The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Cecil the Lion

About four days ago, a story broke on RT, Reuters and AP about a well-loved lion having been hunted and killed. The vast majority of the world, including me, ignored it. Two days later, a dentist and bow-hunter from the US called Walter Palmer stepped forward to air his concerns that he ‘might’ have been the killer of this animal. Clearly, Dr Palmer (do you call dentists ‘Dr’? Everyone else is just calling him ‘bastard’) was not at all familiar with the internet and was therefore unaware that hunting creates a larger and more sustained reaction than child murder, one punch kills and mass shootings combined.

A great many posts wished for Palmer’s dentistry business to go bust and for Palmer himself to be immolated, driven to suicide, hunted by lions or killed by PETA activists. His clinic’s Yelp profile, FB page, address and telephone numbers, both business and personal, were released. Netizens all over the world bewailed the death of Cecil the Lion and condemned Walter Palmer for cowardice, malice and general evilness. His practice was shut down and he was inundated with angry calls and death threats. When a FB page called ‘Cecil the Lion’ put up a post asking for people to direct their outrage not at Palmer but at the law that continues to allow hunting, it drew about 667 responses, very much along the lines of these below.

“Regrets killing him,more like he is cacking himself of what will happen to him,now it’s world wide,hope someone shoots him”

Worthless piece of shit, hope you get hunted outside your practice u fucking c*nt!!!!!!!

HERE IS THE BUSINESS ADDRESS OF THIS WANKER. PLEASE REPOST AND RUIN HIS LIVELIHOOD

Which seems to be a fair summation of the world’s opinion of game hunting in general and Palmer in particular. Apart from the Zimbabwean government, of course. They seem to think big game hunting is an essential funding source for the upkeep of Hwange National Park. But there’s always a few loonies out there to ruin it for everyone.

In any case, I’m disgusted, appalled and ashamed at this disgusting episode. I’m also a bit sad about Cecil, and confused as to why killing for trophies is still done in this day and age, but mostly I’m disgusted, appalled and ashamed of the baying lynch mob that has gathered around Walter Palmer.

Firstly, I’m willing to bet that more than 99 percent of these keyboard warriors had never even heard of Cecil a week ago. I certainly hadn’t. Another thing that most of these people would never have heard of is Palmer’s 2 children. I wonder what kind of time they’re having now, and whether the netizens of the world believe that they deserve it, having committed the dread crime of being the offspring of such an egregious criminal? Some netizens have even suggested that a fit punishment would be to hunt and kill these vile offspring to show Palmer ‘how it feels’. There’s also the fact that Palmer runs a sizeable dental practice – do his partners and employees also deserve to suffer from the taint of his association? Probably, but we’ll never know because the mob decided before any of these questions could be examined.

Okay, internet – I get it. Hunting is wrong. Fine. But how on Earth did I miss the memo that said applying sanctions to a man by the means of mob rule was okay? And why are people not more outraged about other stuff? Like Dylann Roof? Or the man who was in the news yesterday for organising the commission of at least 500 sex offences against his own daughter? I suspect it’s because hunting is a ‘safe’ one. Whether you are genuinely outraged or not, if you get on television and cry about the death of a lion and rail against the cowardly practice of hunting dangerous animals at night, you will get a surge in popularity because practically everybody out there is loudly feeling the same way via Twitter. This is something we can all join in on – an outrage that doesn’t raise uncomfortable questions of race, gender or sexuality, that doesn’t seem to target any significant cultural group – it’s a good, old fashioned pecking party directed at one man. And splashing all over every innocent individual that man knows. But we wont worry about that – can’t think, pecking.

If we were really serious about stopping hunting, rather than having a hatestravaganza on someone who can’t kick back, our rage would be focussed on the people who routinely issue permits to kill big game animals for sport. We would be trying to put enough pressure on them to change their ways and find some other means of funding their wildlife reserves. But we’re not. Which means that it can’t possibly be big-game hunting that we’re actually concerned with. What we seem most concerned with, in this instance, is finding safe and popular targets for frenzied outpourings of hate. Which, if you think about it,  is a kind of hunting in itself.

Who Are the United Patriot’s Front?

Not being an avid watcher of the far right, I was blissfully unaware of their shenanigans until various organisations started advertising this weekend’s rallies in Melbourne and Sydney on my Facebook newsfeed.

