Passing bull 188 –Faith and politics


When politicians say that they don’t let their faith interfere with their politics, they are usually talking pure bullshit.  Among other things, in this country their faith will usually include subscription to the Ten Commandments.  Indeed, that dispensation is frequently touted as the cornerstone of that wonderful construct called Western or Judaeo-Christian Civilisation.  Among other things, it contains a proscription of murder, and not many politicians claim a freedom to commit murder.

But some politicians are driven to act or vote in a certain way by their religious faith – or at least by opinions that they claim are driven by their religious faith.  The most common examples in Australia are abortion, euthanasia, and same sex marriage.  Many people here think that the first of those issues is horrifically driven in the U S by religious bigots.  There are of course problems in logic when people try to impose on other people values that ultimately rest on faith which in turn rests on revelation.  You can see this most clearly when you consider how many members of the U S Congress feel driven by their faith to deny evolution.  For most people, the scientific proof of that theory is so complete that people who refuse to acknowledge it are hard to distinguish from lunatics.  Some now have similar views about climate change.

As was his wont, Kant came to the heart of the matter.

We have noted that a church dispenses with the most important mark of truth, namely, a rightful claim to universality, when it bases itself upon a revealed faith.  For such a faith, being historical (even though it be far more widely disseminated and more completely secured for remotest posterity through the agency of Scripture) can never be universally communicated so as to produce conviction.

But when it comes to the Sermon on the Mount or something as soft, like compassion, the mood changes.  There looks to be some unstated premise that soft religion does not sit well with hard politics.  When we get serious, we are not keen to be too scrupulous.  The nearest I can find to a statement of this spiritual no-fly zone comes from the biography of Salisbury by Andrew Roberts.

……foreign policy was about raw Realpolitik, not morality. ‘No one dreams of conducting national affairs with the principles which are prescribed to individuals.  The meek and poor spirited among nations are not to be blessed, and the common sense of Christendom has always prescribed for national policy principles diametrically opposed to those that are laid down in the Sermon on the Mount’. Grand talk by politicians about the rights of mankind and serving humanity, rather than purely the national interest, were, for Cecil [Salisbury], simply so much cant.

Christendom does not march in step with Christianity.   Although you will not find any warrant for this split in  scripture, it would be hard to get the dogma stated more point-blank than in this proclamation by an imperialist Tory .  But how on earth else could England have ruled its empire?  Was the Empress of India going to allow the Untouchables to inherit just one iota of her slice of the earth?

But precisely this doctrine is employed in an unstated manner by our governments all the time.  We see it most clearly with refugees.  If you suggest that we are not showing compassion, you may be asked to leave the room.  When we made a law to facilitate medical aid to refugees from doctors, we got the following:

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott was reported as saying that members of the medical profession ‘erred on the side of compassion’.

‘Compassion’ is a very New Testament term.  The Hippocratic Oath relevantly says ‘I will use treatment to help the sick according to my ability and judgment, but never with a view to injury and wrong-doing’.  It is in my view unspeakable hypocrisy for people like Morrison or Abbott to condemn compassion as an error while claiming to follow the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth.  The man called Christ was nothing if not compassionate.

And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.  (Matthew 14:14).

Speaking entirely for myself, this particular divorce between Church and State is bad at each end.


The question left open by the extraordinary action at NAB is: what more does the bank know about its leadership team.  Surely respected leaders would not change based on a couple of opinionated paragraphs.  It is clear the board panicked.

John Durie, The Australian, 8 February, 2018

Indeed, they [other bank directors and executives] should be thankful that they still have their jobs, because if Thorburn and Henry had to go, then they all should have gone….royal commissioner Kenneth Hayne was wrong to single out Henry aggressively in his report.  If Henry’s performance in the chair was didactive or ‘arrogant’, so what?

Adam Creighton, The Australian, 8 February 2018

The ignorance and insolence of these remarks knows no bounds.  The second appears beside an article dealing with a public apology by Henry.  How could two experienced reporters be so out of touch?  Forty years ago there would have been no discussion.  The resignations would have been tabled first thing.  They were fired for what they or did not do, and not because of what someone said.  God only knows what the shareholders may have done if these people had not gone – they were already on the point of mutiny.

Passing bull 186–The trouble with ‘patriots’


Only very skewed people use the term ‘patriot’ in this country – thank heaven.  The word has a wretched and smelly history.  It is a label and it is a source of division, if not hate.  What crime is worse than that of Judas – betrayal?  Charging someone with a lack of patriotism is commonly invoked by bullies with no brains to smear dissenters.  Their real enemies are freedom and restraint.  Senator McCarthy was their champion; Trump and Pence merely ape him.  Even when used as a term of praise, the word smacks of pride in the nation, which is suspect, or glorifying government, which is much worse.

