The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

Religious Freedom – Scomo’s Biggest Meta-Achievement

scott-morrison

Scott Morrison can always be relied upon to fearlessly create change by legislating things which already exist. Take the food adulteration laws he so bravely championed, whereby he created a separate offence for something which already existed as an offence in the criminal code, and then whacked a sentence on it which nobody in their right minds would ever apply. Sure, it’s a double up on an extant law, and sure, its value is purely symbolic, but that’s the beauty of Scomo. He can create reform without the messiness arising from actual change. Scomo is the master of what I like to call meta-achievement. Or to put it in the words of one of my favourite poems/satirical political programs:

Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.

The Hollow Men, T S Eliot

It probably makes more sense if we remember that our fearless PM’s core discipline is marketing. For Scott Morrison, appearance is reality. Gesture is motion, and shape is the same as form. Or, to put that on a level more commensurate with his actual world view, looking like you’re doing stuff is, like, the same as doing stuff.

And this is why I’m pretty relaxed about Scomo’s push to introduce religious freedom legislation. By all accounts (by which I mean his), this legislation will mirror existing anti-discrimination legislation. The same legislation which, when combined with the constitution, actually provides comprehensive protections for religious freedom. Which is the exact thing he’s so keen to appear to achieve. Because in the universe particular to Scomo and the weirdly angry culture warriors who sing his praises, appearing to achieve something is the same as actually achieving something. You can tell this belief is sincere by the way he says publicly, and without irony, that he intends to introduce an anti-discrimination law which mirrors current anti-discrimination laws. He’s not even lying to us – he’s just incapable of living in a world where symbols aren’t the things in themselves. Because, and I emphasise this point in case I’ve been too subtle about it, he is essentially a hollow man.

Of course, there are functional aspects to this action. Scomo is famously and unashamedly a Pentecostal Christian, a faith position which I and every other sane observer feels to be weirdly at odds with having a Bachelor of Science. But then, B Sci grads I’ve spoken too are unanimous in their opinion that that particular undergraduate degree has about as much substance as a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology, which is basically best when it’s three ply, soft and absorbent.

You see, Scomo has a rank and file of Christian soldiers in his cabinet and his backrooms, and more importantly, in his support base. He needs must create a symbol of intention in order to ensure that he’s not knifed like the bloke that he himself knifed. And seeing that they’re all happy clappy Christian types, he knows that they’ll be happy with a symbolic gesture which may or may not have actually happened. Given that this is really the stock in trade of the fundamentalist loony… sorry – I mean sincere and dedicated Pentecostal.

So perhaps we should just sit back and enjoy the light show. I mean, it’s not as if anything is actually being achieved – it’s just meta-achievement in the classic Scomo vein.

“Or perhaps we should get on the same page as Scomo on symbols. Because on a level which has nothing to do with his elaborate simulations of leadership, symbolic actions do change reality.”

Or perhaps we should get on the same page as Scomo on symbols. Because on a level which has nothing to do with his elaborate simulations of leadership, symbolic actions do change reality. This one, for example, has the power to change us from a secular and sane country into a cut-down version of evangelical America. From a certain point of view, it might be considered our duty as non-crazy, non-fundamentalist citizens to make it very clear to our symbolically sensitive meta-leader that this particular meta-achievement is offensive to our existing liberties and to the idea of effective and meaningful government.

At the risk of sounding American, we should tell our MPs what we think of this. No, really. Sure, they’ll ignore one or a dozen of us, but they can’t ignore all of us. Or, if a more direct approach appeals, there’s always the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet’s contact form here: https://www.pmc.gov.au/contact-us

Because as Scomo himself says, he’s listening, and hearing, and if he’s listening, he’s doing.

MAFS, parasailing, and a single baked bean served in a used pair of undies

OK, I’ll admit it. As embarrassing as it is, I am a huge fan of Married at First Sight. Yes, yes, I know. It’s so low-brow it’s basically a moustache, and it’s probably making us all dumberer, and it’s about as genuine as a Praba handbag. But that, my friends, is exactly what makes it so damn good. For as much as we normal people are prone to doubting our own intelligence, both general and emotional, watching shows like MAFS is a glorious adventure in self-affirmation. That is to say, whatever we may be, we can at least find comfort in not being a fame hungry, emotionally unstable, botox obsessed, entitled sack of narcissistic underachievement. And that’s just the men.