I should explain that, having noticed just how tightly shut an echo chamber the internet can be, I deliberately follow several feeds and pages that are diametrically opposed to my own beliefs. This ensures that I am not just hearing my own opinions in different words, and is closer to the ideals that I think should inform our usage of the internet.

It was for this reason that I began hearing about an organisation called the United Patriot’s Front (not to be confused with the Sudanese separatist movement), a far right, ultra-nationalist, anti-Islamic group that could be described as a splinter group of Reclaim Australia, if only because their founder is a former spokesman for Reclaim and split off on the assumption that the bulk of Reclaim would follow him (they didn’t). The UPF are initially quite difficult to gather information about, largely because of the looseness of their organisation. In digital terms their existence is confined to a handful of Facebook pages, some very angry Youtube videos, and a website with the message “Please bare [sic] with us while this site is under construction”.

This means that in order to find out about who they are and what they have to say, one has to go through the rather depressing process of reading their material and watching their videos. What we first gather about these people is that they are angry. They are, in fact, very angry indeed. What they mainly seem to be angry about is the existence of Islam, having a confused idea that just because violent political ideologies in the Middle East happen to identify with Islam, that Islam must therefore be the enemy of civilisation. They also appear to be angry about female genital mutilation, cherry-picked passages of the Quran, Halal certification, the media and, weirdly, communism. The upshot of their worldview appears to be that a vague entity that they label ‘The Left’, in cahoots with the ‘Communist Media’, is conspiring to destroy the Australian way of life. So far so garden variety loony. Unusually, they are also inordinately angry at the idea of being called racist. I could just about understand this if I was able to believe it. Unfortunately, their non-racist credentials are seriously questionable. Aside from their public and close association with more or less openly racist parties and groups, there is clear evidence that a senior neo-nazi was invited to join yesterday’s bus trip from Sydney to Melbourne, and that he was prominently and loudly kicked off only after various media outlets had detected and reported his presence.

As for numbers and support, this is also a bit nebulous. Many of the ‘allied organisations’ they reference do not appear to exist and their on again off again relationship with Reclaim Australia is obviously fraught. Far less fraught is their relationship with parties like Australia First and the National Democratic Party of Australia. Their turnout at the Melbourne rally yesterday, which would ordinarily serve as a good guide, is difficult to calculate as their leadership failed to name the pre-rally point, meaning that by the time the rally had begun many of their supporters appear to have been stuck on the wrong side of the police lines set up to protect them. This is sourced from their Facebook page and would appear to be fairly indicative of their general intelligence and organisational ability.

So what are they? Farcical or dangerous? It’s extremely difficult to say. I, personally, find them deeply worrying. The brand of non-reflective, anti-intellectual ultra-nationalism that they push seems to me to have the potential for mass appeal. There is a significant portion of the Australian community who are sufficiently ill-informed to buy in to the kind of xenophobic anxiety that groups like this push. It is interesting to note that their FB page has over 8000 likes and their founder’s page over 22000. And the half-truths and fabrications that they publish are no more radical or bizarre than the comments on Islam that I hear from many ordinary Australians on an almost daily basis.

Why does a group like this even exist? Neo-nazis and fascists haven’t had this kind of a popularity wave since the ’90s, when the Howard government attempted to access deep-seated anxieties about Asian immigration in a bid to garner populist brownie points.

Wait a minute… I think I’ve got it…

Reclaim Australia – Reclaim What?

Some fat bloke has decided to address tomorrow’s Reclaim Australia rally in Mackay. This isn’t usually something any sane person would care about, but in this case, the fat bloke is an elected representative. Reactions to this decision have been, to say the least, extreme. People have condemned, lauded, vilified and eulogised the man (George Christensen). When asked to explain his decision, he replied that he had read the ‘charter’ of the group and felt that it was something that he could get behind.

So I decided to read what he’d read and try to understand what he saw as being worthy of support.

Reclaim Australia has a 24 point manifesto outlining all of the things that they wish to ‘reclaim’. Grammar and spelling don’t seem to be amongst them and are often made conspicuous by their absence. This might sound snobbish but I would suggest that any group that lacks the nous to engage someone who can actually write and spell to construct their website is probably seriously lacking in other areas as well.