Patriotism and nationalism seem to be inseparable from a felt sense of superiority, the political version of original sin.  We might get a harmless warm glow about a kid making a hundred in his first test, but after that it can get nasty.  The English feel good about Nelson and Wellington – what about the people of Alabama and Lee, or of Japan and its war leaders – or, for that matter, Napoleon’s Tomb in Paris?  What about the five million who died for his ego and la gloire de la France?

‘Nationalism’ has been a dirty word, at least since Mussolini, Hitler, Stalin, Franco and Mao.  People like Trump and Pence merely confirm its dirtiness.  It is invoked by insecure people whose membership of the ‘nation’ is all they have and who see any incursion – even by refugees – as some kind of threat.  These people are easy meat for snake-charmers who are prepared to lie down with dogs – that is to say, too many of those parading as politicians across what some fondly call – and with pride, no less – the Western world.

Historians from the Continent tend to speak in larger terms than English historians.  They are therefore good for us to read.  The Dutchman Johan Huizinga was a very learned and enlightening man, especially when writing about the middle ages and the Renaissance.  (Like Pieter Geyl, he was imprisoned by the Nazis.  Both were by their whole lives against everything Hitler stood for.)  In his great book Men and Ideas, Huizinga has an essay, Patriotism and Nationalism.  It is as well to notice what he says about these two menacing pests.

Whether or not I S claims authority from God, both England and the U S have claimed to be God’s chosen people at one time or another.  It is very unattractive.  As Huizinga says, if nationalism implies a drive to dominate, it is beyond the pale of Christianity.  Or it should be – but at various times, ‘however contradictory it may seem, the Glory of Christian salvation was intermingled with the primitive pride of a barbaric tribal allegiance.’

Huizinga saw the beginning of nationalism in the split in Europe between Romance and Germanic peoples.  He saw an ethnic split as early as 887.  The phrase furor teutonicus was born – and would later be applied by losers to Michael Schumacher.  Statutes of Oxford would see two nations in Britain – between the south and the north – in the middle ages.

But whether the relationship was large or small, the basis for the emotion embodied in ‘nation’ was the same everywhere; the primitive in-group that felt passionately united as soon as the others, outsiders in any way, seemed to threaten them or rival them.  This feeling usually manifested itself as hostility and rarely as concord.  The closer the contacts, the fiercer the hate.

That sums up people like Farage, Hansen, and Trump.  And it indicates the problem such people have in attracting any sensible followers.

In 1793 in France an accusation of want of patriotism was a death sentence.  The nation went mad.  A weird man from Cleves, Anacharsis Cloots, wanted to suppress the word ‘French’ for ‘Germanic’ and he led a delegation of the ‘human species’ to be allowed to take part in a festival of liberty and fraternity.

Then came the Revolution, when the mouth still called out for the universal good of virtue and love of mankind, but the mailed fist struck for the fatherland and the nation, and the heart was with the fist.  The factors ‘patrie’ and ‘nation’ had never had such an intense influence as in the years from 1789 to 1796.  The fact merely confirms that nature constantly proves stronger than theory.  Yet at the same time people constantly thought that they were acting in keeping with the theory.  The National Assembly took it as its first task to formulate a Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen.  Observe that man comes first and the citizen second.  But as soon as one sets out to formulate the rights of man, the state appears to be required as the framework for his society.  Humanity could not be the vehicle of the liberty desired so ardently.  Its domain was the fatherland, and its subject the people.  Hence from the outset, the French Revolution served pre-eminently to activate an enthusiastic patriotism and nationalism.

That piece was more English than European; and the French, in the name of liberty and fraternity, severed the head from the body of poor, silly Anacharsis Cloots.  Mere humanity again trumped theory.


In a letter sent to former members, quickly leaked to the media, the prime minister acknowledges ‘some people have left our party for various reasons over recent years’ but says he believes in an Australia ‘where if you have a go, you get a fair go’.

Accordingly, he’s having a go at wooing them back. At least in  New South Wales.

‘We need everyone who believes in our values to become energised members of our movement,’ he wrote to former NSW party members. ‘Very importantly, there is also a Shorten-led Labor party to defeat at the next election. To achieve this, we need you back.’

The Guardian, 1 February, 2018

Can we not hope for more than a talking head?  What values about fairness were deployed by those, including this PM, who sought to block a Royal Commission into bank managers earning say $10 million a year to preside over insulting every one of us?


