MY TOP SHELF – 6

MY TOP SHELF

[These are serialised extracts of all the fifty books referred to in a book published in 2015 called ‘The Top Shelf, or What Used to be Called a Liberal Education’.  The extracts are as originally published, and they come in the same order.]

6

FOUR QUARTETS

T S Eliot (1968)

We had the experience but missed the meaning.

Folio Society, 1968, printed by permission of Mrs T S Eliot and Faber and Faber Limited; bound in natural canvas small f’scap quarto with titles superimposed on parchment labels on spine and upper board (with spare title label) and matching ribbon, in card slip-case.

There is something unavoidably intellectual, antiseptic even, about T S Eliot.  You wonder at times if the problem is worse in the poetry or the prose.  What do you say of a writer who prefaces a book of poetry with the following, in upper case: ‘I wish to acknowledge my obligation to friends for their criticism, and particularly to Mr John Hayward for improvements of phrase and construction’?  And he then follows that with fragments in ancient Greek from Heraclitus (in the old Greek spelling) from a German source, Die Fragmente der Versokratiker.   What do you say of a poem that has these lines?

Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt

Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure

Because one has only learnt to get the better of words

For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which

One is no longer disposed to say it.  And so each venture

Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate

With shabby equipment always deteriorating

In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,

Undisciplined squads of emotion.

Don’t tell me your problems, Digger – you are supposed to be the bloody poet.  This is about as moving as watching a desiccated Anglican prelate treat himself for constipation with castor oil.  In the name of heaven, how precise is his feeling, or how undisciplined is his emotion, when he is on the nest?  Could a man like this give himself to a woman or to God?  It comes over you with all the charm of an etherized hand upon a table.  Bring your own scalpel.  And what happens to the ‘inarticulate’ after it has been raided?

Why is this book there then?  This is a beautiful edition to read.  This book would not be there in another form – another reason for doubting that you cannot judge a book by its cover.

Then, the author stands for me as a warning of our withering imagination and that Anglo-Saxon aversion to emotional giving, much less surrender.  Twentieth century writing can be far too intellectual.  Eliot and Joyce can look like show-offs.  Someone wisely said that Milton had so much learning that it was a miracle that his imaginative drive had not been crushed.  It is ironical that Eliot, whose imagination barely survived, should have led a reaction against Milton – to whose literary and political genius Eliot could not hold a candle.  (And they both had trouble with women.)

But, then, like a Wagner opera, some light breaks through and you think that the effort may have been worthwhile.  It is a book to be taken with an aperitif on an autumn evening, or, better, before a fire in winter with a bottle of red and the book read by the incomparable Paul Scofield.

From East Coker:

……………..There is, it seems to us,

At best, only a limited value

In the knowledge derived from experience.

…………..Do not let me hear

Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,

Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,

Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire

Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

………………………..They all go into the dark,

The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant

The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,

The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,

Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,

Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,

And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha,

And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,

And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.

And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,

Nobody’s funeral, for there is no one to bury.

I said to my soul, be still, and let the darkness come upon you

Which shall be the darkness of God.

This is from The Dry Salvages.

We had the experience but missed he meaning,

And approach to the meaning restores the experience

In a different form beyond any meaning

We assign to happiness.  I have said before

That the past experience revived in the meaning

Is not the experience of one life only

But of many generations – not forgetting

Something that is probably quite ineffable:

The backward look behind the assurance

Of recorded history, the backward half-look

Over the shoulder, towards the primitive terror.

I thought enough of the lines from East Coker to use them on the face page of a book.  It was not a wildly romantic book.  It was a book about the law – for company directors.  The poet had earned a living working for a bank.  He said:  ‘The end is where we start from.’

Passing Bull 126 – Being rational about religion

 

We take a lot of things on faith – the balance in our bank account, the state of our health, the sense of our doctors, the faithfulness of our partners, and the magic and mystery of giants like Leonardo, Shakespeare and Mozart.  Faith doesn’t only apply to religion then.  To that extent I agree with Greg Sheridan in his piece ‘Idea of God is perfectly logical’ in The Saturday Australian.

My position about God is that of a God-fearing doubter.  I simply don’t know.  I don’t believe anyone knows about God, either way.  While I have lost any belief in God, at least as that term in generally understood, I don’t seek to persuade others either way.  That, frankly, would be none of my business.

It follows therefore that I too, with Mr Sheridan, don’t like Dawkins or Hitchens, although I must confess that I have not read either in depth.  I don’t believe that any proposition about the existence of God is capable of rational proof.  As I gather that both of these men thought that they had proved that God does not exist, they are in my view talking bullshit.  And I don’t think I could be persuaded to the contrary.  And certainly not by arrogant and insulting people like those two.  They are to me nasty intellectual bullies, who think that they can work over people who overtly pledge their faith in that which cannot be proven.

People like Dawkins and Hitchens look to me to be evangelists of a nasty and bigoted kind.  Kant knew that bigots of denial were often worse than bigots of belief, and Carlyle showed his disdain for Rousseau by calling him the ‘Evangelist.’  What right or interest do these people have in seeking to undermine the religious faith of others – a lot of whom may not have the same intellectual horsepower, but very many of whom will be far better off for taste and judgment?  For that matter, why should they seek to deny to all of us the place of magic and mystery in the world – with some variety of rationalist double entry accounting?

So, I agree with Mr Sheridan that belief in God is rational.  To suggest the contrary seems to me to be as silly as it is rude.

But belief in what kind of God?   And how do we express it?  Mr Sheridan refers to ‘the thousands of years of intellectual effort on matters of faith and belief by the best minds humanity has produced.’  The best minds would include Spinoza, Kant, Wittgenstein, and Einstein.  They all professed to believe in God, but their God would be unrecognisable as such to most believers.  (And both Spinoza and Kant were persecuted because their God did not conform.)

Take Einstein.  Whereas some people see what they believe to be miracles as evidence of God’s existence, for Einstein it was the absence of miracles that reflected divine providence, and revealed a ‘God who reveals himself in the harmony of all that exists’.  This is very much like what Kant thought.  Einstein had the problem that Darwin had with people trying to get him to express views on religion.  People were trying to trap him.  A New York rabbi sent him a telegram: ‘Do you believe in God?  Stop.  Answer paid.  Fifty words.’  The reply was: ‘I believe in Spinoza’s God, who reveals himself in the lawful harmony of all that exists, but not in a God who concerns himself with the fate and the doings of mankind’.  Einstein never felt the need to put down others who believed in a different kind of God: ‘What separates me from most so-called atheists is a feeling of utter humility toward the unattainable secrets of the harmony of the cosmos’.

