Here and there – Being a Conservative

 

The word ‘conservative’ is sadly abused.  Nasty people claim it.  So do fakes.  So, when the English conservative philosopher Roger Scruton writes a book called ‘How to be a Conservative’, we sit up and take notice.

First, some caveats.  On the very first page, we get this about ‘ordinary conservatives’:

Their honest attempts to live by their lights, raising families, enjoying communities, worshipping their gods, and adopting a settled and affirmative culture – these attempts are scorned and ridiculed by the Guardian class.

Don’t ordinary liberals or socialists, if there any left, want to raise families and enjoy communities?  Are there people around who scorn and ridicule people who do?  And is not the reference to the Guardian class an indication that the author may have succumbed to tribalism?  Does he stand for the Spectator class?  Then, a few pages later, Scruton tells us that he got his cultural conservatism ‘from the literary critic F R Leavis, from T S Eliot, whose Four Quartets and literary essays entered all our hearts at school…..’  Can I say that I have never met a man whose heart was so entered – at school, or at all?  As well as a tribal war, we may have a class or culture war on our hands.

But to business – Scruton refers to what might be the Conservative bible, Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution.  Burke did not believe politics could be reduced to a plan – he was opposed to ‘a politics that proposed a rational goal, and a collective procedure for achieving it, and which mobilised the whole of society behind the resulting program.  Burke saw society as an association of the dead, the living and the unborn.’  That is a very English position and a useful introduction to being a Conservative.  It’s a view I share – with other views, of course.

Burke was appalled at the popular revolt – in France or anywhere else.  Eventually, most of the world joined him in that revulsion.  When government fails, things get out of hand.  That’s why I cannot understand how people who claim to be Conservatives support popular revolts – the position that we now call ‘populism’.  How can someone who claims to follow Edmund Burke also claim to follow Farage, Hanson, or Trump?  God only knows what Burke may have said (and Burke was not short-winded).

Then we get eight chapters seeking to find the truth in eight –isms.  Did anything good ever come out of an –ism?  Are we comfortable with a search for truth in abstractions like Liberalism or Environmentalism?  If we are going to find truth in each of these –isms, of which Conservatism is the last, then are we not in for long journey in political or ideological Multiculturalism –another of the eight – isms?  For example, under the truth in Socialism we get:

But socialism means, for most of its advocates, a political program designed to secure for all citizens an equal chance of a fulfilling life….That idea of social justice may not be coherent.  But it speaks to sentiments that we share….Hence British conservatives in the nineteenth century frequently acknowledged common cause with the Chartists, and the greatest conservative thinker of the Victorian age, John Ruskin, addressed many of his homilies to the urban working class.  Disraeli was not the inventor of ‘One Nation’ Toryism, but he certainly made clear….that the conservative cause would be lost if it did not also appeal to the new migrants to the industrial towns, and if it did not take their position seriously.  A believable conservatism has to suggest ways of spreading the benefit of social membership to those who have not succeeded for themselves.

That last proposition is just a fact of political life – at least in Australia and England.  (The U S is very different.)  Much later we get –

….civil society depends on the attachments that must be renewed and, in modern circumstances, these attachments cannot be renewed without the collective provision of welfare.

Well, given that we do have and will continue to have the welfare state, is there not some Socialism and Conservatism in all of us – and is not the rest of the discussion just bargaining or posturing about the margins?

Scruton spends a lot of time on the zero sum game fallacy.  ‘The great socialist illusion’ is that ‘the poor are poor because the rich are rich.’  That statement does look rather large – but how would I know?  I can’t recall meeting a Socialist, at least recently, outside the National Party – and I think I would remember.  (I should say that I haven’t met Jeremy Corbyn.)

The author must be right to say that we cannot condemn Nationalism just because it can be abused, and he is right to say that people are entitled to protect their national character against invading religions.  It would be shocking to permit the practice of Sharia law in an open society.  My own view is that historians and philosophers have underquoted on the liberation inherent in the Reformation.

When God makes the laws, the law becomes as mysterious as God is.  When we make the laws, and make them for our purposes, we can be certain what they mean.  The only question is ‘Who are we’?

Now, that statement about our being certain about what we mean is sadly unwarranted, and the other question is how do we know which laws were made by God and which by men?  We only get the laws of God from the mouths of men.

The truth in Capitalism is that ‘private ownership and free exchange are necessary features in any large scale economy – any economy in which people depend for their survival and prosperity on the activities of strangers.’  But we are told that ‘Socialists don’t in their hearts accept this.’  Well, Socialists may not, but the people of China and Russia plainly do.  They have both seen the starvation that otherwise comes about.  Perhaps the professor had in mind Cuba or perhaps he foresaw the fate of Venezuela.

Under the heading Liberalism, there is a very good discussion about the two differing concepts of liberty – the positive and negative.  Scruton is in my view plainly right when he says:

For the search for liberty has gone hand in hand with a countervailing search for ‘empowerment’….Hence egalitarians have begun to insert more positive rights into the list of negative freedoms, supplementing the liberty rights specified by the various international conventions with rights that do not merely demand non-encroachment from others, but which impose on them a positive duty.

The author refers to Article 22 of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.  Its terms are unsettlingly wide and they bear the hallmarks of people who may not have had to get their hands too dirty to make a living.  It’s hard to write Kant’s concept of dignity into an international covenant – and be taken seriously.

There are also some helpful remarks on the ‘down with us mentality’ in the discussion of Multiculturalism.  Writing in 2014, Scruton said ‘The dethroning of reason goes hand in hand with a disbelief in objective truth’.  He was certainly a prophet new inspired.

But the book is worth the price for the chapter on Environmentalism.  Why don’t Conservatives want to conserve the earth?

the love of home lends itself to the environmental cause, and it is astonishing that the many conservative parties in the English-speaking world have not seized hold of that cause as their own.

At last – someone who shares my astonishment!  Scruton gives two reasons for the conservative heresy – the ascendancy of economics in the thinking of modern politicians and the agitated propaganda of the other side.  We certainly have seen both here, but are we to remain prisoners of history while we ruin Earth for those who come after us?  Later Scruton says (again, in 2014) that the only nation in the world who can lead it out of the crisis is the U S.  God only knows what he thinks of the U S now.

Under Internationalism, we are told that once again ‘a fundamental truth has been captured by people with an agenda.’  We see this throughout the book – and the writer himself has an agenda.  As someone who has spent a lot of time in universities, Scruton may find it hard to recall too many people who don’t have an agenda.  We see it again on gay marriage.  ‘Only someone with nothing to lose can venture to discuss the issue with the measure of circumspection it invites, and politicians do not figure among the class of people with nothing to lose.’

Later we get another entertaining look at the impact of religion on our communal life.  The French revolutionaries were for the most part manically anti-church.  ‘The Revolutionaries wanted to possess the souls that the Church had recruited…’  That is I think the case.  It’s a theme that recurs in revolutions.

Subsequent revolutions have in like manner regarded the Church as Public Enemy number 1, precisely because it creates a realm of value and authority outside the reach of the state.  It is necessary, in the revolutionary consciousness, to enter that realm and steel its magic.

In the hands of Robespierre, the attempted theft was low farce, but the effort was there.  Burke stated the view that we and England adhere to – ‘that government must hold religion at a distance if it is to maintain civil peace.’  Scruton makes a droll observation on the fact that a majority of English people still put down ‘C of E’ as their religious affiliation.

But that did not imply that they attended an Anglican church – only that they were so far indifferent in the matter as to believe that God would not object to their pretending that they did.

When we finally get to Conservatism, we get a reference to Hegel – which in my view is a heroic flirtation with eternity – and we then get:

What emerges from it is the view of human beings as accountable to each other, bound in associations of mutual responsibility and finding fulfilment in the family and the life of civil society.

If that’s what makes a Conservative, how is he or she different to me or the rest of us?

Well, all these labels are suspect, but in the intellectual desert of Conservatism in Australia this book comes up at us like a Ballarat gold nugget.

Here and there – How taxing it is

Part II

[This is the second part of a piece on the current debate on refunding tax credits.]

Secondly, the relevant law has been in place since 2000.  Very many people have conducted their affairs on the footing of that law.  As I said, this law is no mere wheeze.  I should here disclose that you are now talking to a paradigm case of a target of the proposed change.  My superfund is invested entirely in public companies that issue fully franked dividends.  No other course even comes close for my purposes – I see cash as pure waste.  I believe that my fund will support me, but if the income of the fund is reduced by 30 per cent as a result of this proposal, I will have to look seriously at the alternatives.

There is a well-established principle of our general law that if one party to an arrangement makes a representation that the other party relies on to their detriment, then the law will restrain the party making the representation from resiling from it.  Although I am prejudiced, that law seems to me to meet my case – and doubtless that of many thousands of others who have arranged their affairs in good faith in reliance upon the good faith of government.