The first thing that jumps out at the reader is the sheer scope of the group’s demands. They have something to say on everything from anti-discrimination law and the wearing of ADF uniforms to Australia’s membership of the UN (they’re apparently against it).

The next most noticeable aspect is the organisation’s tenuous grip on reality. For example, they seem to labour under the impression that the UN can compel Australia to write new laws, rather than the reality, which is that Australia voluntarily supports various conventions and then writes legislation to reflect this support.

And then there’s the sheer ignorance and confusion of the document when considered as a whole. In essence, it is strongly reminiscent of the ‘Occupy’ movement – a random political grab-bag of half-formed ideas and ill-digested observations. And, most significantly, they share a confused sense of being somehow victimised by the modern world. In the case of Occupy it was multi-national corporations and capitalism. For Reclaim Australia, it is globalisation and ‘political correctness’ that are somehow preventing them from attaining happiness.

Basically, it’s stupid. I’d like to rebut each of the 24 points, but that would involve writing a lengthy volume on law, history and international relations aimed at a primary school audience, and that would be unutterably dull for all of us. Instead, I’d just like to point out a single, horrifying truth.

An elected representative, sitting in Federal Parliament, is sufficiently stupid to read this stupid, poorly spelt, barely literate document and decide that it outlines a political philosophy worth endorsing.

For those of us who enjoy a good laugh, the manifesto can be found at the link below:

http://www.reclaim-australia.com/reclaim-what-.html

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

 

 

Speaking of Donkeys…

There is a group of people living within our society today that has been accused of many horrendous things. They are accused of treating their women and children so badly that their actions are tantamount to murder. They are accused of deliberate oddness of dress with a view to concealment and subterfuge. They are accused of child rape and child torture. Of persistently committing murder in the name of their religion. People mutter at the presence of their temples and at the sight of them in the street with their beards and their religious costumes. Dark deeds and purposes are said to follow them from their homelands and measures have been taken in law to prevent them from ‘bringing their problems here’, as well as from displacing local culture. But, most significantly, they stand accused of upholding an ideology of destruction – a belief in the downfall of all other civilisations that will facilitate the creation of a global state that will uniformly worship and honour their one true God.

I am speaking, of course, about the Jews.

Now we all know that any such characterisation of the Jews is completely ridiculous. Sure, there are and have been extremists and nutjobs amongst them – but that’s the same for every large group. And besides, who the hell discriminates on the grounds of religion these days? Just about anyone over the age of 12 could immediately point out some serious history indicating where such idiocy can lead.

It was not, of course, always so. The views and opinions I pointed out above were not just commonplace, but mainstream, for the better part of 1500 years and across most of the world (and I mean the whole world, not just the occidental part of it). It was a known fact that Jews were members of an evil cult that was inimical to the state, and that its individual members were pernicious and harmful to the unity of any right-thinking community. Of course now we can look back on this 1500 years of history and pretend it was some kind of anomaly. We can see that these opinions consisted of blatant and wilful twisting/misquotation/misinterpretation of sacred texts and ceremonies, as well as a rooted unwillingness to understand the cultural norms of the ‘other’. We can comfort ourselves in the knowledge that this kind of blind, fearmongering stupidity could not possibly gain traction in today’s enlightened, civilised and sophisticated West.

Until we read the Daily Telegraph and the great Facebook Vox Populi talking about the creeping threat of Islamisation. Until we see parties like UKIP and Golden Dawn and the torch and pitchfork waving subhumans who vote for them. Until we listen to anything Cory Bernardi or Geert Wilders has to say and, crucially, consider how popular their views are.

On the frequent occasions in life when I would repeatedly make the same damn mistakes, my father used to tell me a story about a donkey. Basically, when a donkey walks a path and encounters an obstacle that trips it up, it will remember forever where that obstacle is, and will never again trip on it. This story would usually finish along the lines of: “So. You are not quite as clever as a donkey.”

Our Government is Less Intelligent than The Tea Party

One of the stories being splashed all over the progressive media at the moment concerns a Tea Party Congressman called Tom Emmer. Basically, Congressman Emmer went on a tour of African aid recipient countries and came back staunchly defending the benefits of providing foreign aid.