So, are we talking about the intellectual model of God, or the personal model?  The personal model, which is that favoured by most believers, is that revealed by scripture.  Here is another and more biting division.  Which scripture?  The Old Testament, the New Testament, Confucius, the Koran, and so on?

So, of course a belief in God is rational – but putting meat on the bones of ‘God’ is another matter.  And that takes us to the second question.  The belief is rational, but to what extent can it be expressed in words and be justified in logic?

Mr Sheridan refers to Aquinas, ‘the greatest of the Christian philosophers and theologians.’  Augustine and Aquinas took the teaching of an unlettered holy man from Asia and drenched it in the European philosophy of Plato and Aristotle.  I was brought up in a Protestant sect, and on the eve of the 500th anniversary of the eruption of Martin Luther, I may be forgiven for saying that this intellectualising of the teaching of Christ may appeal to some more than others.

It is in truth no small part of why I lost my faith.  God is limitless – Christ is too – and I have never understood the presumption of mere men seeking to lock God in behind the bars of a syllogism, a construct of human thought.  This is, if you like, an article of faith for me.  I can’t jump six feet; I can’t conceive of a thing being and not being at the same time; but I don’t say that God can’t do either.  What gives us the right to say that God cannot transcend our limitations?  Why can’t God be better than us?

But this intellectual elevation put up by Augustine and others, which can only be understood by about a thousand people in the world at any one time, looks to me to be part of reserving the mystery of it all to the clerics – and that is bad.  This monopoly of understanding was at the heart of Luther’s protest.  And the Church made a great gift to people like Dawkins and Hitchens.  The people of faith were offering to play the people of logic on their own home ground.  It would be like the New York Yankees offering to play the MCC at cricket at Lords.  No bloody contest, mate.

In sum, there are limits to both our logic and language, and you have as much hope of explaining or justifying your faith in God as you do of explaining or justifying your faith in Leonardo, Shakespeare or Mozart – or, I may add, the divine Catherine Deneuve.  Wittgenstein said:

I believe that one of the things that Christianity says is that sound doctrines are all useless.  That you have to change your life. 

His biographer said:

‘Russell and the parsons between them have done infinite harm, infinite harm.’  [Wittgenstein wrote.]  Why pair Russell and the parsons in the one condemnation? Because both have encouraged the idea that a philosophical justification for religious beliefs is necessary for those beliefs to be given any credence.  Both the atheist who scorns religion because he has found no evidence for its tenets, and the believer, who attempts to prove the existence of God, have fallen to the ‘other’ – to the idle worship of the scientific style of thinking.  Religious beliefs are not analogous to scientific theories, and should not be accepted or rejected using the same evidential criteria.

That looks obvious to me.  And if you want to return to the beginnings, I see that Plato believed that no philosophical truth could be communicated in writing at all – it was only by some sort of immediate contact that one soul might kindle a light in another.  Good grief – from what ashram did that come?  But then we recall that Einstein said that he rarely thought in words.  And the great physicist Niels Bohr said:

When it comes to atoms, language can be used only as in poetry.  The poet, too, is not nearly so concerned with describing facts as with creating images.

It was therefore sad to see that Mr Sheridan began his piece by saying: ‘It is more rational to believe in God than to believe there is no God.’  What might that entail?  It is idle to contend that my belief in God is as secure as my belief in my parentage, and it is plain wrong to say that Mr Sheridan’s ancestry is ‘certainly not rationally proven.’ (Otherwise our judges would have to pick up their bongos).  And then we get the call to arms: ‘the high points of our elite and popular culture have been colonised by a militant and intolerant atheism.’

May I suggest that making warlike claims to rational superiority about religion is not the best way to deal with intolerance?  When we talk of God, those who think they have the best arguments are those who are likely to lose the war.  There is a lot to be said for live, and let live.

Poet of the month: Henry Lawson

A prouder man than you

If you fancy that your people came of better stock than mine,

If you hint of higher breeding by a word or by a sign,

If you’re proud because of fortune or the clever things you do —

Then I’ll play no second fiddle: I’m a prouder man than you!

If you think that your profession has the more gentility,

And that you are condescending to be seen along with me;

If you notice that I’m shabby while your clothes are spruce and new —

You have only got to hint it: I’m a prouder man than you!

If you have a swell companion when you see me on the street,

And you think that I’m too common for your toney friend to meet,

So that I, in passing closely, fail to come within your view —

Then be blind to me for ever: I’m a prouder man than you!

If your character be blameless, if your outward past be clean,

While ’tis known my antecedents are not what they should have been,

Do not risk contamination, save your name whate’er you do — `

Birds o’ feather fly together’: I’m a prouder bird than you!

Keep your patronage for others! Gold and station cannot hide

Friendship that can laugh at fortune, friendship that can conquer pride!

Offer this as to an equal — let me see that you are true,

And my wall of pride is shattered: I am not so proud as you!

Passing Bull 124 – Bull about respect

 

If, having fetched a pale of water, Jack said to Jill ‘I respect you’, what might he mean?  The Oxford English Dictionary has for the verb ‘to treat or regard with deference, esteem or honour; to feel or show respect for; to esteem, prize or value a thing’, or person.  Jack is saying that he has a good opinion of Jill, or that he thinks well of her.

What if Jack says that he respects the flag?  Well, he is not talking about the cloth that is the symbol.  He is talking about the people, nation, or political entity for which the flag is a symbol.  And all those entities, involving tens of millions of people, all of whom are entitled to their own respect, are far more abstract than the little girl called Jill.  And there may be a lot more room to discuss just what are the aspects of, say, the nation that causes Jack to respect it.  Jack may not be of the ‘my nation right or wrong’ faction.  To use the distinctions of the OED, the question may also arise whether Jack regards the nation with deference, or whether he merely treats it that way; whether Jack feels respect for the nation, or whether he just shows it.

We are talking about a ritual performed before a symbol – like a lawyer bowing in court, or a believer genuflecting in church.  There may be many shades of meaning behind the ritual or the belief of the person making it to the ideas of those for whom the symbol represents.

Some American footballers chose a different form of that ritual to protest about one aspect of the governance of the nation.  That was their right.  Their president claimed the right to abuse them.  He wanted them punished by being fired.  He did not specify what law or contract had been broken.  He would be equally ignorant of both.  But he showed his lack of respect for his fellow citizens when he offended and insulted them by the vulgar locker room banter that is his stock in verbal trade.  Well, we are used to that with Trump.  He is a bad stupid man who thrives on conflict.

But his unctuous vice-president – who, unlike the president, has God, and has Him written all over his face –feigned a tantrum, and staged a walk-out, at God knows what expense to the American taxpayer.  Mr Pence said:

I left today’s Colts game because President Trump and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our flag, or our national anthem.