We cannot preclude parliament from changing the law, but we can seek to hold politicians to their promises.  When the present government sought to legislate against retired fundholders about two years ago, I was struck by the vehemence of the opposition that came from members of the government’s own party.  Lawyers I respect said that the proposed legislation was retrospective.  I have some difficulty with that as a matter of law – but I have far less difficulty in envisioning some people feeling betrayed.  People were expressly invited to conduct their affairs on the ground chosen by government and now, in the middle of the game so to speak, the government wants to change the rules.  That is not fair – and as between parties subject to the general law, it would not be allowed.

Thirdly, the relevant law is horribly complex and looked at by most people, including most lawyers, with a blend of disgust and horror.  Whatever else may be said about the proposal, it will not ‘reform’ the law in the sense of making it better or clearer.  It will add another complication and inducement to people to get advice on how to beat it.  Those who clip the ticket – there are far too many of them – will be thrilled to bits.  The suspicion of government, and the system, will get worse – particularly if the proponents say that they are targeting the wealthy, or, worse, those who don’t vote for them anyway.  (That way lies the vice of Donald Trump.)  No one wants to see superannuation, something this country has done well, as what Alan Kohler calls ‘an object of political contest’ – or, put bluntly, a till to be tickled.  People who have worked hard and paid their taxes, and then followed the government’s advice and request to look after their own retirement, so relieving ongoing taxpayers, will justifiably resent and react to a government that seeks to go back on its word.  It’s no comfort to be told that a different party is in government – that’s like a company saying it can walk away from a contract because there is a new board of management.

My conclusion – which I agree is biased – is that although the proposal is justifiable on the theory of the original reform, it is at best unfortunate that its burden falls on the those who currently receive less income, and it is downright wrong unless the government moves to exempt or protect those who for about a generation have planned their retirement on the footing that the government of the Commonwealth of Australia can be trusted to keep its word.

We do, after all, have a long history of suspicion about tax and our parliaments.  In the book referred to I said:

In 1799, England was at war with revolutionary France.  France was then led by Napoleon Bonaparte, a man of military genius and unlimited ambition – and on the first count alone, he was a much more dangerous threat to England than Adolf Hitler would be.  The war was ruinously expensive.  How was the British government to fund it? 

William Pitt had become Prime Minister at the age of twenty four.  He was a leader of great authority, but the English parliament had been feisty about tax from its inception.  The national touchiness on revenue goes back at least as far as Magna Carta of 1215.  The American colonists had revolted over taxation – in the form of the Stamps Act – less than a quarter of a century ago.  (Ironically, France went bankrupt helping the Americans against their old enemy England and this bankruptcy had led to the Revolution and to the ascension of Bonaparte.  This could be the ultimate historical example of the cost of living beyond your means.)

Then the Prime Minister made a shocking proposal that was understandably denounced as ‘inquisitorial’.  He proposed a tax on incomes!  In the name of heaven, was no property to be sacred?  Well, it was just an emergency war-time measure.  It had to be – it was assessed at the demonic and confiscatory rate of two shillings (now, ten pence) in the pound (10%)! 

England went on to win the war – but not until Waterloo in 1815.  (Had England not won, we might be having this conversation in French.)  And some historians think that the victory of England owed more to revenue than naval or military successes.  But income tax reappeared, and has stayed, and it will be with us forever.  The only real change is that the law is more than ten times as long.  And it all started with an interim, emergency wartime measure.

Passing Bull 139 – Madness in the commentariat elite about conservatism

 

I am sorry to harp on the love of labels and abstractions at The Weekend Australian, but last weekend it reached tsunami proportions.  I apologise in advance for the length of this note, but I do see more than bullshit at work here.

Paul Kelly sees the crisis of conservatism as ‘a moral crisis.’  While Mr Kelly does not say what he means by ‘conservatism’, it is not hard to see the crisis as ‘moral’ – at base, all political issues involve moral questions – unless you subscribe to the view that winning means everything.

But then you look at what Mr Kelly says that ‘conservatives’ demand from Turnbull – ‘quitting the Paris accords, pitting coal against renewables, ditching Gonski funding, revisiting the National Disability Insurance Scheme and achieving small government with a new round of spending cuts.’  Then you are even more at sea about what a ‘conservative’ may believe – except, as Mr Kelly says, ‘a package for guaranteed electoral suicide.’  It’s little wonder then that Mr Kelly concludes that ‘the political contest over morality is pivotal and the conservatives mainly lose it.’

But Mr Kelly’s infatuation with –isms finds another demon.

The issue for conservatism has been its paralysis before its gobsmacking individual expressionism and its violation of Christian views of human nature.

The last phrase looks over the top – are we not supposed to be a secular community? – but what on earth is wrong with individuals wishing to express themselves.  Isn’t that what ‘conservatism’ is about?  ‘Thank you, Government, but no – leave me alone to look after myself.’  And Mr Kelly refers to a writer who gives a horrifying indication of what happens when the individual surrenders to the herd.  The highest rating TV show of the 1950’s, I Love Lucy, had a 67.3 Nielsen rating.  Can you imagine a worse indictment on the intellectual life of a nation?  In 2014, the highest rated show Saturday Night Football maxed out at 14.8 rating.  Is not that the best news you have heard from the U S in ages?

Finally, Mr Kelly says that ‘the problem with Turnbull is that he remains a transactional rather than conviction politician.’  There are two labels in play here.  What is a conviction politician?  If it is politician who is in some way ideologically driven, then they have to confront an aversion that is not just Australian, but Anglo-Saxon.  We have produced Gough Whitlam and Paul Keating.  The UK produced Mrs Thatcher.  Any other takers?  One thing is sure.  Mr Trump is not a conviction politician.  He has no convictions at all.

What then is a transactional politician?  When applied to people like Trump or Shorten, it is one of disfavour.  Buy why?  Is not the ultimate platitude that politics involves the art of compromise?  The Turnbull government in my view has transacted good business on trade with our Pacific neighbours, and looks to be navigating the turbulence of Trump.  That, for me at least, is good politics, not bad politics.

But Grace Collier tells us the truth about what she and her colleagues think of a ‘transactional politician.’

It is true that Shorten is often described as ‘transactional’.  Further, this term is one you always hear when people are trying to account for his seeming lack of core values and belief systems, friendships with the super wealthy and other inexplicable contradictions…..The word transactional and really seems to me just a polite way of saying someone is an untrustworthy shyster who would sell his grandmother to the highest bidder.

Well, sadly, that’s not far off how many Australians see most politicians.  But, if you haven’t guessed the politics of Ms Collier yet, she is keen to disabuse you.

Most people think that the purpose of the union movement is to look after working people, in workplaces.  That is a naïve assumption and wrong.  The purpose of the union movement is to put union officials into parliament.

Well, there it is – and perhaps not surprising from a journalist who sees a friendship between the leader of the ALP and some of our very rich people as involving an ‘inexplicable contradiction.’  Why?  Has the man got uppity and got ideas above his station?  Is Ms Collier’s commitment to the tribe so commanding?  God help us, has she succumbed to ‘identity politics’?

Noel Pearson has a piece on how conservatism has been hijacked by reactionaries.  He makes the obvious point that people are never exclusively conservative, liberal or socialist – unless you melt those terms down to nothing.  So much of our discussion is flawed by the fallacy that you have to be one thing or the other.

Mr Pearson makes an observation that is so true for most of Team Oz:

so-called conservatives, while railing against the victimhood of the leftish tribes, are themselves pushing their own victimhood.

He says that Keith Windschuttle, Gary Johns, Andrew Bolt and so many more ‘started in the left,’ but after a Damascene conversion wound up ‘more extreme in their views than their new associates.’  Mr Pearson subscribes to the view that Mr Bolt just ‘found a business model.’  Mr Bolt, then, is no conviction commentator.

Mr Pearson then gets into his stride.  ‘The Centre for Western Civilisation is the apotheosis of this reverse identity politics….Conservative English philosopher Roger Scruton in his 2012 book Green Philosophy argued that conservatives should properly be conservationists.’  How could they be otherwise?  How could anyone in our political tradition prefer theory to evidence, ideology to facts, or dreams to sense and reality?  And Mr Pearson gets something else right.

Howard deferred major crises of conservatism, such as same-sex marriage and religious freedom, climate change and energy security, rather than resolving them.

Chris Kenny riffs, as is his wont, by pushing his own victimhood, to use the term of Mr Pearson.