Leaving aside the fact that he had to travel thousands of miles to learn one of the most elementary principles of foreign policy, this is probably, on balance, a good thing. Traditionally, if that word can be used to describe the habits of a tiny reactionary clique in political and intellectual infancy, the Tea Party has been in favour of drastically reducing or eliminating aid to foreign countries. In Emmer’s own words:

“I have made the statement in the past that a dollar that we are spending for instance in Africa, in Kenya, is a dollar that we could probably be using at home to build a road or a bridge.” 

What Emmer realised in the course of his visits, however, was that foreign aid is advantageous primarily to the country that is giving it. Sure, there’s the benefits to poor people and all the lovey-dovey, touchy-feely stuff, but if this was all there was in it there is a fair chance that not a single country in the world would do it. Foreign aid contributes to the stability of one’s neighbours, opens doors for trade and exports into the target countries, creates an additional layer of diplomatic engagement and enhances the giver’s international reputation. There are solid strategic reasons for the dissemination of aid as well. Aid programs can help to facilitate military co-partnership, shore up alliances and guarantees and smooth the way for the maintenance and development of inter-operability, not to mention potentially enhancing the overall stability of the target nations. Or, as Emmer puts it:

“A dollar spent on [foreign aid] is a dollar that we won’t have to spend on additional bombs and bullets and God forbid boots on the ground in the future.”

In terms of Australia’s foreign aid, we generally give to countries that straddle our trade routes, or that we are hoping to export goods and plant to, exploit for resources, or any or all of the above. All of this makes solid strategic, economic and geopolitical sense and these are, possibly regrettably, the principle reasons for providing aid. It is also astonishingly cheap at less than 1.4% of the federal budget and less than 0.5% of gross national income.

Cut now to the Australian government, who have announced whopping cuts in aid to African nations (70%) and to our immediate Northern neighbours (in the region of 30%). The reasons they cite are a little bit vague and confused, but this is understandable as such a discussion requires sentences consisting of more than three words. As far as I can make out, however, once we cut away the repeated use of the words ‘defecit’ and ‘recurrent’, the current government simply cannot make out why we need to send this money over. They point out incredulously that many of the countries that receive aid also give it (and this from a party that believes in trickle down economics), ignoring the fact that some of these countries have been given aid partly on the understanding that they will distribute it through their regions.

What this seems to point to is an inability to understand either the function or benefits of foreign aid. This is disappointing, certainly, but what makes it ludicrous is the fact that our government is incapable of understanding an idea that a Tea Party Congressman has managed to wrap his head around.

How We Stopped The Boats

Remember the good old days? That long lost time when kids could be kids, the West was top dog in the Middle East and the most important thing on the agenda was a pathetically small trickle of refugee boats? Where did those days go? How did so many months pass so quickly?

It’s a different world now. The pretend crisis of the boats has given way to the pretend crisis of Islamisation and anxiety over a war that is being fought thousands of miles away over territory that wouldn’t have anything to do with us if we hadn’t helped invade it. And let’s not forget the terrifying phenomenon of a tiny number of people flying off to places we’ve never heard of to die in this war that’s got nothing to do with us. So terrifying, in fact, that it seems we had to rush through legislation to outlaw some activities that were already illegal.

But what happened to the boats? Did we stop them? And if so, how? Of course, we don’t ask the question ‘why’ because that sort of thing is for limp-wristed intellectuals who live in ivory towers.

Well, basically, we’ve stopped the boats… from being an issue. In classic parlour magician style, our fearless leaders kept the boats issue in their left hand whilst frantically waving the right at a series of imaginary problems until, basically, we forgot about the boats altogether. In some ways this is good, seeing that the whole thing was a non-issue to begin with. But the fact that our collective xenophobia and ‘not-in-my-backyard-ism’ was stoked to such a fever pitch in order to win an election has created the ironic situation where the boats have become, in fact, a serious issue. The measures that were taken by both parties in the leadup to the last election have created a situation where we, as a nation, are routinely guilty of practices that are questionably legal and unequivocally cruel.

The Manus Island ‘solution’ is a nightmare. People are living in tents, in baking heat of up to 50 degrees in the daytime, with limited access to basic sanitation. And a good proportion of these people are children. Some of whom are being sexually abused. Self harm and suicide appear to be either daily or weekly events and, most horribly of all, the internees of Manus have been assured that the means of their arrival guarantees that their processing will take longer than the 5-7 years that is already the typical waiting time. All this suffering and death because we were gullible enough to believe that a tiny trickle of desperate families represented some kind of threat to our way of life.