What would Jack and Jill know about the concluding trinity?  It’s hard to say something good about  a nation that seeks to cast out anyone who does not think well of it.  It’s just as hard to think of anything good to say of a leader of such a nation who turns his back on someone who does not think well of it.  They are marks of regimes that we least respect.

We are having this discussion while looking at a massive lack of respect in the best known industry of the U S – Hollywood.  Mr Weinstein sounds evil to the core.  He reminds me of Mr Strauss-Kahn.  Their vice is identical.  They are predatory bullies who abuse their power to exploit those beneath them in pursuit of their own self-gratification.

So does Donald Trump.  He shows no respect for those beneath him.  He shows no respect for what the flag or anthem stand for – the Constitution, Congress, the judiciary, or the office of President.  The President has no idea about the Bill of Rights, except for the current fallacies about guns.  He is a true abuser of power, and not just because of his celebrated curbside opinion about pussy-grabbing.  The difference between Trump and people like Strauss-Kahn and Weinstein is one of degree.

These thoughts came up as I read an article in the Financial Times.  It referred to an article entitled Why the assholes are winning.  Its author, a Stanford professor, said that leaders who create ‘toxic and hellish work environments’ are often admired nonetheless: ‘It seemingly doesn’t matter what an individual or a company does … as long as they are sufficiently rich and successful.’

The Financial Times went on:

In ‘Down and Dirty Pictures’, his book about Miramax, Peter Biskind described the Weinstein brothers’ reputation ‘for brilliance but also for malice and brutality’.

Another study of the traits of dominant people noted that greater power triggers ‘disinhibited behaviour’. In other words, leaders who are allowed to do whatever they want can end up behaving very badly. The powerful ‘more frequently act on their desires in a socially inappropriate way’, the authors concluded.

Over-eating, over-aggression and predatory sexual behaviour were among syndromes they described for ‘high status, powerful individuals’ whose moods swing from irritability into mania.  When personal patronage is the surest route from obscurity to glamour, danger lurks.

The references to ‘disinhibited behaviour’ and ‘personal patronage’ may or may not reflect what happens in the Murdoch empire, but the whole piece looks to describe the current white House – word for word.  Leaders who get away with doing what they want end up behaving badly – very badly.

Poet of the Month

Andy’s gone with cattle

Our Andy’s gone to battle now

‘Gainst Drought, the red marauder;

Our Andy’s gone with cattle now

Across the Queensland border.

He’s left us in dejection now;

Our hearts with him are roving.

It’s dull on this selection now,

Since Andy went a-droving.

Who now shall wear the cheerful face

In times when things are slackest?

And who shall whistle round the place

When Fortune frowns her blackest?

Oh, who shall cheek the squatter now

When he comes round us snarling?

His tongue is growing hotter now

Since Andy cross’d the Darling. T

he gates are out of order now,

In storms the `riders’ rattle;

For far across the border now Our Andy’s gone with cattle.

Poor Aunty’s looking thin and white;

And Uncle’s cross with worry;

And poor old Blucher howls all night

Since Andy left Macquarie.

Oh, may the showers in torrents fall,

And all the tanks run over;

And may the grass grow green and tall

In pathways of the drover;

And may good angels send the rain

On desert stretches sandy;

And when the summer comes again

God grant ’twill bring us Andy.

Here and there – Reflections on poetry on a bleak day outside Melbourne

 

On a lousy day at Malmsbury at the beginning of what was supposed to be spring, I wrote to friends along the lines set out below.

I read the Oxford edition of King Lear yesterday.  The editor quoted Keats:

Once again the fierce dispute

Betwixt damnation and impassioned clay

Must I burn through; once more humbly assay

The bitter-sweet of this Shakespearian fruit.

Keats was in truth a fan.  I wonder how often in his short life Keats read this play – in company, and aloud.  I wonder if he saw it performed. I forget.

My favourite lines – perhaps I should say quotes – were:

so out went the candle and we were left darkling

and

Nero is an angler in the lake of darkness.

Both lines were uttered by fools, actual or pretended, and each is so apt for the foolish darkness all around us now in Australia, England, and America – where the fools are in triumph.  Trump in particular does a fair take on Nero, and he loves nothing more than angling in darkness.  And, Boy, can he put out the candles!

Another phrase that caught my eye was in the press.  ‘Intrinsically disordered’ is apparently a line employed by one church to describe homosexuality.  It’s one of those lines that goes clear out of the back of your head as soon as you have heard it – probably in response to a very healthy defence mechanism.   Himmler may have used that line about the Jews.  We could say a lot about it – including that it is utterly impossible to imagine the holy man whose life and teaching gave rise to this church saying anything like it.

What’s wrong with these people?  A friend of mine is a true and decent follower of the man Einstein called ‘the luminous Nazarene’.  (Kant, too, would never use the name.)  My friend compared the response of the institutional church to marriage equality to the behaviour of the Commonwealth Bank generally.  That’s shockingly sad.

There may not be all that much of a gap between foolish darkness and terminal illness.

You will see, then, that with things as they stand, this Shakespearian fruit is much more bitter for me than sweet.

The reference to Keats, and the weather, sent me back to read for the nth time the letters of Keats from his Scottish tour.  It’s a glorious edition from The Grolier Club, with rough edged handmade paper from the Czech Republic, and a tipped facsimile of a letter (over-written vertically to save on postage) and a portrait and a map.  The portrait is different to that which looks down from my fireplace, but both show the doomed poet with his chin on a hand (although with different hands).  I expect that the portrait shown in the book was done from life; mine was not.

But for two things, the reader may not have thought that the letters came from a poet.  One is that when Keats first saw a waterfall, he spoke ‘if I may say so, [of] the intellect, the countenance of such places.’

The space, the magnitude of mountains, and waterfalls are well imagined before one sees them; but this countenance or intellectual tone must surpass every imagination and defy any remembrance.  I shall learn poetry here and shall henceforth write, more than ever for the abstract endeavour of being able to add a mite to that abstract of beauty which is harvested from these grand materials, and put into ethereal existence for the benefit of one’s fellows.  I cannot think with Hazlitt that these scenes make man appear little.  I never forgot my stature so completely; I live in the eye, and my imagination, surpassed, is at rest.

These thoughts and his well-known piece about ‘negative capability’ suggest to me that Keats had an intellect of singular analytical firepower.  Medical science being what it was then, Keats should have chosen law.  He looks to me to have been a born advocate.