But as much as the show makes me feel good about myself, this most recent season was a little different. Because in amongst all the affirmations of my apparently amazing intelligence and emotional maturity, there was a landmark event in the history of white, cisgender, heterosexual, middle-class Australian men.

I felt triggered.

Now, I am the first to admit that I can be a little facetious. Yes, I will probably send a look-a-like stripper to my own burial (you’ve been warned), but don’t let that fool you into thinking I can’t appreciate the… graveness… of a situation. So even though I just made a joke about being triggered (and stripping by proxy at my burial), it did indeed actually happen, and it really wasn’t fun. One minute, I was watching a bunch of morons embarrass themselves on national television, and basking in a joyous uplift of self-worth. Nek minute, I was suddenly wondering whether I was one of those morons.

You see, shortly after the fake-marriage of ex-human Ines and ex-stripper Bronson, each had started to doubt that the commercial TV producers obsessed with drama and ratings had taken a genuine interest in delivering them into the arms of their one true love. Before that realisation could completely run its course, however, they were put on a bus to Terrigal for their honeymoon, and were promptly sent parasailing. Once there, it quickly became apparent that ex-stripper Bronson was very keen for parasailing… and ex-human Ines was not.

As I watched ex-human Ines and ex-stripper Bronson discuss their respective views on parasailing, I suddenly felt a very strange sense of deja vu. This was followed by noticing a slight sheen of nervous sweat on my forehead, and a growing sense of queasiness. Being completely unexpected, these feelings were a little unsettling. But not as unsettling as the slow realisation that my queasiness had nothing to do with the three-day-old pizza I’d been eating, or remembering that the slight sheen of sweat had been there for the last 40 years (goddammit). No, what was unsettling was the fact that what was unfolding on screen was just a little too familiar.

Ex-human Ines, as I said, did not want to go parasailing. Which was fine, since people like different things. What wasn’t particularly fine was how she expressed her reluctance. It was difficult to tell with the amount of dialogue beeped out, but it was fairly obvious she wasn’t saying “Oh my darling Bronson, do you mind if I give this a miss?”. Instead, I got the distinct impression she was just telling ex-stripper Bronson to “SHUT THE FÜCK UP” a bunch of times, probably because that’s exactly what she was doing. And therein lay the trigger.

I knew what it felt like to be Bronson.

Apart from the whole ex-stripper thing, I mean. And the muscles and tattoos. And being fake-married on TV. But other than that, I had been in that exact situation. Apart from the parasailing.

The point is that I knew what Bronson was feeling in that moment, as I had been there. And the longer I watched and the more I thought about it, the more I realised just how many times I had been there. There are far too many examples to share, but there is one particular story that is unique in its utter ridiculousness, and may, therefore, prove instructive.

This story is, I admit, a little different to the one above. For starters, I and my partner at the time (let’s call her Doris) hadn’t been through the horrifyingly arduous spectacle of being fake-married by fake-experts to a complete stranger on national television. We had instead had the luxury of meeting and choosing to be together in real life. And we weren’t about to experience the stress of having a bogan tow us through the air in a boat. We were just having my friend over for dinner, whose name is also Tim, and who is so laid back that he would have been happy if we’d served up a single baked bean in a pair of used undies. It was, in short, about as benign a situation as you could get.

Which of course makes it all the more perplexing why the reaction from ex-girlfriend Doris made ex-human Ines look like ex-Mother Theresa. Like that moment when I walked into the kitchen to ask if she needed any help, and was met with a fairly high-volume “WILL YOU JUST FÜCK OFF”.

Look, I get it. Everyone is different, and what is basically benign to me can be massively malignant to someone else. So although Doris never explained her apparently significant apprehensions, I can see how it could be stressful to have two Tims at dinner. I mean, every request for “Tim” to pass the salt would be met by mass confusion and possibly even twice as much salt as you wanted. Unless your name was actually Tim, of course, in which case you would get just as much salt as you wanted, since there was only one other Tim. Except if your name was Tim and you passed the salt to yourself, in which case there was no need to ask for salt in the first place. Anyway, the point is that I can see that under such emotionally fraught conditions, two hours of verbal abuse can be a perfectly reasonable response to having a laid back dinner with a friend called Tim.