Bring back the Barnaby story.  Half of what passes for national debate is almost as inconsequential….It can’t only be me who simultaneously feels overgoverned and ungoverned…..If voters want environmental gestures, nanny state laws and never-ending government interventions, they can vote for the past masters – Labor – so why vote for the cheap imitations?  ….Perhaps Labor did them [Tassie Liberals] a huge favour by proposing a radical poker machine ban they could never accept, thereby forcing them into a strong position of differentiation…But in my view the warning signs are flashing for Liberals across the country.  In a haze of opinion polls, social media, and superficial spin-driven politicking, they have forgotten their mission.

Will Mr Kenny never see that he is one of the main creators of the ‘haze…..and superficial spin-driven politicking’?  What else has he ever done in life?  We can come back to banning poker-machines, but do we not see here Mr Kenny condemning politicians for being naïve in making a moral stand on a matter of conviction?

Speaking of the haze of opinion polls, Dennis Shanahan is obsessed by them.  He is also obsessed with the ‘regicide’ of his mate, Tony Abbott.  If his piece had any other point, I missed it.

Greg Sheridan wrestles with the moral dilemma of Trump and conservatism.  It is or ought to be common ground that Mr Trump is a liar, a fraud, a coward, a fool, a lout, and a man so deeply in love with himself that the word ‘shameless’ is hardly enough.

Trump is in many ways a very unsatisfactory president.  But the crisis in Western governance is morphing into a crisis of Western civilisation.

What could that mean?  Well, at least Mr Sheridan believes that imposing tariffs is a bad idea – as does Judith Sloan – but why does he feel the need to justify the man and put blame on the ‘exaggerated and hysterical reaction’ of the rest of us?

John Durie has an interesting piece on Mr Andrew Mackenzie, the CEO of BHP.  Mr Mackenzie (or Dr Mackenzie) studied geology at St Andrew’s University, took a PhD in organic chemistry at the University of Bristol, and was awarded a Humboldt Research Fellowship at the Julich nuclear research centre in Germany.  He is a member of the Royal Society.  (The members of the Royal Society don’t elect idiots.)  Not bad for a corporate CEO.  Far, far better credentials than mine.

But Terry McCrann in his piece sees Mr Mackenzie as part of the ‘commentariat elites’ and an idiot.  Since Mr Mackenzie says ‘we don’t hide from the global challenge of climate change’, the rest of the commentariat elite at that paper would also think he’s an idiot.  As would all others who falsely call themselves ‘conservatives’ while refusing to act to conserve the earth that we live on.

Leaving the best to last, what does the good Christian Gerard Henderson say about the moral issue of middle class recreational facilities living off the earnings of gaming?

The comments from the likes of White, O’Connor and Brown [people who said the Liberals were ‘a bought government’] are imbued with elitism…..the absence of poker machines and the customers they attract would have put financial pressure on hotels and clubs throughout the state….Whatever the damage caused by the small number of problem gamblers, hotels and clubs give a vibrancy to local life for many citizens.

It’s true the Federal Group campaigned to retain its poker machines in hotels and clubs throughout Tasmania.  That’s what the management of a legal business is expected to do.  Yet Labor and the Greens are delusional if they hold the view that the Federal Group ‘bought’ the Liberal Party.

Well, there you are.  We have so far been looking at bullshit.  Now we have more bullshit, and with it, a searing hypocrisy.  Bugger morality – just look at the politics.  Had the moral question been answered against the government, some businesses would have felt ‘financial pressure.’  Since those businesses were prepared to give a lot of money to the government to avoid that pressure, the moral issue would just be ignored.  I was, apparently, wrong to say that all political questions resolve into moral issues – although I did say there was an exception for those who believe that winning is everything.

That’s apparently the view of Mr Henderson.  I find it impossible to believe that that view could even have been contemplated by the holy man who preached the Sermon on the Mount and who issued his own death warrant by taking to money dealers with the lash.

If people at the Australian really want to know why newspapers and politicians are so on the nose, just look at those comments of Mr Henderson.  They also indicate why his church is sinking before our eyes.  The whole mess is terribly sad.  I had thought that Mr Henderson was harmless.  I now think that I was wrong in that.

In fairness to the faith I have lost, I may say that a good friend of mine who subscribes to that faith – if it matters, as a member of the cloth – was appalled by the comments of Mr Henderson.  As I recall it, when the golf club in his town said they would shut down without pokies, my friend asked why shouldn’t they?  I think that’s a real question – but not for Mr Henderson.  If people cannot maintain a recreational facility without relying on income from a business that inevitably causes harm to other people, why should the rest of us allow it?  Are we not complicit in their living off the earnings of wrongdoing?

What is clear is that there is a lot of bullshit involved if people want to talk about morals, convictions and transactions when looking at poker machines in Tasmania.  The Liberals knew a transaction when they saw it – you piss in my pocket and I will allow you to pick the pockets of others – to hell with conviction or morals.  As squalor goes, this is hard to beat; and when God gets invoked, it becomes unbeatably squalid.

Passing Bull 138 – The sex ban

 

The reaction to the Prime Minister’s sex ban was curious.  Many of the people who attacked the PM on this issue are the same people who complain that he never does anything.  They wheel out that weasel word ‘leadership’.  To my surprise and relief, Mr Greg Sheridan supported the ban in The Australian.  In response, I wrote a letter to the editor, which was published, as follows.

In something of a change for me, I am happy to support Mr Sheridan in what he says about the sex ban.  It is about abuse of power, not sex.  As I read the piece, I recalled a discussion I had with a neighbour that we knew as Old Jack.  Old Jack had flown 47 missions in Mosquitoes.  We discussed my namesake, Guy Gibson – Wing Commander Guy Gibson, VC, the leader of the Dambusters.  War heroes don’t get more sacred than Gibson.  But Old Jack said that many in Bomber Command doubted Gibson.  Why?  He went out with women of lesser rank.  What’s wrong with that?  Mr Sheridan states the obvious.  You can see it in large law firms; in the hierarchy of the churches; and worst of all in any uniformed service.  And that’s before you get to the Caesar’s wife point about Ministers of the Crown.

It was business as usual the next day.  I often find it hard to follow what Janet Albrechtsen and John Roskam are saying.  Neither liked the ban, but I have trouble seeing why.  Ms Albrechtsen said the ban was ‘patronising’ and ‘illiberal’.

It’s not surprising that the socially fashionable Turnbull would tack so close to the #Me Too movement, but his clunky, gender-driven over-reaction, like much within the #Me Too movement, is paternalism writ large.

Yet, before she resorted to the scattergun of labels, Ms Albrechtsen indicated that she understood at least part of the issue.

It’s not sex between consenting adults, even between a minister and staffer, that matters.  It’s a boss’s preferment of a staffer, arranging new highly paid jobs that matters.  Had Turnbull stepped up earlier, telling voters that such preferment and conflicts will not be tolerated, he would have done a fine and measured job.

Most laws, and all prohibitions, restrict freedom, and are therefore ‘illiberal.’  One such law is the law of murder.  Your freedom to fire a gun is restricted if the head of your estranged spouse is at the other end of the gun.  All gun laws are illiberal.  To object to them on that ground would plant you firmly in the moral and intellectual wilderness of Second Amendment America.   To object to any law on the footing that it restricts freedom is to invoke something close to a tautology.  It’s a little like saying that the police shouldn’t charge a person because that person will be defamed by the process.

Well, is the law patronising?  Does it assume that people may need protection when they might be better off if left to stand on their own two feet?

Now, this gets closer to the issue, but people should understand how much of our law is dedicated to protecting the weak against the strong – or, to put it differently, how much of our law is about restraining abuse of power or acting in bad faith.

Those who think that the law has nothing to do with morals are dead wrong.  If we put to one side infants, lunatics, and consumers, there are many areas of the law that are concerned with relief from oppression or bad faith.  A large part of our constitutional and administrative law is there to prevent government becoming overbearing on us.  The transactions of people in business are at risk if their conduct has been ‘misleading’, ‘deceptive’, or ‘unconscionable’.  A dispute among shareholders may be resolved by reference to what is ‘just and equitable.’  Majority shareholders may be restrained from conduct that is ‘oppressive.’  Directors and other employees have to act ‘honestly’ and ‘for a proper purpose.’  Large companies may be restrained from conduct that is ‘predatory.’  The laws of most Western countries provide that a corporation that has a substantial degree of power in a market must not take advantage of that power for the purpose of substantially damaging competition.  A dependant with a ‘moral claim’ on a testator may ask the court to make an ‘adequate’ and ‘proper’ provision for them.  Reports in the Fairfax press suggest that the laws of franchising need to change to give more protection to the franchisee – too many franchisors have the insouciant brutality of Caligula.

Those are statutory extensions of case law on the duties owed by people in positions of trust and confidence.  This is part of the law known as equity.  It goes back many centuries.  Here is how the basic premise was expressed in an old text.