The other thing that alerts us to poetry is that Keats keeps breaking into it.  He says ‘I am sorry I am so indolent as to write such stuff as this – it can’t be helped.’  He climbed the highest mountain.  It nearly killed him. ‘On that account I will never ascend another in this empire.’  Well, he could still write a sonnet ‘on the top of Ben Nevis.’  In it he jotted down or threw off these lines in his windswept exhausted state:

I look into the chasms, and a shroud

Vaprous doth hide them; just so much I wist

Mankind do know of hell: I look o’erhead,

And there is sullen mist: even so much

Mankind can tell of heaven: mist is spread

Before the earth beneath me; even such,

Even so vague is man’s sight of himself.

It’s just not fair!  The poor little bugger just couldn’t help himself.  And to make good the comparison – if I had attempted that climb up Ben Nevis, an emergency call to the  Intensive Care Unit at Fort William or Inverness would have gone out within, say, ten minutes of the start – if Scots wielding straightjackets hadn’t got to my ‘impassioned clay’ first.

Passing bull 118 – Bull about the Commonwealth Bank

The following letter was published in the AFR.

Dear Editor

We discuss CBA in a legal vacuum.  The law says the business of a company is to be managed by or under the direction of its directors.  We talk as if the CEO is responsible for managing the business.  That’s wrong.  The board might delegate some powers – it cannot devolve its responsibility.

If the directors are truly responsible for failures of management of CBA, they should resign.  But our business community lost that moral fibre two generations ago.  And because our discussion is premised on a legal fallacy, the board is allowed to pass the buck to the CEO.  That’s as satisfying morally or intellectually as a footy club firing its coach because of the weakness of the team.

But still, no one goes.  Executives lose bonuses – north of a million each.  But given executive pay levels, this will hurt executives less than a speeding fine would hurt me.  And a fine that is ten times the pay of high school teachers will be defended by those who say there is no problem of inequality of income.

So, we have a shot-duck government that no one believes, and a business community that is spineless at the top, corrupt in the middle, and bitterly deprived and discontented at the bottom.  That’s just the cocktail that gave us Farage, Hanson, and Trump.

It also makes the case for a full inquiry into our banks unanswerable – if only to educate company directors.

Yours truly,

Geoffrey Gibson

The following piece was published, with some amendments, in The Guardian.

Koalas at the tills

If I drive above the speed limit, I may be fined.  I may lose my licence, and therefore my job.  If I kill someone while speeding, I’m liable to go to jail.  In weasel terms, I’m ‘accountable’ or ‘responsible’ for my driving.  The CBA mess raises this question: are its directors legally responsible for that mess?

We talk in a legal vacuum.  The law says that a company’s business is to be managed by or under the direction of its directors – but we talk as if the CEO is responsible instead.  That’s wrong.  Directors can delegate powers – they cannot devolve responsibility.  The CEO is responsible to the board; the board is responsible to shareholders. But armed with a legal fallacy, the directors try to duck for cover.

The banks say their problems are ‘cultural’ and the law can’t fix cultures.  What nonsense!  What if there is a ‘culture’ of greed driven by remuneration schemes put there by the board?  What if a macho culture drives men to intimidate women?  Is the law then powerless?

No, the directors of CBA are responsible for all this mess – and here it’s strike three.  Two generations ago, directors would have been pushed to resign.  But that was when bank managers mowed their nature-strips with Qualcasts on Sunday arvos.  Now we do not respect the City, and it’s left to the regulator to tap the directors’ sense of decency.  Their licences may not be presently at risk, but might not a court rule on their legal responsibility?

The directors relied on management.  In court, they would have to show they made independent assessments of the executives’ advice.  This law is hard.  How many of the CBA directors knew enough about banking to assess independently what their whizz kids were saying?  Did the directors reasonably believe that their powers were always being properly exercised?

Here is the Volkswagen dilemma.  Either the directors knew what was going on or they didn’t.  The malefactors were either working under the directors’ direction or they weren’t.  Which is worse?  If the government was telling CBA that something was wrong, can the directors now say that they thought everything was OK?  Weren’t they at least put on inquiry?  Win, lose, or draw, should we not spend some taxes putting these directors in the witness box so that they can explain to us Australians just what they do for their money?  And as for winning – well, it’s curious, but the banks don’t often win in court.

If you watch The Big Short at the cinema, you will hear groans of resignation at the end – nothing happened to the crooks.  Big corporates never get to face our criminal justice system.  Two teams of ineffably urbane lawyers stitch together an evasive dissemblance of regret – apologies are so demeaning; the corporate pays an agreed sum to government, which would otherwise be called a bribe; the shareholders take the hit; and the executives collect their bonuses and move on to the next fatted calf.

We learned long ago that power corrupts.  We are now learning that wealth – itself a form of power – is even more corrupting.  Have those at CBA been allowed to get away with all their wrongs because so much money slushes around that no one will mind the odd little leak?  Is it possible to imagine a more corrupting sentiment in a bank?

So far as we know, no one has yet gone from CBA.  Some executives have lost bonuses north of a million dollars.  That’s more than ten times what we pay high school teachers.  That will have hurt them less than a speeding fine hurts me – and their ticket hasn’t been at risk.

Very few directors went to jail over the GFC.  We protect them like we protect koala bears.  Company directors’ status appears to put them outside the law.  This apparent privilege deeply upsets the punters.  Our criminal justice system really works over those at the bottom – but we don’t lay a finger on those on high.  Are these koalas, then, untouchable?  More invulnerable even than cardinals?

This class difference is very cancerous.  We should all have the same legal rights.  But, then, this company pays its CEO more than 100 times what it pays its tellers.  Do you see why inequality – in both money and status – is such a loaded word now?

So, we have a PM reduced to a grinning buffoon; a government that gets everything wrong by either instinct or tradition, and that just ignores us; and a business world that is indolent and protected at the top, greedy and corrupted in the middle, and deprived and angry down below.  Those are precisely the forces that generate a sense of caste and that gave us Farage, Hanson, and Trump.

They also make the case for a full inquiry into our banks unanswerable.

Warren Buffett manages differently.  A scandal at American Express left subsidiaries owing $60 million.  Should the parent voluntarily honour those debts?   Buffett said their business depended on trust.  We hear that truism a lot now, but Buffett paid the debts to set ‘standards of financial integrity and responsibility which are far beyond those of the normal commercial enterprise.’  For Buffett, it was not enough just to comply with the law; the CBA can’t even manage that.

And what happened to the good old bank set up to guard our common wealth?

Poet of the month: Walt Whitman

A Child Said, What Is The Grass?

A child said, What is the grass? fetching it to me with full hands;

How could I answer the child?. . . .I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,

A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropped,

Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see and remark, and say Whose?