But this is the thing. As difficult as it was to be treated that way by someone I cared about, I actually do understand that people handle situations differently, and being flawed, emotional beings, all of us are prone to a little over-reaction on occasion. By which I mean to say, the problem wasn’t so much the actual behaviour, as bad as that was. It was what followed.

___

When we first met fake-husband Mike, he seemed like the unlucky-in-love, good looking larrikin with not much hair but plenty of heart. Happily for him, his fake-wife Heidi also seemed like a winner. She was basically like Mike, but smarter and funnier and nicer and more successful and better looking and with a better personality and with more hair. They hit it off immediately, and each seemed very happy with the ability of the fake-experts to pick fake-spouses for a fake-TV-show. Life was good.

That was until one day later, when Heidi opened up about her difficult childhood, and Mike responded by telling her he wanted to go for a swim.

And this is where the gaslighting comes in.

For those that don’t know, gaslighting is shït. It’s also the deliberate and calculated manipulation of someone into doubting their own reality. To wit, even though everyone watching could see that Mike was being a massive jerk, by the Power of Gas Light Mike was able to make Heidi feel like a crazy person for talking about her childhood when he wanted to go for a swim. “I’m not your therapist,” he explained tersely. “This isn’t therapy.”

Sadly, the most unbelievable thing about this story is not that Mike was a massive jerk. People are massive jerks all the time. No, the really unbelievable thing is that this shït actually works. Watching along in our lounge rooms with friends, it’s easy to imagine ourselves telling Mike to go fluff himself. But that’s the thing about gaslighting. It is invariably deployed in private, by narcissists, against those that are maybe a little self-doubting, and a little vulnerable. And that’s what makes it so effective. Mike’s confidence in his position, together with the lack of emotional support from friends, results in a normally strong woman like Heidi issuing Mike an embarrassed apology, instead of a swift kick to the jelly beans.

___

In my case, delivering Doris a swift kick to the jelly beans wasn’t really an option. Not only because I’ve never committed violence against anyone (let alone a woman), but Doris doesn’t even have jelly beans. Oh, and also because Doris didn’t do anything wrong, and it was apparently me that was the crazy person.

“I was just expressing how I feel,” Doris later explained. “Am I not allowed to express how I feel?”

“Of course you are, Doris” I replied. “Of course you are.”

And so, I came to learn that it’s actually perfectly reasonable for someone to respond with “WILL YOU JUST FÜCK OFF” when their partner asks if they need help because a very laid back friend called Tim is coming over for dinner to eat a single baked bean served in a pair of used undies. A valuable lesson that I will treasure always.

Like I said. Gaslighting is shït.

– Tim

Keeping them honest hasn’t worked. Let’s kick the bastards out.

Once upon a time, there was an Australian political party called the Australian Democrats. They were formed in 1977 via the merger of two existing parties – one with the geographically-accurate name of the Australia Party, and the other the somewhat optimistically named New Liberal Party. Following the merger, they stepped forward with the noble purpose of disrupting the exhaustingly monotonous Liberal-Labor political dichotomy. Or in the words of their founder, Don Chipp, they wanted to “keep the bastards honest”.

The bastards, of course, were whichever major party happened to be in government, and keeping them honest basically meant having enough people in the Senate to stop the damn bastards from doing whatever they liked. And keep them honest they did, at least for a while. At one stage they held nine of the 76 Senate seats, so if the bastards wanted to do bastard stuff, like, say, implement the GST, they were forced to play nice. It all turned a bit cräp for them at the 2004 election, however, and the last Democrat Senator left office in 2008. They were then de-registered in 2016 for not having the required 500 members. Which is all a bit sad.

Or is it?

Maybe the Democrats aren’t needed any more. Maybe politicians have reformed. Maybe they’ve returned to the once precious ideals which underpin our noble democratic institutions. Maybe they stride purposefully into the halls of parliament, fully cognisant of the magnitude of their office, and intent on fulfilling the wishes of their constituents.