If confidence is reposed, it must be faithfully acted upon, and preserved from any intermixture of imposition.  If influence is acquired, it must be kept free from the taint of selfish interest, and cunning, and overreaching bargains…..The general principle, which governs in all cases of this sort, is that if a confidence is reposed, and that confidence is abused, courts of equity will grant relief.

One way the law goes about enforcing these obligations is to ban the person in a position of trust from entering into relations that will put them in conflict in carrying out their trust.  This is what is called a ‘fiduciary’ duty.  It is very hard for a company director to retain a profit that he has earned as a result of carrying out his director’s duties.  Partners and staff of a business owe these fiduciary duties to their firm.  A sexual liaison between a partner and a member of staff may involve each in a conflict of duty and interest.  That being so, it is not silly to suggest that such a liaison may be unlawful under the general law as it stands.

A related part of the law deals with people who can influence others unconscionably as the result of an imbalance of power.  This is the law about ‘undue influence.’  Sir Owen Dixon said:

But the parties may antecedently stand in a relation that gives to one an authority or influence over the other from the abuse of which it is proper that he should be protected.

On policy grounds, that statement may apply to a Minister of the Crown propositioning a member of his staff.  It just depends on your point of view.

It is very hard for a lawyer to uphold a substantial gift from a client or for a priest to uphold a gift from a dying penitent.  The rationale of the law may be stated as follows:

By constructive frauds are meant such acts or contracts as , although not originating in any actual evil design, or contrivance to perpetrate a positive fraud….are yet by their tendency to deceive or mislead other persons, or to violate private or public confidence, or to impair or injure the public interests, deemed equally reprehensible with positive fraud, and, therefore, are prohibited by law….the doctrines ….will be perceived to be founded in an anxious desire of the law to apply the principle of preventive justice, so as to shut out the inducements to perpetrate a wrong, rather than to rely on mere remedial justice, after a wrong has been committed.

Almost every word of that could be applied to the case of Mr Joyce and the reaction of the government.  Mr Joyce did not set out to do something wrong, but the tendency of his actions has been to violate public or private confidences and injure the public interest.  That in turn led the government to take preventive action to reduce the risk of this tendency to lead to this kind of harm in the future.

Our law has always been zealous to protect beneficiaries from their trustees.  It has been zealous not only in examining benefits obtained by those people we call fiduciaries – it has said that some kinds of transaction are so inherently dangerous, that it will not inquire into the merits of particular transactions – it will just ban them.

That is the course that the government has adopted in dealing with fiduciary obligations of public officers called ministers – at least when it comes to having sex with those who are under them and whom they are obliged to protect.  Barnaby Joyce entered into a relationship that could and did conflict with his public duties.  This was a clear breach of fiduciary duty – as Ms Albrechtsen may acknowledge.  The temptation was there for Mr Joyce to misuse his office, and persuade others to do the same, in order to favour his mistress.  It’s hardly surprising then that the government has followed one path of the law by deciding to ban certain transactions outright for those who owe fiduciary duties.

So our jurisprudence may have approached the Joyce Case through a few avenues, but it is a little hard to see what Paul Kelly makes of it.

Turnbull’s ban on ministers having sexual relations with their staff formalises what should be the case anyway…..It is one thing for Turnbull to justifiably take a stand and say ministers cannot have sex with their own staff.

That seems clear enough, but beware – Turnbull is a ‘declared progressive’ and so we then get this.

This is a progressive, not a conservative, movement.  It means libertarianism is being sacrificed to identity justice, a process catching many people out.  It assumes people cannot be allowed to pursue relationships freely because of the risk of exploitation on the basis of power or gender.  The progressive quest is for new rules and regulations to govern human relations.

This is not just about halting sexual abuse or harassment, an essential goal.  The progressive vanguard has moved far beyond this- it is now focused on power and argues that consensual sexual relations based on a power imbalance are suspect on grounds of exploitation.  Just think about that crazy idea.

You get a box of Jaffas and a smiley koala stamp if you can reconcile those statements.  This is labelling gone mad.  As I have tried to show, it has been the business of the law to rule on ‘relations based on a power imbalance’ as being ‘suspect on grounds of exploitation’ since the time when the Puritans ran England.  Having learned what we have in the last few years about relations in the churches suspect on these grounds, it is sad to see uncertainty and confusion in how we should now react.

And that’s before we get to the point that Ministers of the Crown hold positions of public trust and that there were issues of the use of public money involved in the Joyce Case.  Rarely does a day go by when the Murdoch press does not excoriate the ABC over its use of public money, but when it comes to obvious failings of a politician deemed to be a ‘conservative’ vote winner, they change their tune.

But perhaps it is not surprising that the Murdoch people get skittish about issues of integrity and their conservative political clients.  They oppose an integrity commission for the federal politicians – a move that is as sought after in the community at large as the sex ban that was imposed in light of the Joyce Case.

Dostoevsky on freedom and God

 

Dostoevsky had a lot in common with Wagner.  Neither was ever at risk of underestimating his own genius, and the behaviour of neither to others improved as result.  Both were prone to go over the top.  You can find forests of exclamation marks in the writings of both.  And both could and did bang on for far too long for some of us.  They both badly needed an editor. But if you persist with either of these men of genius, you will come across art of a kind that you will not find elsewhere.  The Brothers Karamazov, which I have just read for the third time, raises the issue nicely.  In my view, it could be improved by being halved – but you would be at risk of abandoning diamonds.

The most famous part of the novel comes with a sustained conversation between two brothers, Alyosha, who is of a saintly and God-fearing disposition, and Ivan, who is of a questing and God-doubting outlook.  The conversation comes in Part 2, Book 5, chapters 4 and 5, Rebellion and The Grand Inquisitor.

Ivan gets under way with ‘I must make a confession to you.  I never could understand how one can love one’s neighbours.’  The author probably knew that Tolstoy had written a book that asserted that the failure of civilisation derived from our failure to take seriously the Sermon on the Mount.  Ivan’s biggest problem is the familiar one.

And, indeed, people sometimes speak of man’s ‘bestial’ cruelty, but this is very unfair and insulting to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so ingeniously, so artistically cruel.  A tiger merely gnaws and tears to pieces, that’s all he knows.  It would never occur to him to nail men’s ears to a fence and leave them like that overnight, even if he were able to do it.  These Turks, incidentally, seemed to derive a voluptuous pleasure from torturing children, cutting a child out of its mother’s womb with a dagger and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on a bayonet before the eyes of their mothers.  It was doing it before the eyes of their mothers that made it so enjoyable…..I can’t help thinking that if the devil doesn’t exist, and, therefore, man has created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness….The most direct and spontaneous pastime we have is the infliction of pain by beating.

Well, that attitude is not completely dead in Russia.  Ivan is objecting to the unfairness, and the random nature, of cruelty, and he comes up with a phrase that so moved Manning Clark.

Surely the reason for my suffering was not that I as well as my evil deeds and sufferings may serve as manure for some future harmony for someone else.  I want to see with my own eyes the lion lay down with the lamb and the murdered man rise up and embrace his murderer.  I want to be there when everyone suddenly finds out what it has all been for.  All religions on earth are based on this desire, and I am a believer…..Listen, if all have to suffer so as to buy eternal harmony by their suffering, what have children to do with it – tell me, please?….Why should they too be used as dung for someone’s future harmony?…..And what sort of harmony is it, if there is a hell?….I don’t want any more suffering.  And if the sufferings of children go to make up the sum of sufferings which is necessary for the purchase of truth, then I say beforehand that the entire truth is not worth such a price….Too high a price has been placed on harmony.  We cannot afford to pay so much for admission.  And therefore I hasten to return my ticket….It’s not God that I do not accept, Alyosha.  I merely most respectfully return him the ticket.

That is very strong stuff.  There may be answers, but Alyosha doesn’t have them.

‘This is rebellion,’ Alyosha said softly, dropping his eyes.

‘Rebellion?  I’m sorry to hear you say that, said Ivan with feeling.  One cannot live by rebellion, and I want to live.  Tell me straight out, I call on you –imagine me: imagine that you yourself are building the edifice of human destiny with the object of making people happy in the finale, of giving them peace and rest at last, but for that you must inevitably and unavoidably torture just one tiny creature, that same child who was beating her chest with her little fist, and raise your edifice on the foundation of her unrequited tears – would you agree to be the architect on such conditions?  Tell me the truth.’

‘No I wouldn’t said Alyosha softly.

Nor would any other sane person.  So much for rebellion – now for the Grand Inquisitor.  Ivan said he wrote a long poem about this functionary.  He had set it in Spain during the Inquisition.