Or I guess the grass is itself a child. . . .the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,

And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,

Growing among black folks as among white, Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same.

And now it seems to me the beautiful uncut hair of graves.

Tenderly will I use you curling grass,

It may be you transpire from the breasts of young men, It may be if I had known them I would have loved them;

It may be you are from old people and from women, and from offspring taken soon out of their mother’s laps, And here you are the mother’s laps.

This grass is very dark to be from the white heads of old mothers,

Darker than the colorless beards of old men,

Dark to come from under the faint red roofs of mouths.

O I perceive after all so many uttering tongues!

And I perceive they do not come from the roofs of mouths for nothing.

I wish I could translate the hints about the dead young men and women,

And the hints about old men and mothers, and the offspring taken soon out of their laps.

What do you think has become of the young and old men?

What do you think has become of the women and children?

They are alive and well somewhere;

The smallest sprouts show there is really no death,

And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,

And ceased the moment life appeared.

All goes onward and outward. . . .and nothing collapses,

And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.

Passing Bull 117 – The ungenerous generalities of the IPA

 

 

Followers of the IPA are different to most Australians.  The IPA team revels in generalities, abstractions, dogma, and philosophy.  Most Australians are too sensible to take any notice of that sort of ideological stuff.  Our disinclination is, frankly, one of our pluses.  It was therefore a little surprising to see Mr Roskam of the IPA publish the piece below in the AFR this morning.  Mr Roskam there acknowledges why most Australians cannot be bothered with this sort of generalised political philosophy, but he then goes on to make the observations in the three other passages that I have underlined.  In doing so, he resets his own very high bar for bullshit.

After this country’s politicians eventually work out who is and isn’t entitled to sit in Parliament, hopefully they’ll turn their attention back to more important things – like the plebiscite on same sex marriage.

Despite the seemingly endless discussion about the issue and the cry from advocates for change for politicians to “just do it because it’s popular”, there’s been remarkably little public debate about the consequences if a majority of people vote “Yes” to change the legal definition of marriage.

Partly this is because both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage are for the moment arguing about the technicalities of what marriage is, and partly it’s because Australians take a narrow and utilitarian view of human rights and are reluctant to engage in philosophical arguments – unlike in the United States.

The debates around the free press and the Gillard government’s attempt in 2013 to regulate the media, and now the ongoing controversy about the appropriateness of legislation which makes it unlawful to offend someone on the basis of their race reveal that in Australia when it comes to fundamental issues of principle, there’s a tendency to pick a partisan side first and invent a rationalisation for it second.

In the wake of a “Yes” vote, how we talk about same-sex marriage and how we’re allowed by the government to talk about it, is part of a much larger conversation about how Australians talk about questions of sexuality, gender, race, and politics. Gradually the bounds of what by law we can and can’t say about these things are being limited, and at this stage there’s certainly the potential for the legalisation of same-sex marriage to reduce our freedoms rather than extend them.

The question to be asked in the plebiscite: “Should the law be changed to allow same-sex couples to marry?” is at best disingenuous – and at worst dishonest. The answer that many reasonable people would give is – “it depends”.  It’s completely consistent for someone to believe that two people who love each other should be able to get married, while at the same time also believing that those who publicly state that marriage can only ever be between a man and a woman should not be guilty of breaking the law for expressing such an opinion.

If the plebiscite passes, whether it will in fact be unlawful for say a Christian or Muslim school to teach the “traditional” view of marriage is unknown – as yet no politician has wanted to answer. The question is not hypothetical.  Last year the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart was alleged to have breached Tasmania’s anti-discrimination laws for distributing a brochure saying marriage was between a man and a woman.

It’s surprising the “conservatives” in the Coalition who were so eager to have a popular vote on same-sex marriage did not demand that the public should vote on the actual legislation implementing same-sex marriage. The result of a “Yes/No” plebiscite on same-sex marriage is as meaningless as that from Labor’s own proposed plebiscite on Australia becoming a republic.

Same-sex marriage is often presented as a matter of personal freedom. But freedom cuts both ways. At the moment anyone is free – without threat of legal sanction – to describe traditional marriage as a product of the capitalist patriarchy that enslaves women. In fact that’s exactly how marriage is labelled in more than a few critical theory classes at universities across the country. The advocates of a “Yes” vote in the plebiscite would increase their chances of success if they reassured the public that should the law be changed, same-sex marriage could be talked about in exactly the same way as is traditional marriage.

Marriage is more than a legal construct, it’s a cultural and social institution and it’s entirely appropriate the community should have a say on its future.  But it should be a real consultation about the specifics.  It’s incumbent on those who want change – whether to the definition of marriage, or our head of state, or anything else so significant – to explain how the change will work in practice.

One of the lessons of history is that the habit of authoritarians is to talk in generalities.

Is Mr Roskam really afraid that when this nation does recognise same sex marriages, which is just a matter of time, the law that grants that recognition may not avoid the possible consequence that ‘those who publicly state that marriage can only ever be between a man and a woman should not be guilty of breaking the law for expressing such an opinion’?  We hold our politicians in low regard, but could they really be as bad as that?  Or is Mr Roskam just giving new meaning to the term ‘scare tactics’?  I know that members of the IPA are morally and intellectually warped by their obsession with bans upon some kinds of discriminatory speech, but must that obsession lead to this kind of logic chopping?

In truth, what I think you see here is that sad wish of those who falsely call themselves ‘conservatives’ to find ever more complicated reasons for maintaining that we must never change.  That I think is what Mr Roskam meant when he said that ‘in Australia when it comes to fundamental issues of principle, there’s a tendency to pick a partisan side first and invent a rationalisation for it second.’  That’s not just the method of the IPA – it’s the whole bloody point of its existence.  They daily go into the trenches to ensure that we remain forever frozen in the cocoon so finely woven for us by the Holy Imperial Trinity of God, the Crown, and the Church.  It’s not hard to name a team that wants to genuflect at that throne or altar.  Messrs Abbott and Roskam, and Teams Sky and Murdoch, are up there with the best of them.  And the rest of us just have to put up with the nappies.

Poet of the month: Walt Whitman

A glimpse

A glimpse, through an interstice caught,

Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room, around the stove, late of a winter night–

And I unremark’d seated in a corner; Of a youth who loves me, and whom I love, silently approaching, and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand;

A long while, amid the noises of coming and going–of drinking and oath and smutty jest,

There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word.