Maybe.

Let’s have a look.
___

1 – It’s OK to be white

I’m going to mention this first, because it’s the one thing that I absolutely cannot wrap my head around.

The facts are these:

  1. Pauline Hanson proposed a motion in the Senate stating, among other rocks of wisdom, that it’s OK to be white.
  2. “It’s OK to be white” is a well-known white-supremacist slogan.
  3. When the motion was put to a vote, 23 members of the Coalition voted in favour, including a number of ministers. As a result, the motion was only narrowly defeated 31-28.
  4. In response to the inevitable backlash against this infantile ridiculousness, the government’s Senate leader blamed support for the motion on an “administrative error”. It’s not clear how administrative errors cause people to raise their hands, but, to his credit, the Prime Minister called it “regrettable”.
  5. Despite this, several prominent Senators later tweeted their support for the motion, including the ironically named Christian Porter, who said that the vote obviously proved that “the Government deplores racism of any kind”. At this stage, it is unknown whether it was an administrative error or Jesus that led a Christian to tweet in favour of a racist Senate motion, but we’ll keep you posted.

Honestly, if there is one event that sums up the complete lack of respect the government has for our intelligence, their position as our elected representatives, Australia’s parliamentary processes, or the vaulted ideals of democracy itself, it’s this.

2 – The leadership merry-go-round

Nelson vs Turnbull. Nelson vs Turnbull (again). Turnbull vs no one. Turnbull vs Abbott. Abbott vs no one. Abbott vs Rudd. Gillard vs Rudd. Rudd vs Gillard. Gillard vs no one. Rudd vs Gillard. Abbott vs Gillard. Abbott vs no one. Turnbull vs Abbott. Dutton vs Turnbull. Bishop vs Dutton vs Morrison vs Turnbull.

Thirteen leadership challenges in twelve years, leading to six different Prime Ministers, and the most boring Game of Thrones season in the history of the Seven Kingdoms. The most recent circus, initiated by the Liberals in 2018, saw two challenges in four days, and even has its own Wikipedia entry.

Whatever your political leanings, it’s pretty clear that our elected officials aren’t really that interested in serving the country, but love wasting everyone’s time playing leadership musical chairs.

3 – Expensive human rights polls

Speaking of wasting everyone’s time, how about that Marriage Equality plebiscite? Originally forecast to cost $122m, the eventual cost of $81m was still $81m more than the cost of the countless readily-available polls that showed that a large majority of Australians were in favour of this minor legislative change that adversely affected no one.

One year later, it’s pretty clear that life has moved on, no one really cares, and we wasted $81m to find out something we knew already.

4 – Adani #1

Speaking of things we knew already, it should come as no surprise that even if the proposed Adani mine was the very last place in Australia to dig up coal, and even if climate change is a huge world-wide hoax, it’s still utter madness to give billions of dollars to a foreign company to open up a coal mine right next to the Great Barrier Reef.

But it’s not the last place in Australia to dig up coal. And Climate Change isn’t some world-wide hoax. So going through with it isn’t just utter madness, it’s outright lunacy.

5 – Adani #2

Speaking of outright lunacy, you may have heard that the Federal Environment Minister, Melissa Price, recently signed off on Adani’s groundwater management plans, after the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia found that the plans complied with all environmental and scientific standards. Following this clearance, the only obstacle remaining is the approval of the Queensland Government. Hooray!

The only problem is that the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia said no such thing, advising instead that the modelling “does not ensure the outcomes sought by the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act are met”. They further said that Adani’s approach is “not sufficiently robust to monitor and minimise impacts to protected environments”.

According to the ABC, which received a copy of the actual advice tendered by the CSIRO and Geoscience Australia, “Adani had underestimated the toll on bore water that farmers in the region rely on, which would be drained more severely and more quickly than predicted. And the mine could drain an ecologically sensitive and ancient natural springs complex, exceeding strict limits on draw-down of the springs’ waters.”