One thing Trump liked very much was that the audience frequently broke into the chant ‘USA! USA!’  No one can object to this, it’s hardly partisan, but it is a chant implicitly against identity politics because it celebrates universal national identity.

Greg Sheridan, The Australian, 7 February, 2018

I can and do object to the chant.  Imagine our leaders responding to the Minister for Thongs by chanting ‘Aussie, Aussie, Aussie!  Oi, oi, oi!’  The chant was partisan – ‘Make America Great Again’.  And the infatuation of that paper with ‘identity politics’ is mind crippling.  Nationalism – say of Mussolini, Franco or Hitler – is a definitive brand of ‘identity politics.’  Mr Sheridan’s dream of ‘universal national identity’ is a perfect contradiction in terms.  But, then, Mr Sheridan thought the State of Union Address was very good.  Most saw it as complete bullshit.

Passing bull 185 –Worse labels: -ist and –ism.


One label I would happily ban is the term ‘racist’.  In a world that lacks tolerance, restraint and courtesy, this is a nasty smear that is too often applied without justification.

The Governor of Virginia engaged in an offensive stunt 35 years ago when he was a student, and has offered stupid and evasive explanations that show a consciousness of guilt equal to those of his President.  Does that justify his being called on to resign because it shows that he is ‘racist’?

Liam Neeson is a fine actor who has recently specialised in films of blood-curdling violence. When someone close to him was attacked, he confessed to going out to find someone else from the same group as the attacker and wreaking lethal revenge on him.  Neeson said this was very wrong of him, even though the instinct for revenge may be described as primal.  But are we justified in saying that Neeson is a ‘racist’ because his putative target was black?

People may I suppose have differing views.  I regard each allegation as unfounded to the point of absurdity and to be both cruel and offensive.  But to consider the issue rationally, you need to answer something like the following question.  Does the evidence show that the relevant person (a) engaged in conduct that (b) evidences a propensity of (c) a kind that warrants an adverse moral judgment embodied in the epithet ‘racist’?  You do not need a degree in law or philosophy to stipulate that kind of analysis.  Built into those questions is one relating to time.  Is, for example, the foolish student of 35 years ago the same person as the Governor today?

What is ‘racism’?  In the Shorter OED, you have to go the Addenda to get:

The theory that distinctive human characteristics, abilities etc are determined by race.

That sounds sterile if correct.  I much prefer this from Professor Simon Blackburn in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (which obviously draws on Kant in its reference to ‘dignity’ and ‘value’).

The inability or refusal to recognise the rights, needs, dignity or value of people of particular races or geographical origins.  More widely, the devaluation of various traits of character or intelligence as ‘typical’ of particular peoples.

The reference to ‘typical’ is good, because the judgment involves typing – and that almost of necessity shows an inability to recognise the rights, dignity or value of each member of the group so typed.  That as it seems to me is the vice – and it almost always is a view of humanity that is warped by prejudice.  Prejudice itself is a form of corruption of thought that is integral to someone engaging in what might be called ‘racism’.

Another factor that has not been articulated is that such conduct is likely to be found to be offensive, insulting, or hurtful to members of the group typed.  But, perhaps the notions of prejudice and hurt are built into or an inevitable consequence of the existing rubric of racism.

So, our question might be reformulated.  Does the past conduct of the governor or actor warrant the finding against him of a propensity (founded in prejudice) to type African Americans as a group in a manner that does not recognise the rights, dignity or value of individual African Americans (and which they are likely to find hurtful)?

With all respect to those who have a different view, I cannot justify an affirmative answer to that question in either case.  We are, after all, talking about a form of communal condemnation, and those on the attack may wish to bear in mind that remark in the Gospels about the wisdom of being the one to cast the first stone.


Then, last week, we had the former London mayor Ken Livingstone eulogising Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro and their glorious efforts for the Venezuelan people. If it hadn’t been for US sanctions, Livingstone suggested, Venezuela would still be a socialist utopia. ‘When were oil sanctions introduced?’ Neil asked. Livingstone couldn’t remember. ‘I’ll tell you,’ offered Neil. ‘They were imposed this week.’ That couldn’t be true, Livingstone insisted, it wasn’t ‘what the Venezuelan ambassador told me’. And so it went on.

Delingpole and Livingstone are marginal figures in politics, but bullshit has become, as Frankfurt put it, ‘one of the most salient features of our culture’. You can barely cross the political landscape today without stepping in the stuff.