Passing Bull 116 – Father does not know best

 

 

Donald Trump Junior made a fool of himself about a meeting he should never have attended.  If you believed in genetics, you might say something mordant.  He then made a bigger fool of himself by forgetting about the meeting and then lying.  When this was brought to the attention of pater on Air Force One, Dad immediately dictated a response for Junior.  We can just imagine pater bathing in the awe of his minions as he worked with granitic splendour in the crisis.  The President’s response was both stupid and misleading, and seriously damaging to Junior’s case – and the standing of the government.  The White House met the furore by saying that Dad had acted ‘as any father would’ and ‘with the limited information available.’

First, the President of the United States is not just ‘any father.’  Putting to one side that the President might be mad, our Prime Minister has the President’s personal assurance that he is the greatest man in the world.  Secondly, the son is of age, and allegedly capable of looking after his own affairs.  How many sane parents want to dictate to adult offspring indefinitely?  (Junior turns forty this year, more than half the biblical allowance.)  Thirdly, the case is a fortiori here, when Junior is supposed to be running the business of the family to the exclusion of Dad.  Fourthly, a person of average intelligence in a crisis with limited information would wait until he gets decent information before committing himself and others.  What if this idiot invokes the codes on limited information?

While on the subject of bullshit, a lot of people are calling for the head of Ian Narev, who is a serious challenger to Tony Abbott for the tile of the most loathed Oz.  He has presided over a disaster while being paid $12 million plus – the worth of 155 tellers.  The directors are responsible for managing the business.  Why don’t they resign?  For them to fire the CEO would have the same moral and intellectual value of a football club firing the coach for its failure to accept responsibility.

Finally, there is a group of embittered old men who are bigoted in religion and who are standing in the way of how ordinary people wish to conduct their lives.  They invoke God to do so.  Of whom do I speak – Parliament House, Canberra, or the Vatican?

Poet of the month: Walt Whitman

A child’s amaze

SILENT and amazed, even when a little boy,

I remember I heard the preacher every Sunday put God in his statements,

As contending against some being or influence.

Passing Bull 115 – More bull on conservatism

 

Some time ago, I quoted Simon Blackburn’s definition of ‘conservatism’ in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy.

Conservatism :Originally in Burke an ideology of caution in departing from the historical roots of a society, or changing its inherited traditions and institutions.  In this ‘organic’ form, it includes allegiance to tradition, community, hierarchies of rank, benevolent paternalism, and a properly subservient underclass.  By contrast, conservatism can be taken to imply a laissez-faire ideology of untrammelled individualism that puts the emphasis on personal responsibility, free markets, law and order, and a minimal role for government, with neither community, nor tradition, nor benevolence entering more than marginally.  The two strands are not easy to reconcile, either in theory or in practice.

The word has been rendered worse than useless by reactionary elements in the Liberal Party, and apostles of the IPA in the Murdoch press.  People like Abbott and Bernardi are doing their best to work up sectarian strife, although fortunately now, most sane people cannot be bothered.  In two generations all the cranks, theorists, ideologues, and Catholic trouble makers have gone from the Labor side to the Liberal side.

As best as I can see it, these reactionary souls stand for the following: they dislike Muslims, gays, and wind farms; they loathe the ABC and the Fairfax Press; they are consumed by hate for anything to do with human rights and they gaze with the utmost suspicion anything to do with fighting corruption.  They adore God, Her Majesty (even though she is by law a Prot), the flag, and coal.  What any of that has to do with any version of conservatism is not clear.  What is clear is that they have no interest at all in conserving the planet.

In their worst manifestations, they even like Trump.  Two particularly vile commentators on Sky salute him.

Trump is nowhere near being a Republican, much less a conservative.  If you had to put a label on him, it might be something like Leninist nihilist.  But in one of those trumpet voluntaries that we get every now and then from the female cadres of the IPA, Janet Albrechtsen said this about Trump and Islam after his speech in Riyadh ( in a visit which led to regional unrest in record time):

Trump offered up the kind of moral clarity that drove the West to defeat Nazis and Soviet communists. What has happened to us in the interim? Paralysed by political correctness, we walk on eggshells so as not to offend. Ask hard questions about immigration? You’re a racist. Talk about Islam and terrorism? You’re an Islamophobe.  Keep calm and stay quiet? Not anymore. It’s time to get angry.

That newspaper was having a field day about Islam then, but Trump offering clarity on anything?  On morals?  Does anyone read this nonsense before it hits the streets?

Students of commedia dell’arte will be familiar with Scaramouch.  He indulged in grimaces and affected language.  He was what the English would call a bounder or a cad, even if he did play it for laughs.  Someone described him as ‘sly, supple, adroit, and conceited.’  Donald Trump, the darling of conceited nuts in Australia, has just appointed his namesake. The man looks to be exquisitely in character for the role.

Poet of the month: Walt Whitman

A clear midnight

This is thy hour O Soul, thy free flight into the wordless,

Away from books, away from art, the day erased, the lesson done,

Thee fully forth emerging, silent, gazing, pondering the themes thou lovest best.

Night, sleep, death and the stars.

Passing Bull 114 – Bull about a Christian nation

 

From time to time, you hear chatter about whether Australia may be called a Christian nation.

There is a problem with the question.  Religion involves faith.  Can an impersonal thing have faith? The word ‘nation’ is a form of abstraction, or a label, for a ‘distinct race or people, characterised by common descent, language or history, usually organised as a separate political state and occupying a definite territory’.  It may make sense to speak of a small body of people having feelings, but a body of 25 million?  How does a nation profess its faith?  Would it make any sense to ask whether BHP or the Melbourne City Council was a Christian corporation?

As I see it, the answer to those questions is no.  The inquiry presumably then becomes whether the number of people somehow or other professing their faith in Christianity entails that the nation might fairly be described as Christian – even if those who are not of that faith may be a little put out by the suggestion.

I suppose that nations like Iraq and Indonesia are loosely characterised as Muslim nations because a very large majority of their peoples actively practise the religion of Islam and their governments seek to apply its teaching.  Indeed, one of the things that makes people here fear Islam is a perceived threat that Muslims will seek to introduce Sharia Law among peoples not considered to be Muslim.

Well, then, let’s put to one side the question of how many Australians actually practise the religion of Christianity, do Australian governments seek to apply the teaching of Christianity?

A key statement of the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth is in the Sermon on the Mount.  Here are some parts of it as found in the fifth chapter of the gospel of St Matthew in the Bible.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth.

Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy…..

Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you that you resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on the right cheek, turn him the other also.

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you and persecute you…..

It would be absurd to suggest that any government in our history has ever sought to give effect to that teaching in government.  It would be seriously offensive, even to a lapsed member of the faith like me, to claim that the Commonwealth government, in any current manifestation, is adhering to the Sermon on the Mount in its dealings with refugees.