So basically, it would appear that the Minister’s advice was the exact opposite of what the government-appointed scientists had said, and the whole thing stinks. What on earth could be going on? Incompetence? Stupidity? An inability to read?

Whatever it is, it seems clear that scientific advice is no great barrier to destroying reefs, and everyone has their Melissa Price.

6 – The Great Barrier Reef Foundation

Speaking of the Great Barrier Reef, who could forget that time the Government gave nearly $450m in one year to a tiny foundation that only asked for $5m over five years?

Now, I know I’m only a partially qualified actuary, but according to my hastily concocted but beautifully formatted spreadsheet, that’s 450 times what the Great Barrier Reef Foundation actually asked for. If that happened to me I’d now have 902 arms, 540,000 bottles of whisky, 225m of hair in a man-bun, and 450 tropical islands.

Add to that the fact that the foundation had only six employees, was assisted by the government when preparing their submission, and approval was granted in three days with no proper tender process, and the whole thing not so much stinks but results in the complete destruction of all olfactory senses.

7 – Opaque government tenders? That’s a Paladin

Speaking of big fat stinks, there is the curious case of Paladin, a company with no previous security experience, registered to a shack on Kangaroo Island, that was awarded $423m in a closed tender to run security at the Manus Island detention centre, despite one of the company’s directors being banned from entering Papua New Guinea (where Manus Island is located), and another charged in Papua New Guinea with money laundering and fraud. Or in the words of Labor Senator Murray Watt, “I think the very biggest question to be answered is — how on earth did this tiny unknown company with no track record ever get $423 million in contracts from the Australian taxpayer?”

Good question, Murray.

___

Speaking of good questions, I have another one. Are you still wondering if politicians are bastards?

If your answer is “yes”, you need to give yourself an uppercut, and then look up the definition of “bastard”. Because if the above seven stories show anything, it’s that our elected officials are not just bastards, they are well and truly taking the pïss.

This goes beyond Labor and Liberal, progressive and conservative, left and right. This is about whoever is governing the country having a massive laugh at our expense, and not even trying to hide it. And with no well-meaning, relatively sensible third-party alternative to check their worse impulses, there’s really only one option.

We need to kick the damn bastards out. It’s the only way they’ll learn.

Hillsong’s Not So Happy Clappy Underbelly

I’m currently working on a story about Hillsong. Given that I only occasionally pretend to be a journalist, this work is going quite slowly, but it is going nonetheless. The working thesis of this story is that Hillsong is in fact a dangerous cult, on a par with Scientology, and even the casual and peripatetic inquiries I’ve made so far have given me enough material to put together this preview.

We like to think of Hillsong as a sort of eccentrically fervent church, a weird and anomalous phenomenon, with beliefs on the insanity end of the stupid spectrum, sure, but just another happy clappy congregation at the end of the day. This just isn’t true. Quite a few people, I’m sure, are aware of the fact that Hillsong is not a church but a for-profit enterprise. This has been made pretty obvious in the past, with their past ownership of Gloria Jeans and their previous Australian head actually saying on Sixty Minutes that they operate for profit. But there are many indications that Hillsong operates on another and far more sinister level as well.

Let’s take the idea that Hillsong is anomalous – a strange but harmless blip on society. It isn’t. It’s the whale amongst a network of Pentecostal churches who share money, lobbying power, and insane beliefs, and a member of one of these churches is our current Prime Minister. What this means is that there is an entire mechanism or network of people surrounding and supporting him in our nation’s corridors of power who are similarly deranged. Okay, maybe ‘deranged’ is a bit subjective, so let’s go with ‘compromised’ instead. We need only look at the tender treatment of these churches in the media, the glad-handing and soft-soaping that both political parties undertake every single election cycle with these congregations, to see that this disturbingly regressive and reason-immune cluster of churches is burrowed tick-like into the highest levels of the Australian establishment. This makes them both mainstream and deeply unacceptable.

But there’s even darker stuff to be found. One of the frustrating things about journalism is that quite a bit of the evidentiary basis for a story is ultimately going to be anecdotal. The idea is to collect enough of these anecdotes – verifiable ones, for preference – to start the sort of evidence avalanche which can properly be termed as data. I’d like to share some of the anecdotes I’ve collected so far. To protect sources and keep my promises, I’m going to have to use alpha-numerics instead of names.

