The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Ms Bishop Rode in a Helicopter!

Roughly eighty percent of my cumulative social media news feed is actually news. NPR, ASPI, FPI, BBC, ABC – the alphabet soup goes on and on. On top of this, I have my special interest feeds made up of forums and push sites for everything from hacking to design to international security. With all this heavy, worthy information, the tiny remnant that is cat pictures, dinner shots and someone’s wife in a bikini is something that I often fail to notice at all.

With this configuration, you’d think that I’d managed to scrub most of the stupid from my social media experience but, unfortunately, in a moment of conscience-pricked madness, I chose a handful of feeds relating to Australian politics. I know, I know – but I thought that, as I’m constantly banging on about the ‘informed electorate’ and the ‘engaged citizen’, it would be seriously hypocritical of me not to keep at least half an eye on the goings on in my own country’s corridors of power. Which is fine, but the result is that I have simply replaced all the angst I suffered from the ‘I have nothing to say and will say it without learning to spell’ crew with ‘Australian politics’. Let me explain…

In the rest of my news feed, the Greek PM appears to have partially won his game of hardball with Europe, but potentially lost it with his own country. A moment to go down in history on multiple levels has occurred – the Iran nuclear deal has gone through. A group of very smart people are explaining to me why China’s stock market value is predicated on money that doesn’t exist and why this is okay for now, but not for the future. Another group of very smart people is inundating me with impossible numbers relating to Pluto. Boffins from all over the world are analysing and predicting ripple effects from the Greek debt crisis and the Iranian nuclear deal. Other boffins are breaking these and other situations down for me into dot-point briefs and detailed reports. Somebody has taken a picture of his wife in a bikini. and a man in Florida has been arrested for repeatedly having revenge sex with an alligator. Okay – so it’s not all highbrow, but you’ve got to admit that it’s all mindbogglingly interesting, at least.

And in the ‘Australian politcs’ section? Breathless, blow by blow coverage of a five thousand dollar helicopter trip taken by Bronwyn Bishop to a golf course somewhere.

Leaving aside the fact that the fact that Bronwyn Bishop travelling anywhere in the general direction of away from me is good news, this is a little disturbing. It’s not as if nothing important or interesting is happening in the world of Australian politics. The efforts of the government to pretend that customs and immigration operations are military. Their breathtaking fiscal radicalism and the embarrassing backdowns and compromises that the public’s rejection of this has caused. The endless stream of ill-considered, ill-drafted and downright dangerous national security legislation that seem to have worrying amounts of support from both sides of the house. The admirable but worryingly rushed push for globalisation behind our participation in deals like the TPP. The list goes on.

So why, then, are we pre-occupied with trivialities like Ms Bishop’s logistical arrangements? I don’t know. On the one hand, we could blame the government itself. It’s no secret that their favourite tactic for offsetting their somewhat moribund record so far is to distract us with crises and trivialities, but there is another side to this depressing, tinfoil coin and that side is us. Why do we allow ourselves to be distracted in this way? Why oh why do we consent to the government’s framing of the political debate as a conversation about nothing? Well, it probably has to do with our need to be entertained.

There’s a show that ran for three series in the US called ‘The Newsroom’. It’s about a news team that made the revolutionary decision to structure their news broadcast on the radical proposition that the duty of news broadcasters is to educate and inform the electorate. In it, one of the characters points out that, currently, news organisations are in exactly the same business as the producers of Jersey Shore. This is sadly accurate. The line between news and entertainment has become so blurred that political coverage now has a similar intelligence quotient to celebrity coverage. The political narrative is nearly indistinguishable from the narrative of Masterchef. And the media themselves are only partially to blame because how on Earth can we blame for profit businesses for supplying a type of product that we lap up with such avidity? They can’t – not really.

Let’s get serious, people. If we want to be entertained, there is a planet-sized body of drama, comedy and reality programming out there ranging from the compelling to the asinine, all fictional, all sensational and all deeply satisfying in its own way. But when it comes to the news – when it comes to the information that we as voting citizens have a sacred duty to obtain and assimilate – let’s try, if we can, to refuse the clickbait trivia that we stumbled into demanding and send a message to the networks that we no longer consent to having important information ignored, sensationalised or trivialised. If we can do this, we can perhaps avoid ever again having to deal with the kind of government and political discourse we have today.