After his televised debacle, Delingpole wrote an article for Breitbart (of which he is UK executive editor)… saying he is ‘one of those chancers who prefers to… wing it using a mixture of charm, impish humour and nuggets of vaguely relevant info’. It’s how Oxbridge graduates work, he suggested: ‘Their education essentially entails spending three or four years being trained in the art of bullshit.’

The Guardian, 4 February, 2018

It’s bloody everywhere, Mate.

Passing bull 183 – Changing the way we think


It is one thing to change your mind.  It is altogether a different thing to change the way you think. Historically, the English have viewed the world differently to those over the Channel.  This has led to tension and to the drive to get England out of Europe.  In seeking to do that, the English have acted more like Europeans than the English.  That has got them into an almighty mess.

The study of thinking that we call philosophy tends to divide into two broad schools of thought – those who begin with or focus on the mind and those who begin with or focus on the world outside.  The first tends to stress thinking and logic; the second stresses the external world and our experience of it.  People who do philosophy tend to label the first type rationalist (or metaphysical) and the second empirical.  At an even greater level of abstraction, the first type of thinking is associated with deductive logic, and the second with inductive logic.  Europeans tend to associate with the rationalist tradition, and the English with the empirical tradition.

All laws are made by people; law is therefore the product of history.  The common law and the English constitution have been evolving by trial and error since the Germans replaced the Romans as the rulers of England.  They developed their own national common law – law deriving from custom and precedent – and they resisted their adopting – the process is referred to as ‘receiving’ – Roman law.  Europe did not experience either of those developments.  France did not have a law common to France before the revolution, but the Civil Code has been broadly in place since Napoleon introduced it.  The German nation was not created as a distinct political entity until the 19th century, but its civil code has remained broadly in place since 1900.  Both those civil codes derive a lot from Roman law and, at least in theory, European courts pay much less attention to judicial precedent.

The law of England mainly came from the precedents of the judges with occasional interference from the parliament.  The common law derived from custom and precedent and at once underlay but could be overridden by parliament.  The law of France and Germany tends to derive from legislated codes with occasional contributions from judicial precedent.  One tends to grow from the ground up; the other is what we now call top-down.

Just compare the English Revolution of 1689 to the French of 1789.  The English evicted their king and later a philosopher, John Locke, sought to justify it.  In France, those leading the revolt sought to follow the teaching of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who went into for large statements like ‘Men are born free.’

In seeking to leave Europe, the English have followed the French example.  Instead of inquiring about how in fact the break might be effected, they talked loftily about why in theory it should be done.  Rousseau – whom Carlyle called the Evangelist – would have been proud of them.  Instead of asking how to avoid a hard border in Ireland they talked grandly about ‘freedom’ and ‘sovereignty’ without asking just what differences they might expect to achieve – and at what cost.  They were like spoiled boys in a lolly shop.  We can now see better why England is in such a mess – and some of those boys have been badly spoiled.

First, the English allowed the impulse for divorce to be driven by people who put ideas above evidence and theory over experience.  They gave in to ideology.  They went back on all their history since they left the German forests.

Secondly, they allowed a nation-splitting issue to be decided by a bare majority.  The constitutions of sensible countries and corporations require a lot more.  They ensured and locked in indecision and recrimination.

Thirdly, the two party system is hopelessly inadequate for this job.  They needed a government of national unity like those that won their wars.  Having owned the problem, their parliament is now unfit to resolve it.  The mother of parliaments has become a dismal cat house.

Fourthly, the bare majority was got on a simple lie.  ‘You can control immigration and not be worse off.’

Fifthly, they have hardly a decent leader in sight.  The only person left with any dignity is their Prime Minister.  The rest could not run a chook raffle – and barely one engine driver among them.  The result is a majority against each option.

One of England’s greatest historians – a Jewish migrant from Eastern Europe – said: ‘Restraint, coupled with the tolerance that it implies and with plain human kindness, is much more valuable in politics than ideas which are ahead of their time…’


‘I think God calls all of us to fill different roles at different times and I think that He wanted Donald Trump to become president,’ Sanders said, according to CBN News. ‘That’s why he’s there and I think he has done a tremendous job in supporting a lot of the things that people of faith really care about.’

CNN News 31 January, 2019

Can we ask whether Muslims are ‘people of faith’ or would that be too silly for words?  As silly, in fact, as saying that the President is a person of faith.

Passing bull 182 – Political cant gone tropo


But away from the Beltway, mainstream Australians might be less interested in internal politicking, insider sneering and partisan point-scoring, and more interested that a dynamic and high profile indigenous advocate has thrown his lot in with the Prime Minister’s government and offered himself for election.

The Australian, 24 January, 2018

The poor fellow does not understand that the whole article, and his whole oeuvre, comes from the Beltway, and is about ‘internal politicking, insider sneering and partisan point-scoring.’