A1 came from a Hillsong family. He was brought up in a high powered Pentecostal community – the kind and level which owned Gloria Jeans. He has a fairly typical story to tell, with the usual catalogue of psychological damage one can expect from an organisation which thinks of shame as a beneficial child-rearing tool. His sexuality was constantly under the microscope, and he was driven from church to church, pastor to pastor, in order to have his most intimate thoughts and actions parsed and examined for orthodoxy. So far, so typical, as far as religion goes. But he also describes the extreme pressure put on him by the church to cut himself off from all secular forms of counselling, instruction, or support. It got to the point where he was being advised not to have any friends outside the church, and not to speak to family members who had yet to accept the church’s embrace. This was my first sniff of cultish practice, and it’s absolutely classic of its kind.

G3 was a working girl and meth addict. She was accepted into the church on the back of a ‘chance encounter’ at what can only be termed a crack house in Terrey Hills. Initially, all was wonderful. She received great support in addiction recovery and in other aspects of re-building her life. Things took a turn for the dark when she suddenly found herself steered towards a volunteer program made up of people like herself, formed specifically to target drug addicts, sexual abuse victims, and other vulnerable people for recruitment. This wouldn’t ordinarily be a problem. It’s very easy to see this as an ordinary outreach program, but there are a few key aspects of it which ring serious alarm bells. Like the fact that this outreach sent recovering addicts back into drug dens and haunts to trawl for more members. Like the fact that even when she relapsed (which she of course did multiple times owing to being sent back into crack houses on a regular basis) and began prostituting herself again, the church was still more than happy to accept their twenty percent tithe – insisted on it, in fact. Like the fact that when her parents attempted to move in to support her, strong pressure was placed on them to route money to the church so that they could ‘take charge’ of her recovery. Ultimately, G3 died of an overdose, miserable and conflicted about her faith, on the dirty carpet of a heroin dealer’s living room.

So the next time you see a Hillsong lovie with the cheerful t-shirt and the Christian rock, or a family member or friend considering going along ‘just to see what it’s all about’, please do keep these two stories – two amongst a great many more, some of which involve actual kidnapping and coercion but which I do not currently have permission to share – in mind.

Don’t Take (non-excisable) Drugs

When white middle class kids start dying, we can generally be pretty confident that there will be calls for change.

One disadvantage of this excellent system, however, is that the initial conversation tends to be made up of people who have decided to weigh in on an issue after decades of failing to take any active interest in it. Issues of pill testing, and the looming elephant in the room – prohibition – are no exception. A lot of genuine and laudable emotion is being aired and expended on both sides of what we must laughingly term ‘the debate’, but there is a big – a bloody enormous – gap in all of this. And this comes with the failure to ask a single simple question: “Is there a good reason for the prohibition of narcotic substances?”

Despite the fact that almost everybody assumes that there is, it’s actually far from being uncontested. The origins of prohibition trace back to surprisingly stupid roots. Global substance control has its origins in the US Temperance Movement, a movement which, by today’s standards, is actually quite extremist. It was arguably pretty whacky in its own day too. There’s lots of history on the subject, and it’s actually unusually unanimous when it comes to how and why prohibition came about. Put simply, the discovery of the process for extracting vegetable alkaloids was a major revolution in humanity’s unceasing quest to find ways to both enhance and inebriate consciousness. There followed a period generally known as ‘The Great Binge’, in which cocaine and heroin were found in pharmaceutical, beauty, and fad products, and seemingly everyone in the western world was off their trolley all the time. In the wake of the big world wars, necessary re-definitions of the contract between citizen and state impacted the types of laws being proposed and accepted by most western nations. It’s in these periods we find stuff we’re still very much in step with today. Laws about workers’ rights and safety, grand social security mechanisms, our current attitudes to education rights and suffrage, and also the attempted prohibition of alcohol, and the successful prohibition of most of what we today classify as narcotics. It’s generally agreed that the substances which came under most fire fell into the following categories:

  • Popular with ethnic minorities and the poor
  • Not one of the USA’s biggest exports (tobacco)
  • Largely imported from non-western countries

It’s the first point which needs to be stressed. The prevailing belief at the time was that the poor and ill-educated were helpless children, incapable of stewarding their own lives, and that they also needed their souls saved from the damnation inherent in self-indulgence. So they could get to Christian heaven. It’s arguable, but it’s probably reasonable to assume that a combination of organisational inertia, mission creep, and the kind of amnesia pretty well unique to western cultures is what has resulted in these motives not only remaining unquestioned, but being actually forgotten.