The reason is simple enough.  There is an unstated premise in government across the West – the Sermon on the Mount does not apply to governments.  Governing is hard enough as it is without worrying about high moral teaching about turning the other cheek.  I have never learned where this dispensation comes from, but you won’t find it in the bits in red.

It’s a fair bet that Donald Trump, who defames all Christians by claiming to adhere to their religion, would not know the difference between a beatitude and a Siamese kitten.  God only knows how he might react if Mr Bannon whispered in his ear that in the course of their Leninist destruction of Washington DC, the meek would inherit the earth.  There could be a Twitter meltdown.  And imagine what might be the reaction if you told a Queensland rozzer – say Peter Dutton – to turn the other cheek!

The Marquess of Salisbury (Robert Cecil) was the definitive Tory.  Andrew Roberts said he believed ‘in the politics of prestige and vengeance’ – a comprehensive repudiation of the Sermon on the Mount.

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.

Elsewhere he said: ‘Christianity forced its way up from being the religion of slaves and outcasts, to become the religion of the powerful and the rich; but somehow it seems to have lost the power to force its way down again.’ We don’t speak so plainly about the first proposition now, but it is an inarticulate premise of our view of government

On those grounds, I suspect that people who claim Australia as a Christian nation are talking bullshit.  And, after all, why bother?  What’s the point?  Will anyone feel or act any better in the unlikely event that they see some merit in the proposition?  Who wants to make some Australians feel left out of it?

Who else might qualify?  All of both Americas, Western Europe, and the UK.  There would have to be exceptions.  The Germans know better than to label an entire nation.  The French have firmly locked religion out of politics since 1789.  And in my view the US are disqualified on three counts – their gun laws, their health care laws, and the election and adulation of an absurd graven image.  You would also have a problem with Ireland for the reason I am coming to.

May I now make a technical point?  The word ‘Christian’ has only come into vogue here in the last generation or so.  Prior to that, people identified their denomination, or their lack of it.  And for least some purposes, you still have to do so.   If you called yourself a Christian in Ireland, you would at best get a funny look.  It’s not good enough for our head of state to claim to be a Christian.  Because of the provisions of a foreign constitution, over which we have no control, our sovereign must be in communion with the Church of England.  Because of this relic of the Reformation, it’s not just Jews, Muslims, Hindus, or good God-fearing doubters like me who need not apply – Catholics are banned too, and all those the English called Dissenters.  How, as a matter of either form or substance, you square that barrier with our being a Christian nation is a matter that may have diverted the Medieval Schoolmen.

But to finish on a point of substance, haven’t we done enough to besmirch the teaching of the man Einstein called ‘the luminous Nazarene’ without applying his name to a crude political label?  The people who want to make this argument tend to have a reactionary caste of thought, and invoking the name of the Lord to make some political point, with an exclusionary tendency, looks to me go infringe the spirit if not the text of another biblical injunction.  Indeed, the whole discussion leaves a bad taste in the mouth – and partly for reasons that might fairly be called religious – even in an old apostate like me.

Poet of the month: Walt Whitman

O Captain!my Captain!

(In memory of Robyn Williams)

O CAPTAIN! my Captain! our fearful trip is done;

The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won;

The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,

While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring:

But O heart! heart! heart! O the bleeding drops of red,

Where on the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;

Rise up–for you the flag is flung–for you the bugle trills;

For you bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths–for you the shores a-crowding;

For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;

Here Captain! dear father! This arm beneath your head;

It is some dream that on the deck, You’ve fallen cold and dead.

My Captain does not answer, his lips are pale and still;

My father does not feel my arm, he has no pulse nor will;

The ship is anchor’d safe and sound, its voyage closed and done;

From fearful trip, the victor ship, comes in with object won;

Exult, O shores, and ring, O bells! But I, with mournful tread,

Walk the deck my Captain lies,

Fallen cold and dead.

Passing Bull 94 – A miscellany of pure bullshit – and starting on Confucius

A major Australian law firm announced a move into forensic investigation – or the like.

 

It brings a holistic offering to the market place in response to what we have seen over the past five years as a real client need, which we think will complement our core legal skill set. That’ll give us great ability to engage early on anti-bribery, cyber risk and fraud. Regulators across the world are getting much more sophisticated in their cross-border communications.

Dear, dear, dear – holistic and core and skill set in the one sentence.  Little Johnnie nixed core for eternity.

Your taxes help fund bullshit like that which follows.

 

Should they enjoy a drink or smoke while watching an arts festival on TV, they can take pleasure in knowing that their taxes are contributing significantly to it, with Australian cigarettes the most expensive in the world and alcohol taxes not far off it. Of course, the most prolific smokers are our poorest people including regional Aborigines. So much for closing the gap.

And should they speak up about the less successful aspects of multi-culturalism, they can be hauled before a bunch of antidiscrimination bodies to explain themselves.

No major political party is interested in winning the vote of Australia’s poor.

Labor is no better than the Liberals on this. They might claim to stick up for battlers, but rarely take their side on any of the issues mentioned here. This is mainly due to Labor’s relationship with the unions, which care about workers who have jobs rather than those who don’t. And Labor is also now competing with the Greens for middle-class progressive voters who couldn’t give a fig about the impact of power prices or the price of cigarettes on the poor.

In fact, every week we hear how progressives have a new idea to make life harder for poor people. Even the push to replace cage eggs with free-range eggs will lead to substantial price increases, and now they’re talking about a sugar tax.

The poor are hectored and spoken down to. They have few choices in relation to their education and health. They are told when, where and how they can drink, smoke, eat, gamble and enjoy themselves. They are told they are cruel if they enjoy greyhound racing and too ignorant, stupid or incoherent to manage their own lives. Increasingly they are considered less important than animal rights and the environment.

Our governments are elected by the middle class to serve the middle class, so it’s hard to see how any of this is going to change.

So whatever you do, try not to be poor.

The gun-happy Senator Leyonhjelm suffers from a dual disability – he fancies himself as an ideologue, and he is seriously thick.  Shame on those shameless progressives – members of the Liberal Party, the Labor Party, or both? – for making it so much harder for blackfellas to kill themselves on fags or grog.  And did you see the mandatory Murdoch Union reference to hate speech laws? This guy reminds me of a remark of the late Jim Kennan – when you meet someone from the gun lobby, you might be looking at a person that you would least want to see behind a gun.

Next, I must stop buying North American scholarship blind.  I bought a book on historians of the French Revolution by Professor Steven Kaplan of Cornell University.