The Cardinal is very old, but in fine fettle.  He has just supervised the public execution by fire of nearly one hundred heretics.  But his peace is disturbed by the arrival of a holy man.  ‘In his infinite mercy he once more walked among men in the semblance of man as he had walked among men for thirty-three years fifteen centuries ago.’  The crowd loves him.  A mourning mother says ‘If it is you, raise my child from the dead.’  The only words he utters are in Aramaic, ‘Talitha cumi’ – ‘and the damsel arose’.  And she does, and looks round with ‘her smiling wide-open eyes.’  The crowd looks on in wonder, but the eyes of the Cardinal ‘flash with ominous fire.’

He knits his grey, beetling brows….and stretches forth his finger and commands the guards to seize HIM.  And so great is his power and so accustomed are the people to obey him, so humble and submissive are they to his will, that the crowd immediately makes way for the guards, and amid the death-like hush that descends upon the square, they lay hands upon HIM, and lead him away.

That sounds like the Saint Matthew Passion – doubtless, deliberately so.  The Cardinal visits the prisoner in the cells.  ‘It’s you, isn’t it?’

Do not answer, be silent.  And, indeed, what can you say?  I know too well what you would say.  Besides, you have no right to add anything to what you have already said in the days of old.  Why then did you come to meddle with us?  For you have come to meddle with us and you know it……Tomorrow, I shall condemn you and burn you at the stake as the vilest of heretics, and the same people who today kissed your feet will at the first sign from me rush to take up the coals at your stake tomorrow.

Ivan, brought up in Orthodoxy, explains that that in his view the fundamental feature of Roman Catholicism is that ‘Everything has been handed over by you to the Pope, and therefore everything now is in the Pope’s hands, and there’s no need for you to come at all now – at any rate, do not interfere for the time being’.  Ivan thinks this is the Jesuit view.  Ivan says the Cardinal went on.

It is only now – during the Inquisition – that it has become possible for the first time to think of the happiness of men.  Man is born a rebel, and can rebels be happy?  You were warned.  There has been no lack of warnings, but you did not heed them.  You rejected the only way by which men might be made happy, but fortunately in departing, you handed on the work to us.

Then comes a crunch.

You want to go into the world and you are going empty-handed, with some promise of freedom, which men in their simplicity and innate lawlessness cannot even comprehend – for nothing has ever been more unendurable to man and to human society than freedom!….Man, so long as he remains free has no more constant and agonising anxiety than to find as quickly as possible someone to worship.  But man seeks to worship only what is incontestable, so incontestable indeed, that all men at once agree to worship it all together….It is this need for universal worship that is the chief torment of every man individually and of mankind as a whole from the beginning of time…

Ivan comes again to the problem of freedom which is discussed in conjunction with the three temptations of Christ.  It’s as if the Church has succumbed to the third temptation and assumed all power over the world.

There is nothing more alluring to man than this freedom of conscience, but there is nothing more tormenting either.  And instead of firm foundations for appeasing man’s conscience once and for all, you chose everything that was exceptional, enigmatic, and vague, you chose everything that was beyond the strength of men, acting consequently, as though you did not love them at all…You wanted man’s free love so that he would follow you freely, fascinated and captivated by you…..But did it never occur to you that he would at last reject and call in question even your image and your truth, if he were weighed down by so fearful a burden as freedom of choice?….You did not know that as soon as man rejected miracles, he would at once reject God as well, for what man seeks is not so much God as miracles.  And since man is unable to carry on without a miracle, he will create new miracles for himself, miracles of his own, and will worship the miracle of the witch-doctor and the sorcery of the wise woman, rebel, heretic, and infidel though he is a hundred times over…

How will it end?

But the flock will be gathered together again and will submit once more, and this time it will be for good.  Then we shall give them quiet humble happiness, the happiness of weak creatures, such as they were created.  We shall at last persuade them not to be proud….We shall prove to them that they are weak, that they are mere pitiable children, but that the happiness of a child is the sweetest of all ….The most tormenting secrets of their conscience – everything, everything they shall bring to us, and we shall give them our decision, because it will relieve them of their great anxiety and of their present terrible torments of coming to a free decision themselves.  And they will all be happy, all the millions of creatures, except the hundred thousand who rule over them.  For we alone, we who guard the mystery, we alone shall be unhappy.

The Grand Inquisitor does not believe in God.

A swipe at one church by an adherent of another?  A reprise of the fascism latent in Plato’s Republic?  A bitter denunciation of the Russian hunger for dominance by a strong man like Putin?  A frightful preview of 1984?  It could be some of all of those things, but it is writing of shocking power that gives slashing insights into the human condition.  It is for just that reason that we go to the great writers.  They may not have the answer, but they ask the big questions.

Passing Bull 135 – Greed, madness, and fraud

 

In The Age on Saturday, it was alleged that the ‘prominent real estate figure’ John Mc Grath owes $16.2 million in gambling debts to the betting company William Hill Australia.  Mr Mc Grath has since denied that allegation, but according to The Age, he did not bother to respond to their written questions on the subject.  The paper said that the British parent is trying to sell William Hill.  That company is run by Tom Waterhouse, a figure of some colour and controversy in his own right.  Not surprisingly, some prospective purchasers have some questions about such a large debt.  Equally unsurprisingly, some of the shareholders of McGrath Real Estate Ltd have some questions about the impact of such a debt on the capacity of Mr McGrath to run a company that has attracted its own colour and controversy – all of the worst kind.

When asked about the debt of Mr McGrath, Mr Waterhouse said:

I am not aware of any individual client in terms of betting or whether they are a client, or not a client, whether it is Joe Bloggs or John whatever.

When it was put to him that the identity of such a gambler would be of critical interest to the betting company, Mr Waterhouse said that he would not say who the gambler was – if the company did in fact have a debt of that amount.  The identity of their clients is confidential.

He might be right on the last point, but the rest is pure bullshit.  It may remind us of the advice given to politicians – never tell a barefaced lie if you can bullshit your way through.  It’s just another indication of how the very idea of truth is sinking in the Trump sunset.

Should Mr McGrath have disclosed his gambling position to the publicly listed company, and should that company have disclosed it to the Stock Exchange?  Let me say two things.  If I was a shareholder – and I thank heaven I am not – I would like to have been told that the moving force of the company had what that distinguished football commentator Crackers Keenan called ‘attitudinal issues.’  Then, about twenty-five years ago, I was acting for a very large gaming entity that was subject to very close scrutiny from gaming and corporate regulators.  One regulator said that the company should disclose big losses to professional gamblers.  Had it done that, it may have had to disclose that disclosure to the other regulator.  This could have led to an infinite regress.  So, we issued serial greetings from Her Majesty to clear the air.

It is rare in the Inquirer in The Saturday Australian to find an assertion of verifiable fact.  It’s all just boxes, labels, and tribal grouping. On Saturday, Mr Paul Kelly was ruminating on the kind of things that that stable chews on.

The left continues to win the battle on defining issues.  With Shorten having embraced the integrity commission concept this week, it will be near impossible for the government to resist this initiative.  It is popular, populist, sanctified by retired judges, beloved by the progressive media and justified by a grand and fraudulent argument that it will restore trust to politics, a result not evident in any jurisdiction in this country where such commissions have long operated.

So, we get the same old tribal labels – left, populist, and progressive media – and no evidence.  Since I hardly know what left means, I cannot see why an integrity commission should be a left initiative.  Since I hardly know what populist means, I cannot see how it is different to popular.  But if the proposal for an integrity commission is as popular as Mr Kelly suggests, to the point where resistance is ‘near impossible’, why should the government resist it?  Isn’t it the function of democracy that government reflects the mood and purpose of the majority of the people?  Some states have introduced such bodies and their working has shown why they were needed.  No sane party in those states would propose getting rid of them.  Are federal government people somehow different or cleaner?

People who use labels like left, progressive and populist do not often say what labels they would accept – right, regressive, elite or doctrinaire puritan? – and it remains a mystery to me why the people who were so dogmatic about climate change are now equally dogmatic about integrity commissions.  They are like cattle lowing in a herd.  They are almost indecently out of touch, but does that make them conservative – whatever that means?

But the reason I cited that passage can be found in one word – fraudulent.  That’s an allegation of dishonesty.  The only identified targets are retired judges and progressive media.  (You will have seen the graffiti smear of sanctified.) Well, I couldn’t give a bugger if the target was the queen or the pope, or Donald Trump.  I don’t know whether the allegation derives from malice or laziness, but it was grossly unprofessional, and it would not be allowed by a decent newspaper.  It is another symptom of the decline in standards that must accompany any partisan divide.  And that paper is almost as loaded with fire and fury as Fox News.