I began this post with the intention of being funny and ironic, but I find now that I just don’t have it in me. This situation is disgusting. We, the people, have behaved disgustingly. We ‘stopped’ the boats by voting for a policy of treating people so cruelly that they would not wish to come to us for help in their most desperate hour. And then, when it didn’t work, we allowed our elected malefactors to distract us from the fact that the upshot of these policies is a daily perpetration of what can only be described as crimes against humanity. And for once it’s not the Abbott government that’s to blame – both sides of politics were behind this horrendous situation, which means that it must represent the will of the people, which means that the fault lies squarely with us.

We cannot let this lie. Whether you feel that you’ve been tricked into endorsing the effective torture of men, women and children, or if, like me, you’ve been screaming and railing against it from the start, make your feelings known. I don’t want to sound like a ’60s throwback, but write your MP. Take the 11 or 12 seconds to sign some slacktivist’s petition. Organise a protest. Talk endlessly about it to whoever is unable to escape. Let this government know that we do not accept this shameful stain on our national honour. That we deserve to live in a country whose actions we can be proud of. Like we have for most of the last 114 years.

Whatever it is you can think of, just do it. And if I get to know about it, I’ll try to help. Not because I’m a bleeding heart liberal or a red socialist, but because I’m an Australian Citizen, with all the privileges that go with being one and, more importantly, the responsibilities too.

Reclaim Australia


Depending on who you talk to, either:

a) Some stern and reasonable patriots held 16 rallies across the country in order to make themselves heard on an important issue, or;

b) A small group of mindless troglodytes gathered together in order to shout at Moslems for no reason at all.

Now, considering that the group in question is called ‘Reclaim Australia’, combined with the fact that its guest speakers included Pauline Hanson and Danny Nalliah, option b actually looks pretty good. It looks even better when you look at what Pauline and Danny had to say, always assuming our translation from Stupid to English has been accurate.

Pauline’s barely comprehensible rant about Halal and terrorism, combined with Danny’s immediate plunge into a ‘Hitler Argument’ make it temptingly easy to look at this phenomenon, shrug, giggle, and then simply dismiss it. I like to call it ‘The Bill Shorten Approach’.

But this would be wrong.

While there is no valid set of arguments to support what Reclaim Australia laughably calls a ‘viewpoint’, the fact remains that enough people are sufficiently anxious about Islam in Australia to warrant 16 rallies round the country. The fact that none of these people appear capable of formulating coherent statements makes it more, not less important that we try to understand where this idiocy is coming from.

A good clue to the answer to this question can be found in what they are pleased to call their ‘arguments’. Leaving aside elementary mistakes in logic, which are to be expected when people talk about their feelings (I wish they’d stop, but there you have it), what we mainly have is a critical lack of understanding and knowledge of the things that they are talking about. These people don’t know a damn thing about Islam or Islamism. Or, more accurately, they each seem to know one or two things, without context or understanding, These one or two facts are then crow-barred into a confused narrative about a type of xenophobia that is as old as the nation itself.

We have to ask two fairly obvious questions:

  • Are these concerns valid?

Well, no, but what they are is very understandable. It’s very easy for us to sit smugly in our white enclaves in Sydney’s North and East and airily dismiss any such fears as groundless, but we don’t live in suburbs like Auburn or Lakemba, from any point of which golden minarets are visible. The fact of a neighbourhood filling up with mosques and halal restaurants is just that – a fact. When people become concerned about this, we can’t just pooh-pooh them for being ignorant plebs, or revile them as racists – these people are worried about their homes, their families and the futures of their children. We can’t just laugh at them or call them names – we have to listen to what they’re saying and then point them back toward reality.

It’s a process I like to call ‘Discussion’. I believe there are some precedents for its utility in past cases.

  • Why has this latched onto Moslems?

Well, we all know the answers to this one – irresponsible media and irresponsible government. Between the two, the Islamic community here and elsewhere have been laid open to vilification and scape-goating on a monstrous scale. But why does it persist? Well, I’m afraid that a large part of the blame rests with those of us who camp out on the liberal-humanist left. We see that the ideas circulated about Islam are beneath contempt, and we simply dismiss them. By doing this, however, we forget that there are human beings out there who truly believe in them, and our contempt looks remarkably like contempt for them as individuals. So, these individuals do what everyone does when they are not being listened to: they start shouting. Usually, soon after this, they start swinging.