The link below is from ‘The Newsroom’, containing a fictional apology to the US public that should, in my view, be made to every audience of practically every Western media outlet. I am currently working on our apology to the networks for demanding trivia and then complaining when we receive it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXrOqjS9ZyA

 

 

The Arguments Against (and why they’re invalid)

This is a long and not particularly funny post. Lately, a battery of arguments (of sorts) has emerged within the narrative of the anti-equality movement. The intention here is to isolate 5 of the most prominent (meaning the 5 most frequently encountered within a single 24 hour news cycle) and subject them to forensic examination. Whether you read, skim or cherry pick, I hope to show fairly conclusively that these arguments, despite their varying degrees of speciousness, are uniformly, laughably invalid. They rest variously on faulty or bigoted reasoning, egregious ignorance or a breathtaking circularity of logic. The point being, there don’t seem to be any valid arguments against. So what does the ‘anti’ position consist of? With no logical basis, what can it possibly consist of?

In the text below you will find 5 arguments and responses. The responses are not intended to be exhaustive, but attempt to cover the main grounds for objection arising from each argument. Additions, comments, dissent or abuse are all welcomed. Cheques and money orders are preferred…


 

Argument the 1st:

Same sex marriage jeopardises the safety and normal development of children raised by same sex partners.

Response:

This is a specious argument, made initially credible by some quite nasty bigotry and some garden variety legal ignorance. Basically, the reasoning on which this claim rests relies on a belief in the abnormality of same-sex couples and accepting that homosexuals are somehow inherently more dangerous to children than heterosexuals. Both ideas are, of course, bollocks.

Furthermore, all of this is essentially irrelevant in the case of same sex marriage. The adoption of children by same sex couples is a completely separate issue and, incidentally, already legal. The idea that marriage will somehow ease or facilitate adoption is untenable. The idea that it somehow increases risks to children is simply offensive, as well as being demonstrably untrue.

But what about the children? I guess it’s still relevant in the broader context of the question as  a social issue. Is there any evidence available on the impact of same-sex parenting on children and their development? Well, sort of – it is still very early days and sufficient statistical data simply do not exist to prove anything one way or the other. Early data does, however, seem to suggest that children with 2 gay parents are materially, developmentally and emotionally better off than children with only 1 parent of any orientation.

In addition, a recent US study aimed at consolidating a large number of recently completed, smaller scale studies, was unable to determine any kind of difference or gap in the upbringing, education or mental health of children raised by same sex couples. Similar research conducted in Australia actually points to benefits (cognitive) without any serious accompanying deficits.

 

Citations below:

http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1741-3737.2009.00678.x/full

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/06/23/us-usa-gaymarriage-study-idUSKBN0P32AM20150623

https://aifs.gov.au/cfca/publications/same-sex-parented-families-australia/childrens-wellbeing-same-sex-parented-families

 

Argument the 2nd:

Our economic region being Asia, we should probably attempt to conform with the norms of Asian cultures around us.

Response:

This is ridiculous. Asian nations don’t expect us to be like them. This is largely because they don’t really care what we believe or how we choose to live. They expect us to trade, to avoid insulting or confronting them where possible, and to focus our economic, diplomatic and military efforts in the region. Beyond that, they couldn’t care less how weird we are. Indonesians, for example, already think we’re crazy. This is because of the widespread practice of celebrating dog birthdays. The legalisation of same-sex marriage would have as much impact on our neighbours as the habitual practice of inter-species marriage in rural South India has on us: none, once we’ve finished giggling. And as for Asia not redefining marriage in the last hundred years? Demonstrably untrue – every former colony of anyone has had Western matrimonial conventions thrust upon them, usually followed in quick succession by Stalinist or Maoist interpretations, both of which struggled to integrate with traditional modes and practices and all of which have had to be swept away and/or re-calibrated in the post-colonial, post cold war world.

Further to this, our spiritual, intellectual and cultural heritage is emphatically not from Asia. We are a Western nation, espousing Western values and practising Western culture. Our neighbours and trading partners are aware of this and do not expect it to change, largely because they are not quite as stupid as some members of our Upper House.

 

Argument the 3rd:

Asia will think we’re decadent.