Ah, well, on the facing page, Mr Kenny has found the answer for the Liberal Party – ‘their most bankable political asset, still, is that they are not Labor.’

Quod erat demonstrandum.  And may God give the rest of us strength.

Passing Bull 133 – The agony of CNN

 

The President of the United States might allow us to add the concept of ‘worst man’ to that of best man.  It’s hard – very hard – to think of anyone less suited to his office.  (Steve Bannon or Stephen Miller?  How could an Almighty be so peevish as to put three such unlovely people in the one room at the same time?)  This gives journalists a problem.  How do we maintain a balance in reporting on a man who seems bent on outstripping himself in nastiness every time he opens his mouth?

CNN is up there with The New York Times as a bête noire of this president.  Given his historically great unpopularity, this would suggest that these two arms of the media are just doing their job.  (It does make you wonder how a politician elected on what is said to be a ‘populist’ ticket can get to be so unpopular.)  But, each of these reporting bodies is respectable, and each therefore may feel acutely the problem of balance.

CNN has in my view come up with the worst possible solution in segments broadcast from Los Angeles anchored by two very sensible and professional journalists, Isha Sesay and John Vause (one of whom is a graduate from Trinity College, Cambridge).  In a nation overloaded with qualified neutral commentators, such as the splendid professor from Loyola Law School who appears on this segment, CNN has inflicted on these two journalists the job of trying to extract sense from sundry partisan spin doctors – one giving Republican spin and the other giving Democrat spin.  Some at least have the grace to blush occasionally, but you will see immediately one problem – in the events that have happened, what, if anything, do Republicans believe in?

The more significant problem is that what drives most people mad is the polarised spruiking and preaching of soi disant politicians and members of the press.  It’s called tribalism.  The ultimate bogey man is Fox News.  (The Murdoch outfit down here, Sky News, is not as bad, but they are working on their game and they may catch up with the U S model.)  The worst of the lot are what are called spin doctors.

But they are precisely what CNN is inflicting on these two fine journalists – and me.  It’s an insult to them, and it’s an insult to me.  If you wanted an analysis of a contest between the Green Bay Packers and the New England Patriots, you wouldn’t set up a panel consisting of one-eyed desperadoes from the cheer squads of each side.  That would really get up our noses.  What light could be shed by those galahs?

But that is what we get here – cheer squads.  And to show their credentials as spin doctors, we are greeted by men with drop-down smiles like those of Barack Obama, or those that were painted on to the faces of what used to be called air hostesses.  One is so inane that he has no recourse but to giggle at himself – nervously and guiltily.  And there is much reason for both the nerves and the guilt.  The poor man sounds demented at times, as when he raves on about Hillary and Nazis.

It is deeply troubling to watch people grin about something like Charlottesville, Roy Moore, or shitholes.  But that’s what we get – until we turn it off in disgust.  If the object has been to show that the Republicans stand for nothing, or that the average American voter is easily duped, the segment has prospects.  Otherwise it is even worse than morning television.  In an effort to convey an impression of balance, CNN has brought itself into disrepute.

Whether or not this kind of thing finds favour in America, it is doubly offensive down here.  If we want partisan humbug, we can turn on Fox News.  But to get access to either CNN or Fox News, we have to pay a hefty monthly premium to a Murdoch entity that has the rights here.  So, in return for paying Murdoch a fee to enable us to avoid polarised claptrap, CNN is inflicting just that on us poor but suspecting Australians.

The issue came to a head the other night – our time – when Isha Sesay was getting the usual brush-off from a sour-pussed Republican about African shitholes.  Ms Sesay was moved to announce that she is African and that words matter.  That led to another zany pre-recorded political speech.  We pay our premium to get accurate news and fair comment.  This process serves to annihilate both.

This may just be Rupert’s ultimate revenge, but it is so sad that a respectable broadcaster is his accomplice.  It is silly to pile inanity on inanity.

 

Here and there – The tiresome irrelevance of our national day

 

On 5 November, 1963, President Kennedy sought to unite the rival claims to Thanksgiving Day of Virginia and Massachusetts, and of the harvest and God.  There had long been secular thanksgivings in Europe; then the new Americans gave thanks to their God.  They started in 1619.

On 4 July 1776, the American colonies declared their independence from Britain.  Their Declaration of Independence said that all men were equal.

On 26 January 1788, the English claimed to own what is now called Australia.  White officers hoisted an English flag and drank porter to toast the Crown.  They had come to open a jail.  A few days later, the women came ashore; the sailors hit the rum; and their pandemonium was an orgy.

On 14 July 1789 the Paris mob stormed the Bastille, the symbol of the ancien régime and feudal Europe.  Then they promulgated their Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The Americans and the French celebrate these days.  Why wouldn’t Americans celebrate the cream of the old world making a brave new world under God?  Why wouldn’t the French celebrate the birth of their freedom and a proclamation that stands with the Declaration of Independence?  These are days of national identity.  But why would Australians want to celebrate the English dumping their scum on this God-forsaken land?

True, these latter-day patriots are like one-eyed Collingwood supporters.  The Puritans were a minority in England, but in America they had the numbers, and the intolerant will to use them.  They gave us Salem and a gritty determination not to pity those who had failed.  The Declaration’s reference to ‘equality’ was a bare-faced lie.  The Founding Fathers were patrician slave-owners.  They disdained commoners and they loathed democracy.  Their war of separation saw terrorism and atrocities.  The atonement for slavery only began with the next Civil War.  It goes on still.

Terrorism was inherent in the French Revolution from day one.  The mob wanted to burn to death a woman believed to be the daughter of the Bastille’s governor before his eyes.  Instead they paraded their victims’ severed heads.  France would know a ghoulish Daesh style depravity.  Napoleon brought order – and the Empire and aristocracy – and more than five million dead in his endless wars.  It took France a century to get over it all.  Their anthem still celebrates ‘Aux armes!’

Both America and France, then, paid a fearful price in blood for their ennobling Declarations.

But we can understand the American and French national days.  The West sees the triumph of the Enlightenment in each revolution.  In Washington on the ‘fourth’ and in Paris on Bastille Day, you might even sense something sacred in the buzz.  But who gets a charge out of opening a slammer?

That’s why some down here can’t get excited about Australia Day.  If anything, its ineptitude seems to be sadly Australian.  But there is more to our queasiness.

First, we can’t have our Independence Day because we are not independent.  We need Britain for our head of state.  We started out under the English Crown and we are still under it.  Should we still celebrate our self-imposed immaturity?  Should we thank God that after 200 years, we still can’t stand on our own two feet?  Or should we not feel humiliated?  And are not those who are loudest in proclaiming the glory of Australia Day on 26 January also the loudest in saying that we should retain our dependence on Britain?

Next, and relatedly, these same people are our own eternal no sayers.  They don’t want change.  I do.  I’m desperate to see us grow up.  But our patriots for 26 January are often against equality, at least in marriage, and against sense, at least on climate, energy and the environment.

Finally, boat people had arrived here before the First Fleet, but how ironic is it that the people determined to celebrate these English boat people are also the most determined to shut out the refugees we demonise as boat people?  Human history has a mean streak that we saw after both the American and French revolutions.  Those who make it into the club want to slam the door hard in the face of those left outside.  It’s dreadful to see migrant nations doing that to refugees.

This conflict between the older, meaner, and more fearful, and the younger, warmer, and more hopeful reminds us of the sad schism of Brexit.  And here, perhaps, is the foundation-stone of our mediocrity and of our fear of the new.

That’s why some Australians can’t take seriously Australia Day on 26 January.  And that’s without one word about the blackfellas.  Or the Honours List.  Or that glorious day at Cambridge University when a lecturer of colour referred to our first white boat people as ‘water-borne parasites.’

Passing Bull 132 – The remarkable Mr Chris Kenny – Part II

 

We were looking at remarks of Mr Kenny in The Weekend Australian of 13-14 January 2018.  I need not set out those remarks again as this post will end with former posts that contain quotes from Mr Kenny over the years to the same effect.

When Mr Kenny refers to the ‘love media’, what label does he have in mind for his side, or tribe?  All of us are worried about energy prices, but has anyone bettered Mr Kenny’s identification of the real problem when he refers to people who are ‘phlegmatic about alarmist claims on climate’?  When he says ‘even business leaders fuel the left side’, does he accept that that entails two propositions (each of which I would regard as at best odd): that we can give some useful meaning to the word ‘left’ in this context; and that in that meaning, it would surprise us if business leaders supported opinions grouped under that label?  When Mr Kenny refers to ‘the political/media class’ with such disfavour, what definition can he give of that body that does not show him up as its leading exemplar?  For that matter, what ‘elite’ would not have Mr Kenny?  And does he really believe that Trump and Farage were ‘mainstream’ candidates?  Finally, given that a substantial part of the business model of this newspaper is to report on conflicts fuelled by opinion polls, has Mr Kenny not broken all records for hypocrisy with the sentence: ‘It demands leadership, not opinion poll watching.’