Which leads us to an uncomfortable, but I’m afraid inevitable conclusion. The reason that groups like Reclaim Australia are stinking up our political dialogue is ignorance. But it’s not just their ignorance – it’s ours. Our deliberate refusal to hear or even consider certain opinions. Our fanatical adherence to a particular orthodoxy of tolerance. We are losing the ability to talk to each other as our politics and ideologies become ever more polarised by our mutual refusal to engage with each other’s ideas.

Reclaim Australia? Nope – nobody has taken it from us.

What needs to be reclaimed is something far more valuable – our ability to talk to each other as a nation.

 

A media release from the Australian Christian Lobby

MEDIA RELEASE
For immediate release
_____

The Australian Christian Lobby has questioned the wisdom of a campaign by some Australian corporations supporting a change to the definition of marriage.

“I just wonder if they have thought about how legislating a family structure which causes children to miss out on one of their parents is fair,” ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton said.

In order to keep his position internally consistent, Mr Shelton then also called for legislation to force married couples to have children, and to ban marriage for couples who don’t want children or who have children from previous marriages, and to ban unmarried couples from having children, and to force married couples without children to get divorced, and to ban divorce. When asked how he would both ban and require divorce, Mr Shelton shouted “OMG THAT TREE LOOKS LIKE JESUS!”, and ran from the room.

When he returned, Mr Shelton went on to say, “This debate needs to move beyond politically correct ideology to a mature and open debate. Men have pee-pees and women have hoo-has, and that’s all there is to it. Furthermore, you’re all poopy-heads, and I will now close my eyes and stick my fingers in my ears until you leave”.

Noting that the Football Federal of Australia had also backed the campaign, Mr Shelton wondered where this left the tens of thousands of Australians who play soccer but also believe a child should be raised by their mother and father. “I wonder where this leaves the tens of thousands of Australians who play soccer but also believe a child should be raised by their mother and father,” he wondered. “Mexico? Aruba? That place where all the refugees come from? Even if it leaves them exactly where they were before, playing soccer and believing a child should be raised by their mother and father, I’m pretty sure they all stand around during games thinking about children not being raised by their mothers and fathers instead of thinking about whether they’re in an off-side position, and it will make them sad to think that the governing body wants to change the definition of marriage, and much sadder than the thousands of gay, trans and intersex players who stay in the closet because they think the governing body and society in general won’t accept them. I just really feel for them.”

“The corporates involved in this latest campaign really are not showing very much tolerance to those in the community who have a different view about marriage and the rights of children,” Mr Shelton said. “Of course, if the FFA came out in support of my own personal view of marriage, that would be fine.”

When asked whether he understood the meaning of irony, and whether it was intolerant to be intolerant of intolerance, Mr Shelton yelled “POOPY-HEADS!” and ran from the room.

END OF MESSAGE

Whatever it’s about, it ain’t about the children

There are a lot of arguments floating around in the continuing marriage equality debate, but there is one argument that just… won’t… die. Which I guess makes it (a) a little bit like Jesus, and (b) a little ironic given that the vast majority of its proponents are big fans (of Jesus, I mean, not marriage equality). It’s a textbook case of post-hoc reasoning, and the religious argument you use when you don’t want to look religious. And it annoys the crap out of me.

In its simplest form, it consists of a middle-aged white man wearing a brown cardigan and corduroy pants, running around in circles screaming “WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!”. The slightly more academic version, however, goes something like this:

    Same-sex1 couples shouldn’t be allowed to marry because:

  1. Every child has a right to be raised by their mother and father; and
  2. Other things being equal, children raised by same-sex couples fare worse than the children of heterosexual parents.

Let’s have a look at these in turn.

1
This statement is obviously predicated on the assumption that the very purpose of marriage is children. And yes, traditionally almost every couple that traditionally walked down the aisle did so because traditionally that’s what you did when you traditionally wanted children. Traditionally that kind of made sense at the time, because traditionally no one really liked bastards. But tradition can take a hike, because not only are most of my good friends absolute bastards, but nowadays lots and lots and lots of couples get married with no intention of ever having children. Some couples even get married knowing that they can’t have children, even if they wanted to (say hello, Fred Nile!). Which is perfectly fine, and in some cases, probably for the best (say hello again, Fred Nile!).