Australia Day is a significant national day for our country.  People come to our country to flee violence, to have their kids educated, to grow up in a civil society and we shouldn’t be afraid to celebrate it.

The Australian, 25 January, 2018

Herr Dutton did not pause to enlighten us about how he welcomes people who come to our country to flee violence.  This is the new World Land Speed Record for bullshit and chutzpah.

Passing bull 181 – The vice of silence, when silence is a lie


The Spanish Civil War was full of horror.  It was also full of bullshit.  Priests exhorted the faithful not to consort with Jews or Freemasons.  The fascists – Falangists – were on a Crusade.  They had a kind of evangelical medievalism and they sought a return to ‘chivalrous Christianity’ – unless of course the Crusaders were butchering Jews or Muslims.  In his wonderful history of the conflict, Hugh Thomas sees conservatism, fascism and ‘reactionary nostalgia’.  What a great phrase for our time!  We are everywhere surrounded by a reactionary nostalgia that is rooted not in history but in dreams – or nightmares.  The Falangists had their own inane version of ‘Make Spain Great Again.’

What we need is someone to take a stand against nonsense.

One person did so, heroically, in Spain.  The writer and philosopher Miguel de Unamuno was the rector of the University of Salamanca.  That city was the base for Franco.  Miguel had originally favoured the nationalist (fascist) cause, but he became ‘terrified by the character that this civil war was taking, due to a collective mental illness, an epidemic of madness, with a pathological substratum.’  He thought that Franco’s Catholicism was not Christian.  At a fascist meeting at the University under a portrait of Franco, a bishop and others gave hot tempered speeches in the presence of a mutilated war hero (General Astray).  Vows were given to exterminate Basques (of whom Unamuno was one) and Catalans.  The cry went up: ‘Viva la Muerte!  Long live death.’  Something in the philosopher snapped.

All of you are hanging on my words.  You all know me and are aware that I am unable to remain silent.  At times to be silent is to lie.  For silence can be interpreted as acquiescence.  I want to comment on the speech [of a professor] – to give it that name.  Let us waive the personal affront implied in the sudden burst of vituperation against the Basques and Catalans.  I was myself born in Bilbao.  The bishop here is, whether he likes it or not, a Catalan from Barcelona.

There was a silence pregnant with fear.  No one spoke like this in fascist Spain.

Just now, I heard a necrophilistic and senseless cry ‘Long Live Death.’  And I, who have spent my life shaping paradoxes which have aroused the uncomprehending anger of others, I must tell you as an expert authority, that this outlandish paradox is repellent.  General Astray is a cripple.  Let it be said without any slighting undertone.  He is a war invalid.  So was Cervantes.  Sadly, there are all too many cripples in Spain now.  And soon there will be even more of them if God does not come to our aid.  It pains me to think that General Astray should dictate the pattern of mass psychology.  A cripple who lacks the spiritual greatness of a Cervantes is wont to seek ominous relief in causing mutilation around him.

General Astray shouted ‘Death to Intellectuals.’  Terror and pandemonium filled the air.  ‘Long Live Death.’  The philosopher went on.

This is the temple of the intellect.  And I am its high priest.  It is you who profane its sacred precincts.  You will win because you have more than enough brute force.  But you will not convince.  For to convince, you need to persuade.  And in order to persuade you would need what you lack: reason and right in the struggle.  I consider it futile to exhort you to think of Spain.  I have done.

I will not insult the memory of this very great man by adding any comment of my own.  The fascists did not murder Unamuno, but he died shortly after this of a broken heart while under house arrest.  The fascists then named a concentration camp after him.

There was of course great evil on both sides.  The republicans put on a show trial of the one-time leader of the Falangists, José Antonio.  I expect that the charge was treason, since it was the fascists who had rebelled against the lawful government.  (That did not stop the fascists killing out of hand those who resisted the resistance.)  Antonio conducted his own defence with great dignity and courage, but the preordained sentence of death was given and then unlawfully carried because of a well justified fear that the government would commute the sentence.  But Antonio, ‘with the chivalry that his enemies never denied him’, had successfully argued that his brother and his brother’s wife should not be shot too.  In the course of that plea, he made an observation that was simply beyond the horizon of people like Stalin and Franco.  ‘Life is not a firework that you let off at the end of a garden party.’