In fairness to the newspaper, I might say that the same edition carried a piece by Caroline Overington about a suicide that followed cyber-bullying that I thought was first class in every way.  Now, Ms Overington does appear from time to time with the Anti-Christ, the ABC.  Mr Kenny might inquire of Ms Overington how often she gets ‘howled down’ as a ‘heretic’.

Before going to Mr Kenny’s priors, I may report on one of his colleagues in labelling, Jennifer Oriel.  Ms Oriel is a cheerleader in the partisan scolding of those awful people called ‘progressives.’ But Ms Oriel has now made confession – of the sin of apostasy.  She has outed herself as a former Labor supporter.

And old friend asked why, after years of voting Labor, I left the Left.  I considered justifying myself again with the chronology of exodus.  But the truth is plain and blunt.  Why did I leave the Left?  Because two plus two equals four.

Well, there you have it.  Mr Kenny explains everything in politics by reference to the facts (which I assume means evidence).  Ms Oriel does it with arithmetic.  The reference is of course to 1984, but the notion certainty in politics being arrived at mathematically is unsettling.  But, then, how many contented and equable lapsed Laborites do you know?

Here, then, are two previous posts that show that Mr Kenny is nothing if not consistent.  You will see that we begin with a disclaimer by Mr Kenny of ‘partisan or personal cheerleading.’  It fairly takes your breath away.

Passing Bull 18 – The Dean’s Wake Syndrome (19 October 2015)

....unlike progressives, conservative commentators tend to stand on principle rather than indulge in partisan or personal cheerleading….

Chris Kenny, The Saturday Australian, 17-18 October, 2015.

On any given Saturday you can get about five whoppers like this from that newspaper as the ‘conservatives’ make faces at the ‘progressives’, like little girls to little boys behind the shelter-shed.  What was the context?

Rowan Dean, the editor of the Oz Spectator, and the leader of the unattractive pack described in Passing Bull 15, threw a wake for the former PM.  We are told that Dean was smarting if not seething.  The usual idolaters were there – Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine and Paul Murray (who has been inconsolable on Sky ever since, routinely throwing objects as well as tantrums, and imploring the new PM to be tough on Muslims).

Mr Kenny, another idolater in his time, says he knows how these people feel.  He does so in terms that contradict point blank the silly boast set out above, and which show why Australians are revolted by the cabal of politicians and journalists that have dragged us down to our present level, on both sides of politics, and where all except the addicts, or those who profit from or traffic in the addiction, are praying for relief, if not enlightenment from a mix of the Wars of the Roses and a New Dark Age.

After years of sneering at the poll-driven, media-grovelling superficiality of the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd Labor years, the Liberals have descended into the same sand-pit.

And with the ABC, Fairfax Media Newspapers, Canberra press gallery, academe and sundry other elements of the love media and political/media class railing against their version of the anti-Christ – a socially conservative prime minister – a great opportunity to prove them all wrong has been frittered away.

Most of us with a view to the structural ebbs and flows of politics could see that despite the antipathy directed at Abbott, some obvious failings and poor poll ratings, the Coalition was most likely to be re-elected next year.

This would have confounded the love media and twittersphere, and confirmed the good sense of mainstream voters.

In Abbott’s favour were strong policy settings (border protection, climate change, and attempted budget repair), the escalating issue of union power and corruption being teased out in the royal commission he established, and how all this had rendered Bill Shorten nigh-on unelectable.

When an impatient Turnbull launched his challenge the week before the Canning by-election he not only robbed Abbott of a chance for recovery but denied many true believers the pleasure of this social-political experiment – this vindication.

It passes belief.  If you did not know that you were the victim of an experiment, at least you know it is not one that will be repeated.  Here is why politics presently revolt Australians.  There is hardly any reference to principle, but just a focus on partisan political cheerleading.  And do you know why?  The people and their representatives do not know as much as Messrs Kenny or Bolt.  They cannot be trusted.

As usual, the crucial partyroom votes were exercised by inexperienced, impressionable and self-interested MPs, many of whom would not have entered parliament if not for Abbott’s campaigning skills and who might have been less than helpful in briefing journalists and voicing disharmony as they fretted over the polls.

In the next post, I will try to spell out this disease of the mind, but Mr Kenny does offer one frightening thought:

I sense the republican cause may be at the heart of much conservative antipathy.

These embittered relics of Plato’s Republic and the Split are not just harmless Looney Tunes.  They are intent on not allowing us to break with the Mother Country and become self-governing without support from the Anglican Crown.  Bring back 1788 – and the lash.  They are Monarchists envenomed.  Don’t they know about 1789?

Passing Bull 44 – Outstanding hypocrisy in the Press  (26 May 2016)

Politics and politicians are on the nose all around the world.  There is a savage reaction in the West against political parties and political elites.  Since the system as we know it has been worked by political parties run by elites, the results may be disastrous, if not terminal.  Corbyn was bad enough, but Trump is a genuine nightmare.

In Australia there is a very unhappy union between politicians and journalists.  There is much to be said for the view that our press is in large part responsible for the awfulness of our politicians.  They are far too cliquey and close to their subjects; the worst kinds of would-be journalists are tribal, and feed themselves on hits from other followers of the cult on the Internet.  The real disasters are former political staffers who then want to pose as journalists.  Instead, they become boring and loaded cheerleaders.

Two of the worst examples are Chris Kenny and Niki Savva.  They could not hope to pose as being objective, but they sadly think that that they are intelligent.  They live in confined echo chambers quite cut off from the world, just like the politicians in Canberra.  They are part of a useless but self-appointed elite that is quite out of touch with what they call the mainstream.

It was therefore quite a surprise to read the following from Chris Kenny in The Australian last Saturday:

There is a great and pernicious divide in Australia.  It is not between the eastern seaboard and the western plains, or between the rich and poor, city and country, black and white, or even between established citizens and refugees.  The divide is between the political/media class and the mainstream.

There is a gulf between those who consider themselves superior to the masses and want to use the nation’s status to parade their post-material concerns, and those who do the work and raise the families that make the nation what it is.

That is a reasonable statement of the problem, even if it comes from one of the worst examples of those who give rise to the problem.  And what on earth is a former Liberal staffer – attached to Lord Downer; no wonder his syntax is shot – and employed by The Australian and Sky doing referring to ‘the masses’.  Has Mr Kenny ever met one of them?  But then it all becomes clear when we get this:

In this election we are seeing the chasm open up, like a parting of the seas, as the media elites and their preferred left-of-centre politicians seek to determine what issues should be decisive.  They lecture and hector the mainstream.  Worse, they try to dictate what facts can even be discussed.  They seek to silence dissent.  They have compiled an informal list of unmentionables, facts that should not be outed: the truths whose name we dare not speak.

And then Mr Kenny goes on to ‘lecture and hector’ those poor souls who share his echo chamber, the true believers who know that Satan masquerades as the ABC and the Fairfax press.

This is all as boring and predictable as anything said by Mr Kenny in The Australian or one of those ghastly Sky chat shows that demonstrate that the chattering classes, the former chardonnay socialists, have long ago swapped sides graphically and terminally.  We reached a new all-time low recently when Peta Credlin joined Andrew Bolt for a nocturnal tryst on Sky that will be sure to upset at least three dinners a night.  It might all be boring, but the hypocrisy of Mr Kenny takes your breath away…..

…..Does any decent Australian give a bugger about the alleged Left/Right divide or any other of those profoundly stupid chat shows called ‘culture wars’?  Have they not yet seen that everyone else rejects all this bullshit and all those who want to wallow in it?  Does the press just not get that they are an essential part of the package that people are rejecting all around the world?

Passing Bull 131 – The remarkable Mr Chris Kenny

 

On Sydney radio 2GB this week, host Mark Levy was commenting on the hype about Oprah Winfrey running for president.  ‘Despite all the doom and gloom around the Trump presidency, what’s he done wrong so far?’ asked Levy.  It was an unremarkable reflection that generated no contention and was not intended to do so.  For that audience it was a statement of the obvious.

Yet could you imagine such an observation being made on the ABC?  Not only is it inconceivable that any ABC host would make such a call, we know that any guest arguing the same would be treated as a heretic.  The proposition would be howled down as controversial, partisan and absurd.  Despite its charter obligations to objectivity and plurality, the ABC could not entertain such a reasonable point of view…..

Callers [to a 2GB show hosted by the author] are concerned about immigration and poor integration, sceptical about government interventions, worried about energy prices and phlegmatic about alarmist claims on the climate…..But few, if any, of their views are the sort you could ever expect to hear on ABC, SBS or other ‘love media’ staples…..