Response:

They already do and, unsurprisingly they don’t particularly care. Our cultures agree on practically nothing. Strangely, we still seem capable of sustaining complex, multi-faceted relationships with the Asian nations around us. This is probably because international relations has more to do with geopolitics, trade, military doctrines and regional policy priorities than it does with minor points of public morality. Most Asian nations currently see the West in general as questionably sane. The feeling appears to be mutual. The impact on our regional relationships is negligible.

 

Argument the 4th:

Legalising same sex marriages will initiate an uncontrollable spiral of permissiveness that will eventually lead to people marrying animals, cows, children, trees and iPhones.

Response:

Marrying more than one spouse,  your dog or a twelve year old are all illegal in this country. I’m not sure, but I think marrying your phone is a no-no too. Changing the provisions of the marriage act is not going to effect the legality of pederasty, bestiality or polygamy in any way whatsoever. As for the ‘slippery slope’ argument, the progression presented in this argument is logically unsound. Homosexuality is not a disease, is not illegal and is not innately harmful to anybody. Homosexuality is neither subversive nor inherently lawless by nature. The idea, therefore, that granting homosexual Australians a single legal right will lead to a general unravelling of the institution of marriage is a ludicrous one. We will not suddenly decide that all kinds of deviance in marriage are acceptable just because we’ve allowed same sex marriage. This is because same sex relationships are not deviant behaviour. Approving of them cannot then lead to approving of deviant forms of behaviour. Bestiality, polygamy, child marriage – all of these have been tested by courts and custom over many years. As a result, these practices were found to be harmful and unacceptable. So much so, in fact, that their prohibition is not something that is ever seriously questioned. There is no good reason to believe that this will change.

 

 Argument the 5th:

Marriage is defined as between a man and a woman and has been for some time.

Response:

Marriage in this country is defined by an act of parliament. It is worth noting that this definition, often quoted as if it were an ancient dictum written deep in the bedrock of our society, was actually introduced in 2004 by no less a personage than Mr Philip Ruddock. This was in response to events in England, where ambiguities in their equivalent statute had allowed same sex marriage to be legitimised in a manner that circumvented proper or due process. The definition amendment was proposed in order to prevent the same sort of ‘loophole’ situation arising here, and seems to have received significant support from both sides of the house. The definition is therefore suspect in the context of this issue – it was made, in part, with the deliberate intent to invalidate same sex marriage. It lacks independence and authority as evidence for the ‘no’ case, being little more than a repetition of it that happens to have found its way into a law. It would be like interpolating a verse into the bible requiring horses to wear beanies and then quoting that bible passage as proof that beanies are essential equine apparel. Why is it proof? It’s in the bible. Why is marriage between a man and a woman? Because it’s defined as such in the Marriage Act (1961). Bollocks. It was changed to ‘man and a woman’, so it can just as easily be changed back.

Prior to 2004, as far as the law was concerned, marriage was a process involving property, tax and shared responsibility, among other things, which was made actual by the involvement of two competent adults, a license and a contract. The idea that the two adults should be differently gendered has its basis not in law, but in religion and, by extension, convention. It is a part of marriage as a sacrament of the church, which is something totally distinct from marriage as a process of law. The law quite rightly lacked the ‘man and woman’ requirement prior to 2004 because the law has no business regulating for the whims and preferences of gods. The fact that one of these preferences has been crow-barred into law by religious conservatives on the pretext of ‘procedural robustness’, does not make this faith-based definition any more or less valid, or even relevant. Liberal politicians, including the PM, are citing the definition of marriage as if it possessed some kind of definitive authority. It has nothing of the sort. The law lacked a definition of marriage because there was no functional need for one. The only purpose it serves now is to exclude same-sex marriage from the definition of marriage, a view that is at odds with the majority of Australians. The exclusion of same-sex marriage is based on the beliefs, religious and otherwise, held by senior members of the LNP, reflected in their frankly loopy Christian Right support base and, most importantly, entirely unrepresentative of and irrelevant to the beliefs of a clear majority of the Australian population. What Mr Abbott is actually saying when he quotes the definition is:

“Marriage was defined by the Conservative religious right, otherwise known as me and my colleagues. Marriage is between a man and a woman because we say so and God agrees.”