The corollary to this argument is that, because marriage is all about children, any same-sex couple who is allowed to wed will make their marriage about children as well. Because that’s what marred couples do, see? That will of course involve at least three people out of biological necessity (or in the language of the bigot, “Poofs gotta get eggs from somewhere”), and there is a risk that the resultant child will never get to know the owner of the ovary (or nut) from whence they came. The consequences of allowing same-sex marriage, therefore, are very, very bad.

But let’s break that down.

There are, right now in Australia, lots of gay couples that want children. And do you know what they do? They have children. Which makes them a lot like straight couples who want children and then have children, except they can’t get married. There are also lots of gay couples who don’t want children. And do you know what they do? They don’t have children. Which makes them a lot like straight couples who don’t want children and don’t have children, except they don’t get abortions. Straight singles go out and have children, too. So do gay singles. And intersex and trans couples and singles. All of this is going on right now, with or without marriage equality. And there isn’t anything you or I or Fred Nile or the ACL or Bill Meuhlenberg can do about it.

What this argument is basically saying, then, is this: “The purpose of marriage is children, but you can have children without getting married, and you can get married if you don’t want children, and you can get married if you can’t have children, and there are thousands of gay couples out there who want children and could have children if they wanted to but aren’t having children because they can’t get married, because marriage is all about children, apart from all the married couples without children”.

Or, put another way, “I don’t like gays, and, furthermore, I don’t like gays”.

The only way this argument could possibly make sense is if people only get married to have children, and non-hetero couples aren’t having children because they can’t get married. And since neither of those things is true, the argument doesn’t make any sense whatsoever.

It makes even less sense if you follow it one step further: If you truly believe that stopping same-sex marriage will prevent non-hetero couples having children, you are essentially saying that, rather than having non-traditional parents, it is better that those children don’t exist at all. Which is odd, given that almost everyone against same-sex marriage also follows that whole “right to life” thing. Think about it.

2
The second half of the “won’t someone think of the children” argument says that the children of gay parents fare worse than the children of hetero parents.

They don’t.

That should be the end of it, of course, but for some reason same-sex marriage opponents aren’t too impressed with “science”. Unless of course it’s bogus, discredited science that supports their established prejudice.

Even if we’re being incredibly generous, and concede that non-traditional families aren’t ideal, no reasonable person should be able to argue that the outcomes of such families are catastrophic enough to warrant their complete abolition. We know this because, if the outcomes were catastrophic, marriage equality opponents would be telling us about that, instead of mindlessly appealing to a specious defense of an outdated tradition.

Besides which, as we’ve already established, the marriage equality debate isn’t about children anyway. If you want to argue against same-sex parenting, go do it someplace else.
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I mentioned at the beginning of this post that this argument is a classic case of post-hoc reasoning, and the religious argument you use when you don’t want to look religious.

There’s no denying that there is a strong correlation between religious beliefs and opposition to marriage quality. And there’s no denying that the generally accepted position of all three Abrahamic religions is that marriage should be reserved for one man and one woman. Statistically speaking, the chance that this is due to pure coincidence is infinitesimally small. That alone should be enough to convince you that any time someone says “Won’t someone think of the children”, what they are really saying is “Won’t someone think of Baby Jebus”.

If you happen to be one of those people, however, and you genuinely believe that your opposition to marriage equality isn’t religiously motivated, ask yourself this.

If we, as a society, could somehow address all your concerns, would you still oppose it?

What if we could guarantee that all children raised by same-sex couples got to know their biological parents? Or if all those useless, horrible same-sex parents undertook a year-long course on how to be as good at parenting as heterosexuals? Or, perhaps better still, all married same-sex couples were forbidden from having any children at all?

Granted, those seem a little far-fetched. What about this, then: what if a multitude of independent scientific studies were published that proved that the children of same-sex couples actually do better than their heterosexual equivalents? If it’s all about the children, surely you wouldn’t object then, would you?

Perhaps I’m being presumptuous, but… yes, yes you would.

And if that’s the case, then you should wait for your cognitive dissonance to subside a little, grab your bible, and see yourself out. Because you’re simply not qualified for meaningful debate.

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1. I use “same-sex couple” here, for the sake of brevity, to mean any non-heterosexual couple.