In his Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Professor Simon Blackburn says that Unamuno ‘developed an existentialist Christian theology, premised on a tragic view of life and mortality.’  He was an intensely spiritual man.  He said: ‘Those who believe they believe in God, but without passion in the heart, without uncertainty, without doubt, and even at times without despair, believe only in the idea of God, and not in God himself.’  This Spanish man of God therefore had more than one thing in common with a German man of God, Dietrich Bonhoeffer.


Weak borders, divisive identity politics, the attack on core freedoms and undemocratic rule by PC elites are hallmarks of government by green-left MPs.  Elect them at your peril.

The Australian, 10 December, 2018

What might it be like to live in a blinkered but labelled world beyond rational thought where some sad souls have nightmares at the mere thought of the other side having a look in?

I need not name the authoress, whose soul suffers dire torment that the IPA has not been able to staunch.

Passing bull 180 – Being dogmatic in politics


As a party grounded in democratic principles, we believe in equality of opportunity.  Conversely, quotas, which are designed to engineer equality of outcome, are a fundamentally socialist concept, and an anathema to Liberal values.

The Australian, 2 January, 2018.  Senator Linda Reynolds

Is the other party not grounded in democratic principles?  What does ‘socialist’ there mean?  Is it any law designed to engineer an outcome?  Is Medicare socialist?  Are Liberals so attached to their dogma that deviance is anathema?  How long would a coalition government last if it refused to allow quotas in primary industry?

The Senator is good evidence of the swing of puritan dogmatism from one side of politics to the other.  Fifty years ago people on the Labor side were wont to say ‘It does not matter if we keep losing as long as we stay pure.’  Now we get this from the Liberals.  And ‘anathema’ comes from religion – of a very intolerant kind.

And if the Liberal policy of selecting people on merit gave them people like Tony Abbott, God save us all.


That’s right, so averse was Bradley to a listed company being expected to act ‘‘in a socially responsible manner’’ (on the basis that such a requirement ‘‘is fraught with subjectivity [so] should be removed’’), he penned a 13-page submission to the Australian Securities Exchange’s Corporate Governance Council. In July. As in less than five months ago.

‘‘I have the same concern about the use of the phrase ‘social licence to operate’,’’ he establishes on page 9, faulting ‘‘the slipperiness of this concept’’.

‘‘It is at best a metaphor for a company’s brand or reputation in the community. It would, therefore, be better to frame this commentary in terms of ‘the importance of culture to the preservation and enhancement of a company’s brand and reputation which are important sources of value and competitive advantage’. This would avoid the open ended, vague and controversial notion that companies have a ‘social licence’ as distinct from legal licences to operate.’’

Australian Financial Review, 11 December, 2018

The terms culture, brand and value are, it is apparently said, not open ended or vague.

Passing bull 178 – There’s one born everyday


Do you sometimes wonder if America will wake up one day, as did Italy after Mussolini and Germany did after Hitler, and ask – was this all just a bad dream?  If no, how did we let it all happen?  Did we just check in our brains, and our better selves, behind the door?

In his recent and wordy book Seven Types of Atheism, John Gray has a chapter ‘Secular Humanism, a Sacred relic’.  (The book is loaded with –isms.)  There is a section ‘From Nietzsche to Ayn Rand.’  The former is a spoiler alert for bullshit; so is the latter.

This Russian Jewish migrant to the U S would become the darling of the type of people who would stigmatise migrants and seek to lock the door against them.  She was an amateur philosopher and she has been treated as such by professionals.  But whereas this kind of intellectual lunacy had been the preserve of one side of politics, she may have been the harbinger of its shift to the other side.  She was into –isms and her brand of moonshine was called ‘objectivism’  Her anointed apostle said that objectivism was about ‘the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute.’  When you get heroic, noble and absolute in the one sentence, you are assured of vintage bullshit.

This world view is set out in the novel Atlas Shrugged.   That very long novel has biblical force for the disciples of Ayn Rand.  Her view of self-interest was a form of ‘ethical egoism.’  Donald Trump, I suspect, has never finished a book in his life, not even a Famous Five, but if he had, it should have been Atlas Shrugged – the ego enshrined in pure bullshit.  You would not be surprised if you found some autographed copies lying around the IPA.

Naturally, Ayn Rand developed a following of the type called ‘cult.’  She is beloved by the Tea Party crowd and those who call themselves ‘libertarian’.  (A good sane mate of mine says that that word is code for fascist; all I can say in response is that I am against most labels.)  Mr Gray gives evidence of the cult as follows.

Rand’s cult aimed to govern every aspect of life.  She was a dedicated smoker, and her followers were instructed that they had to smoke as well.  Not only did Rand smoke – she used a cigarette holder – so that when she addressed large audiences of the faithful, a thousand cigarette-holders would move in unison with hers.