It is not hard to see which view is right   [Someone reported in the Fairfax press had argued that ‘volunteering was counterproductive, undercut paid work and relieved governments of their responsibilities.’]  And it is not a matter of opinion.  The facts support the case for volunteers.….

The Prime Minister’s energy policy is still beholden to futile Paris targets, despite the U S withdrawing and the international community asking next to nothing of China or India.  While he backs Paris at the expense of affordable and reliable energy, he fails to give the mainstream what they really need and want – the cheapest and most reliable electricity.

Our competing narratives can broadly be described as left and right.  But we can imagine a series of Venn diagrams where the flanks of the major parties overlap to share and swap members on various issues.  Even business leaders fuel the left side of some debates because of corporate posturing, dinner-party imperatives or fear of social-media-driven reputational damage.

Turnbull and the Coalition need to have faith that the numbers are with the mainstream and common sense.  Sure the left narrative – with its academic and political/media class support – makes most of the noise and generates its own momentum.  But Brexit, Trump and even Tony Abbott circa 2013 demonstrate that voters can flock to mainstream candidates no matter the hectoring and prognostications of the so-called elites.  John Howard could never have won a single election unless this were true.

This requires strong advocacy from conviction politicians to give mainstream voters a guiding light through the deceptions of the political/media class.  It demands leadership, not opinion poll watching.

Yet this is not a matter of theories, ideology or complex plans.  Rather, it is about the facts.

In the issues mentioned earlier, the facts support the mainstream view…..If not for the publicly funded ABC, SBS, subsidised magazines, universities and bureaucratic interventions, the false narratives of the virtue-signallers would be soundly defeated in the open market-place of ideas.  Instead their nonsense dominates…..

(The Weekend Australian 13-14 January 2018.)

There is more to the same effectBefore looking at parts of the argument, may I make two general observations?

First, the author likes applying labels, or, if you prefer, he is fond of clichés.  That is, Mr Kenny likes to put things in boxes and give them a name – such as, love media, mainstream, left and right, elites, conviction politicians, political/media class, and virtue-signallers.  Mr Kenny does not say what he means by any of those terms, and I am not sure what they might entail in the context of his argument – or anywhere else.

Secondly, and relatedly, Mr Kenny sees people as acting and thinking in identifiable groups – or, if you like, he sees people acting tribally.  We can see this immediately from the reference to ‘that audience’ in the first paragraph, and ‘we know’ in the second.  In the eyes of Mr Kenny the audience of 2GB is very different to that of the ABC – or ‘other ‘love media’ staples.’  They apparently represent different tribes.  When it comes to politics, Mr Kenny is like an Arsenal or Collingwood supporter.  You are either for us or against us – and with passion – either way.  Mr Kenny’s team would seem to come from the ‘mainstream’ or ‘right’ and is apparently opposed by the ‘left’ or ‘elites’ of the ABC and the like.  What those groups might stand for is left swinging in the breeze.

Since the original labels have not been explained, there is a serious risk of confusion in putting people to whom those labels may apply into boxes.  Unless you are careful, you could wind up with the agony of Procrustes.   May I suggest that most of what I see as the faults in Mr Kenny’s argument derive from these tendencies to apply labels to conduct or opinions and to separate people into classes?

Let us then go to the ‘statement of the obvious’ – ‘to that audience’.  The statement was phrased as a question.  Mr Kenny therefore sees the question as rhetorical.  That is, he saw the 2 GB host as asserting that Mr Trump has not done anything wrong, and he, Mr Kenny, believes that the 2GB audience would regard such a statement as unremarkable, uncontentious, and a statement of the obvious.  Those propositions are large, but that is the risk you take when you proceed with this level of generalization – and at this remove from the evidence.

What wrongs might be reasonably alleged against Donald Trump?  The charge sheet, or indictment, might read as follows.  He has waged open war on two elements of the United States constitutional fabric, the judiciary and the press; he has failed to persuade another element of that fabric, the Congress, to implement key elements in his policy; he has acted against people just because they are of a different colour or race; he has sought to create conflict by making divisive statements to please what is called his ‘base’ rather than to act in the interests of the nation at large –he has acted as if to excite domestic insurrections; he has on any view shown himself to be a compulsive liar; he has consistently acted in an intemperate, illiterate and rude manner that demeans his office and the United States; he has publicly insulted the Secretary of State and Attorney-General, and he has refused to appoint people to fill vacant offices in the State Department; he has acted to alienate most of the allies of the United States and most members of the U N – and he boasts about all these things; he has not built the wall, much less get the Mexicans to pay for it; he has not repealed or replaced Obamacare; what Mr Kenny calls ‘tax reforms’ are a violation of the Republican views on the deficit, and will benefit the rich rather than the poor; he consistently acts against the advice of his ministers, some of whom know what they are doing, for fear of unsettling his ‘base’ or creating a flaw in the image with which he is so much in love – himself; and he has incurred political obligations to unattractive people that obliges him to protect and defend Nazis, and help promulgate their views.  There is more to this history of repeated injuries and usurpations.

Trump is the most unpopular president in living memory; in the opinion of those qualified to give one, he is the most unstable and stupid man ever to go to the White House; he has appeared to validate the first such proposition and to prove the second by proclaiming, over his chosen medium, that he is a ‘stable genius.’  And that’s before you recall the evasion of military service; the serial bankruptcies in his businesses, and the $25 million dollar settlement of fraud claims against him that he said he would never settle; the absurd favouring and promotion of his family and his business; his tax evasion and his refusal to show his tax returns; his pussy-grabbing and his failure to fulfil his statement that he would sue his accusers; Puerto Rico; Roy Moore; and the several matters occupying the attention of Mr Robert Mueller III.  (One of those appears to be admitted.  Of the many inconsistent reasons Trump gave for firing the head of the FBI, one was that Comey’s Russian investigation was annoying him.  To an Australian lawyer, that looks like an admission of obstructing the course of justice.)

All those allegations can be and are being made, and not just by the ‘love media’, whoever they are.  That being so, many people would regard a statement that Donald Trump has done nothing wrong as at least ‘controversial, partisan and absurd’, to adopt the wording of Mr Kenny.  When you look at the evidence – what Mr Kenny calls the ‘facts’ – it is hard to imagine any history better placed to disqualify a person from holding any form of public office, let alone that of President of the United States.

My own personal view?  No decent Australian would let that crude lout into their house.

But Mr Kenny allows himself to be boxed into the absurd by the linguistic traits I have referred to – and by his fear and loathing of the ABC.  That being so, some taxpayers might be very upset if the ABC were to promote such an odd position as that advanced by Mr Kenny.

May I say three other things on this first point?

The constant harping about the ABC by Mr Kenny and almost everyone else on his newspaper is not only predictable, boring, and unhinged, but it is unprofessional.  If you went to a doctor or lawyer and they routinely set aside time to bad mouth others of their profession, you would fire them.   Why can’t journalists at this paper conform to professional standards?

Next, one consequence of the tribalism that I referred to is that there is no balance or nuance in Mr Kenny’s presentation.  What we get is the ‘me against you’ of Arsenal v Liverpool – all out conflict.  This intolerance is blighting our public life, and this piece of Mr Kenny is a very sad example.

What do the arguments of the other side amount to?  ‘Their nonsense.’  And ‘their nonsense dominates.’  We get this sense of persecution, of victimhood, two things that this paper inveighs against.  And we get the hallmark of the Arsenal tribe – you don’t respond to the premises of the argument; you go straight for the throat of the person who has the gall to ignore plain ‘facts’ and to promote such ‘nonsense.’  It is not surprising that both parts of what Mr Kenny calls the ‘political/media class’ are in such bad odour.

Finally, what drives Mr Kenny to adopt a position on Trump that would strike many, if not most, as delusional?  I’m not sure what ‘mainstream’ entails, but no one would call Trump mainstream.  (He would be appalled at the suggestion.)  Mr Kenny does, I think – like Mr Abbott, at least until 2013 – like to see himself as a ‘conservative.’  That’s another weasel term, but again no one would call Trump conservative.  He is a radical out to blow up the Establishment.  Some say Trump is a ‘populist’.  That’s another watery, limp-wristed phrase, but no meaning of populism equates with any meaning of conservatism.

What then is driving Mr Kenny here?  Does he think that either mainstream party in Australia could enhance its chances at the ballot box by championing Donald Trump and proclaiming that he has so far done nothing wrong?  Is this the strait to which what Mr Kelly calls ‘the right’ has been reduced in Australia?

Well, that’s enough for now.  I will look at the balance of the quoted text later.

Happy new year.