values.

Confucius says:

The Master said, ‘Men of antiquity studied to improve themselves; men today study to impress others.’

Analects, 14.24

WE MUST BEWARE HOW MUCH RUIN IS IN OUR NATION

Poor fellow my country.

I have spent a good proportion of my professional time in Third World and developing countries, most on the way up, some on the way down, and some bobbling up and down. You get to see a lot of things that distinguish a successful country from an unsuccessful one, and particularly one on the way up from one on the way down.

Australia is a rich and successful society. But we are starting to go wrong. Perhaps nowhere more fully fits Adam Smith’s observation that there is a lot of ruin in a nation. Now, with the latest being the likely defeat of the Turnbull government’s amendments to the truly wicked section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, there are too many signs of things going badly wrong.

Here are telling signs of a country going backwards.

I have had a bit to do with human rights commissions in Southeast Asia. Without exception, a key priority for the genuine ones is freedom of the press and free speech. In our country, the Human Rights Commission is the enemy of free speech and the enemy of a free media.

That’s a bad sign, for it shows a nation that has lost sight of what human rights actually are and has substituted the narrow, toxic aims of ideological conformity instead. It is no small thing that a former prime minister, Tony Abbott, and a former Labor Party leader, Mark Latham, have both called for the Human Rights Commission to be abolished.

The likely preservation by parliament of the worst elements of 18C is similarly a sign of the increasing dominance of identity politics and the always related desire to move the control of political discussion, wherever possible, into the hands of the judiciary or government tribunals that ape the judiciary. The legislation, though always foolishly drafted and bad in principle, did not cause too much damage in the past because most people were unaware of it and identity politics had not become the toxic threat to universal citizenship and a proper understanding of our universal and intractable humanity that it has recently become.

The scandal of the persecution of Bill Leak and of the wholly innocent Queensland students has led to a partial, temporary retreat. These cases were so insanely excessive and managed to achieve such unusual public notice that they became indefensible.

But if this wicked legislation survives intact it will inevitably be used to prosecute the destructive agenda of modern, ideological identity politics.

I have spent a lot of time in nations whose chief civic identity is communal rather than citizenship-based. It’s never very pretty. It is a sign of the derangement of our times that we now push in that direction. In some senses, fighting identity politics is as important, or more important, than the arguments about free speech.

And, of course, identity politics, or communal politics, is always accompanied by a hysterical, populist fear campaign. That’s how you get people to identify primarily on the basis of communal identity rather than common citizenship. The Labor-Greens activist alliance will now presumably run just this kind of dishonest, dangerous fear campaign among ethnic communities.

This is one reason why the Liberals cannot declare their position and then keep quiet.

They must campaign and persuade actively, endlessly and energetically among ethnic communities themselves.

This is not a burden. Their failure to do so generally is one reason they are so far behind.

Beyond these sorts of issues there are numerous other signs of distress among Australia’s national political culture.

The majority of young Australians, according to a Lowy poll, no longer believes democracy is the best form of government. I have seen up close a number of longstanding political systems topple. A loss of belief in your system is a typical precursor.

Similarly, the relentless ideological denigration of Western civilisation in the humanities departments of our universities betrays a loss of self-confidence. Even Australia Day is attacked.

There are more mechanical signs of policy distress.

One of the most common features of a Third World country not making it is an inability to provide reliable electricity supplies. A leader determined to fight that often has to build, hastily and uneconomically, new small power plants to plug the gaps, as Fidel Ramos did in Manila in the early 1990s. Our naval ship builders will need independent back-up generators in South Australia, which Premier Jay Weatherill has reduced almost to Third World status as an investment destination.

Policy analysts often lament the impoverishment of nations that make big foreign investment projects ever more difficult. The grotesque saga of the delays, the veritable crippling by delay, of the Adani investment in Queensland is a textbook case. All levels of government want this project to succeed, the foreign investor has spent an enormous amount of money and wants to spend much more, thousands of Australian jobs would be created, but the ideological power of an essentially nihilist Green activist vision of development manages to make such an investment all but impossible.

This is also a sign of what we might call the “deep state” of bureaucracy and tribunals becoming ever more ideological and impervious to the normal democratic decisions.

Countries going backwards often find their budget out of control. Our Senate has now made it impossible to control government expenditure. Left-wing populism will never countenance any meaningful spending cut, beyond gutting national defence. Rightwing populism typically concedes, slowly, on expenditure and makes its stand instead on identity issues.

Perhaps the most ubiquitous sign of a country that cannot function in a modern, decent way is that certain powerful interests decide that obeying the law is entirely discretionary. I have had former finance ministers in some countries tell me they simply did not have the power to compel certain entities to pay tax.

Sally McManus, the new ACTU secretary, says she and the union movement are entitled to break a law “when it’s unjust”. That means they are only obliged to obey the laws they think are just. There is a lot in common with the historical attitude, if not the methodology, of street-fighting fascists here. They too said they would only break laws that were unjust. And McManus was speaking in relation to what could be described as the militia force of the ACTU, namely the CFMEU.

A nation failing the development test often finds the state’s monopoly on the legitimate use of force is contested by powerful groups with economic and ideological objections to obeying the law.

This has nothing to do with traditional civil disobedience, or the considered refusal to comply with an instruction that is not merely unjust but wholly unconscionable. The distinction between unjust and unconscionable is an old one in ethics, but ethics don’t matter if your main consideration is power. The union movement has never represented fewer workers but is richer and more powerful than ever before. Sections of it now have the smell of an institution in love with power and increasingly untroubled by the rules of law.

I have seen all this before. Put it all together. Poor fellow my country.

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