It is like a soft comic version of a Nuremberg rally, Charlie Chaplin style.  But – hilariously – the faithful were branded with the Bolshevik label the ‘Collective.’

The selection of marriage partners was also controlled. In her view of things, rational human beings should not associate with those that are irrational.  There could be no worse example of this than two people joined together in marriage by mere emotion, so officers of the cult were empowered to pair Rand’s disciples only with others who also subscribed to the faith.  The marriage ceremony included pledging devotion to Rand, then opening Atlas Shrugged at random to read aloud a passage from the sacred text.

So, in the space of a few lines, we have gone from Marx Brothers at the Opera to Mein Kampf, and no one in the Collective knew or cared.  ‘What is good for me is right.’  Someone else said this, but Rand approved it as the ‘best and strongest expression of a real man’s psychology I have heard.’  She later cut the following passage from her first novel We the Living:

I loathe your ideas.  I admire your methods……What are your masses but mud to be ground under foot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?  What is the people but millions of puny, shrivelled, helpless souls that have no thoughts of their own, no dreams of their own, no will of their own, who eat and sleep and chew helplessly the word put into their mildewed brains.

You can find almost everything that made Lenin loathsome in Ayn Rand.  There is in truth one born every minute.  Just ask the publishers of Janet Albrechtsen.  Or just look at the mob at a Trump rally – the ones Flynn worked over with ‘Lock her up.’  (And then ask yourself why a three star general should not get six with a four for that alone.)


The more complex questions are about the Coalition, which as Hennessy said on the ABC, ‘is at a crossroads of existentialism.’

The Guardian, 25 November, 2018

As a general rule, we should avoid words that we don’t understand – but which signify pure bullshit.

Passing bull 177 – Loose language


The White House says there is ‘no direct evidence’ linking the Saudi Crown Prince to the murder of a declared enemy of the Crown Prince.  What does that phrase mean?  It is not a term known to the law.  It is a phrase made up by spin doctors to enable the U S to prefer money to morals under that silly phrase ‘America First.’

Most people looking at the matter objectively are comfortably satisfied that the Crown Prince was actively involved in the murder.  They have reached that satisfaction based on what we describe as circumstantial evidence, and by the consciousness of guilt revealed by the stream of lies after the event in all of which the Crown Prince participated and for which on any view he is responsible.  Any doubt that anyone may have had was obliterated by the high fives the Crown Prince exchanged with another serial killer, Vladimir Putin.  That was a brazen insult to the whole world.  Anything goes for really bad people while the White House is as it is.  Now after a briefing from the FBI, which the President had denied to Congress, a Republican senator says that if the Crown Prince went before a jury he would be convicted.  Presumably the senator thinks that the evidence establishes the guilt of the Crown Prince of murder beyond reasonable doubt.

The evasion of the White House does raise the question of what standard of proof is appropriate for decisions taken by governments.  Our law knows three standards.  In civil disputes it is the balance of probabilities.  The person complaining wins if the court thinks that on balance their version is more likely than that of the other side – 51 to 49 will do.  In criminal proceedings the case must be proved beyond reasonable doubt – and judges are strictly enjoined not to flirt with that wording that they think is well understood by members of a jury.

Occasionally you will find an intermediate standard in civil cases.  If there is a very strong allegation – of say dishonesty- the court may hold that a standard somewhere between the two may be required.  In the proceedings against the Essendon footballers, the CAS expressed the standard as one requiring ‘comfortable satisfaction.’  In nearly fifty years of trying to apply this learning, I don’t think I have ever been happy with my grasp of the issue – to me it savours of like being a little bit pregnant – and nothing about the CAS decision enlightened or encouraged me.

Perhaps none of these standards is appropriate when looking at decisions taken by governments.  The very notion of onus of proof may not be suitable in looking at administrative decisions.  It may be a serious allegation to make that a foreign power is meaning to attack you, but it would be absurd to suggest that any finding higher than one on the balance of probabilities was required before you took steps to meet that threat.

For that matter, I don’t know whether this issue is canvassed by test umpires in rugby or cricket.  I suspect that as matter of fact rather than law or the rules of the game, the standard may depend on the gravity of the consequences.  Giving someone a red card may require more satisfaction than putting down a scrum after a finding of off side.  In the leading case on this subject, the then Chief Justice made one of the few statements on this point that I can follow.  He said that as a matter of common sense you might require more to convict someone of murder than you would to give him a parking ticket.

That discussion is enough to demonstrate the silliness statement of the White House about the guilt of the Crown Prince.