This argument was quite potent and tonic when reasoned in terms of the Braudelian reading of time (and space) and of the asphyxiating intellectual consequences of a historical (and academic) periodization generated by the reification of the Revolution’s self-representation.  To fathom the causes and outcomes of the Revolution, to understand how institutions really worked and how traditions came into being, to make cogent diagnoses, historians needed to insert it in a comparative, multivariate, long run context ( a sort of Annalesization of Tocqueville).

That is extreme bullshit.  And do you notice how the computer encourages further parenthetical mutilation of the language?

I admire the work of the late François Furet.  His writing is lucid, and to the point, and he is one of the very few historians who understands just how silly it is to look only at events in France 1789 to 1793.  Here is Kaplan again.

…..Furet becomes one of Tocqueville’s abstract thinkers, unable to navigate in the real world.  Thus, for instance, Furet is interested in the people-as-concept for the role they play in legitimising the Revolution and filling the political vacuum.  But he is indifferent to the people-as-people.  The true people are those who inhabit the collective imaginary.  Language crowds out its referent – or the referent is absorbed by the concept.  The notion of the people matters, not their comportment.  The conceptual ‘reality’ takes precedence over its social counterpart, whose existence is without significance in the sense that it resides outside Furet’s semiotic circuit.  The discordance between the Revolution-as-people brandished by the leaders (and appropriated by the galactic historians) and the revolutionaries lived by the people is neither pertinent nor profound.  And as long as he defines his démarche as conceptual rather than commemorative, Furet can comfortably march to the drumbeat of the Revolutionary protagonists.  For him the Revolution has a life of its own outside the social, a discursive autonomy and a sort of anthropomorphic existence.  Thus he can write a metahistorical phrase such as the following: ‘If, as I believe, the French Revolution was really what it set out to be…’

That isn’t bullshit, it’s gibberish.

Finally, there was a piece in the weekend press that shows why people are being turned off the big political parties.  This one was about the Liberal Party in Victoria.  A young whizz kid called Bastiaan is apparently getting on people’s nerves.  He is described by The Age, in a piece that looks to have been legalled with caution, as 27-year-old former ‘bellicose Brighton Grammar debater’.  He has the same old mantra.  The party has been overrun by ‘lobbyists, political staffers or people who have worked in government the entirety of their careers.’  Does he too want to drain the swamp?  What is the life experience of this 27 year old public school boy debater that enables him to offer this world view on his elders?  According to The Age:

A three-time university dropout, Bastiaan got into business with the aid of his father, dabbling in an antiques dealership while at university, before moving into a software design business.

He now spends his time leaping between an e-commerce start-up and politics.

The comparison with Trump gets closer.  But the politics get even denser.  His partner is a 25-year-old woman who challenged for a seat in State Parliament. She has apparently firm religious views, and she believes that women who have been raped, according to The Age, should be denied an abortion.  ‘Like Bastiaan, she claims to be focused on returning the party to its members and challenging a Parliamentary team that has abandoned its values and lost touch.’  They are like broken records.  Her partner had invoked Menzies in support of his brand of reaction, and as we were reminded in another piece on the weekend, Menzies deliberately chose the word Liberal because he did not wish the party to be seen as conservative.

But the partner of Bastiaan is, apparently, the complete reactionary.  The Safe Schools program teaches ‘radical gender theory and warped graphic sex education centred around promiscuity…’  We are ‘seeing the destruction of religious freedom, free speech, a push towards gay marriage (which won’t stop there!)  and euthanasia.’  She sees a state/nation-wide push to bring ‘conservative’ politics back into fashion.  She likes people like Cory Bernardi, Andrew Hastie, George Christensen, and Kevin Andrews.  Last year, she hosted a gala fundraiser for Andrews where the main attraction was Tony Abbott.  In the name of God – perhaps literally – the ‘Bulleen dinner featured a Latin grace and a rendition of God Save the Queen’.  (Did they offer a salute?) According to the paper, ultraconservative churches and the Mormons are fertile recruiting grounds.

What sane person could think of joining an outfit that engages in bullshit like this? It reminds me of my childhood and youth, a period of say twenty years, where this country had an opposition party that completely failed to discharge its function in opposition because it was hopelessly split by factions and dragged down by selfish idiots who cared more for ideological purity than the prospects of their party ever getting into government.  (As it happens, the split was engineered by the same denomination that this young woman adheres to.) In a way, my generation was disenfranchised, and it looks like the Liberal Party in Victoria may go the same way if these fanatics get what the press calls traction.

I have long been of the view that we should have a legal mechanism by which Opposition parties can be subjected to a form of impeachment for failing in their function.  Just look at the mess that the English Labour Party has got into with their fanatics.

Poet of the Month: Dante, Inferno, Canto 1.

When I beheld him in the desert vast,
“Have pity on me,” unto him I cried,
“Whiche’er thou art, or shade or real man!”

He answered me: “Not man; man once I was,
And both my parents were of Lombardy,
And Mantuans by country both of them.

Sub Julio was I born, though it was late,
And lived at Rome under the good Augustus,
During the time of false and lying gods.

A poet was I, and I sang that just
Son of Anchises, who came forth from Troy,
After that Ilion the superb was burned

But thou, why goest thou back to such annoyance?
Why climb’st thou not the Mount Delectable
Which is the source and cause of every joy?”

“Now, art thou that Virgilius and that fountain
Which spreads abroad so wide a river of speech?
I made response to him with bashful forehead.

“O, of the other poets honour and light,
Avail me the long study and great love
That have impelled me to explore thy volume!

Thou art my master, and my author thou,
Thou art alone the one from whom I took
The beautiful style that has done honour to me.

Behold the beast, for which I have turned back;
Do thou protect me from her, famous Sage,
For she doth make my veins and pulses tremble.’

Confucius says

There is a nasty false form of what is said to be ‘conservatism’ that claims to identify with something called ‘western civilisation.’  It’s as if we are meant to think that there is something inferior about the civilisation of the East.  Such a suggestion would be at best hilarious and at worst outrageous to the substantial part of the world’s population who live in China, India, and Japan, for example.  You might wonder if ‘western civilisation’ is code for white supremacy, but to confront this narky parochialism, we will replace for the foreseeable future what has been the ‘Poet of the month’ with ‘Confucius says’.  The context is that these sayings of Confucius were uttered about a century before the death of Socrates, and about five centuries before the Jew called Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount – in Asia.

Tzu-kung asked the Master about what a man must be like before he can be said truly to be a Gentleman.  There followed a discussion about degrees of Gentlemen.

‘What about men who are in public life in the present day?’

The Master said, ‘Oh, they are of such limited capacity that they hardly count.’

Analects, 13.20.

Two and a half millennia ago. In the boondocks of China.