Another silly statement comes from those holding back on dealing with climate change.  They are past denial as such but not past calling scientists ‘alarmist’.  What’s wrong with being alarmed – as most of us are each morning in order to get us up to go to work on time?  Lincoln was alarmed at the threat to the United States and died holding them together.  Ghandi was alarmed at the continuance of the Empire in India and died seeking the release of his nation.  Churchill was alarmed at the rise of Hitler and lost the election after being the prime instrument of his defeat.  Mandela was alarmed at the sheer injustice of apartheid, and now the former terrorist is revered as a secular saint around the world.  And I may add that each of these heroes signalled fair bit of virtue on their way.

The bullshit in some of our press is alarming.

Passing bull 176 Bull about theory and politics


When the English decided that they needed to have a revolution in 1688, they went ahead and did it, and they justified it with a theory later.  It was a great success – it was largely peaceful, and it continues to form the basis of our constitutional settlement.  When the French decided that they needed to have a revolution in 1789, they first developed a theory, and then they sought to implement it.  The result was a cruel failure from which France still suffers – they are lethally rioting against government as I write.

The difference between these two world views is as deep as the English Channel.  It lies behind the famous observation of Oliver Wendell Holmes that ‘the life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience.’

The young republic of the United States sought to bridge those two outlooks.  The English Bill of Rights was the end product of centuries of development of the common law by judges and of the conflict between the Crown and Parliament.  It is still on the books and part of our mindset, but it gives us no grief.  We could repeal it tomorrow.

The Americans went further and wrote it into their Constitution.  That means it can only be altered legislatively by referendum.  But it can be altered – de facto or de iure – by judicial decision, in the form of a judgment of the Supreme Court.  What is the upshot of that excursus into locking in high principles and theory?  One is the frightful consequence of the right to bear arms as that right is currently interpreted by the judges.  Another is that those judges are now more than ever seen to be part of a political process and the outcome of pitched partisan battles.

We find either result to be equally repellent.  The law of abortion in the U S is for the most part written by unelected judges.  The current president was in some part elected by people voting in an election for the executive so that he can appoint to the judiciary people whose declared positions suggest that they can be relied on to rewrite the law to conform to the platform of one political party.  We abhor that mongrel process.

Australians have for the most part followed their English ancestors in preferring results to theory, and in preferring experience to logic.  ‘Just get on with it and do it – and preferably, shut about it.’  We don’t like or trust ‘ideology’ and what people call ‘culture wars’ are irrelevant distractions from people who did not have enough intellectual toys in their youth.  Most of us think that the phrase ‘political science’ is a contradiction in terms, and that therefore the most dangerous siren is likely to be blown by someone who confesses to a Ph D in that part of the domain of the arcane – and who of course has never held down a real job, or run a political campaign.

Now, all that stuff is very general, and open to the suggestion that it is unwarranted abstraction or empiricism without the benefit of evidence, but it also looks to me to be true.

And that is the simplest way to look at the way we voted in Victoria on Saturday.  We thought that one party had been too infected and divided by theory.  We preferred the crowd who said ‘Bugger the theory – let’s just get on with it.’

The consensus is that this truth will be ignored by those in the media who profit from banging on about theory.  That’s because that’s how they derive their livelihood.  It follows that the leaders of the federal opposition will each night fall on their knees and pray that their opponents continue to listen to and be guided by Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt.  They can be relied on to lead the Liberals into temptation and deliver them to evil – and an almighty thrashing from a vengeful public that justly feels betrayed by people who act more like mice than men.

There is after all a matter of tone.  I don’t want my Prime Minister pandering to shock jocks.  Mr Turnbull didn’t do that and that’s one reason I voted for him.  My estimation of Mr Andrews went up when I read that he refuses to talk to our resident shock jock in Melbourne.

May I go back to England?  It is in a frightful and humiliating mess.  They forgot their mode of operation.  They settled on some ideological objective and then sought to implement it.  They can’t.  Their high theories have collapsed in a heap against the facts of life.  They, like we, should remember what got us here.


Abbott calls for Liberal voter unity.

The Weekend Australian, 27 October, 2018.

Leading headline page one.  Marked Exclusive.  Who else would be silly enough to print that?


‘We are very mindful of the response that our announcement about recognising people who have served in defence has had today, and it was a gesture genuinely done to pay respects to those who have served our country,’ he said.

‘Over the coming months, we will be working consultatively with community groups and our own team members who have served in defence to determine the best way forward.’

‘If this consultative process determines that public acknowledgement of their service through optional priority boarding is not appropriate, then we will certainly be respectful of that.’

The Guardian, Melbourne Cup Day, 2018

We blew it.