Drugs kill people, certainly. I’d be willing to bet that the chilling statistics around overdose deaths and whatnot are actually true. Pretty well as true as those same (and much larger) numbers that we associate with alcohol and tobacco. But whereas with alcohol it was recognised that its prohibition had resulted in the sudden creation of a murderous and obscenely wealthy new criminal class without causing any appreciable drop in its consumption or its harms to individuals and society, no such thought process has occurred with relation to narcotics. But the facts speak for themselves. Taking only a single case – the Mexican and Colombian cartels – drug prohibition has created a situation in which addiction and usage rates have dropped 0% (and this is using the lowball figures we get from activities that are illegal), and criminal organisations large enough to represent existential threats to actual modern states are running global, multi-billion dollar businesses, with side enterprises in sex trafficking and contract murder. No matter how much we might deplore big pharma’s practices, it’s unlikely that legalisation would lead to, say, Pink Pharmaceutical running hookers from Guatemala, for example. Or killing thousands of people in gang firefights before stringing the dismembered corpses up on telegraph poles.

Put very simply, our current global drug policy is three things:

  • Utterly ineffective
  • Deeply irrational
  • Actively harmful

And you don’t have to take my word for any of that: https://www.unodc.org/wdr2018/prelaunch/WDR18_Booklet_1_EXSUM.pdf

But it’s interesting – very interesting – to note that despite a multi-volume report outlining the manifold failures of prohibition, there is little to no mention of legalisation. It’s all coded into the US friendly phrase ‘harm reduction’. Which is ludicrous.

All this brings me back to our fearless Premier as a case in point. She is, in fact, representative of the people in this case, in that she has a knee jerk, deontological response predicated by personal morality, and an ingrained refusal to think about its actual origins. The thing is, personal morality really doesn’t trump half a million deaths per year world wide. It doesn’t automatically negate the need to think in broad policy terms for a person who’s ultimately responsible for the welfare and safety of a whole state. And, in my opinion (and this is the only actual personal opinion contained in this piece), is like all other personal beliefs, opinions and prejudices, in that it’s a citizen duty to think past and beyond them when discussing matters of state and national import.

A picture tells a thousand words… and lots of them are racist

It’s now been a little over a month since Mark Knight published his cartoon depicting Serena Williams at the US Open. Yes, yes, I know what you’re thinking. Jeez, Tim, that was ages ago, and we’ve all moved on to needles in strawberries, Billy Slater, needles in bananas, Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s mushroom pee-pee, horse racing on Opera Houses, kicking gay kids out of schools, the TPP, wondering whether it’s OK to be white, administrative errors, moving our Israeli embassy, journalists being murdered in the Saudi embassy, and needles in cucumbers. And you are of course right. We have indeed moved on.

Or have we?

Sure, we’ve all found new things to be outraged about. In fact, the only thing more outraging than being outraged at things, is not having enough outrage to be outraged about the sheer number of things we have to be outraged about, which is, quite frankly, outrageous. But there is another, more important sense, in which we haven’t moved on at all. To wit, we all seem to be very good at forming a quick opinion on something, but we don’t seem to be very good at revising that opinion, when presented with new information. Or, put another way, people are fond of basing outrage on gut reactions, and are also fond of hunkering down and doggedly ignoring all evidence to the contrary.

For the Mark Knight cartoon, I, like most people, had an initial gut reaction when I first saw it. I hadn’t watched the women’s final, and hadn’t seen Serena’s dispute with the umpire, but I had heard enough about it to get the “joke”. Mark Knight thought that Serena had thrown a huge, unnecessary hissy fit, and there she was, jumping up and down, with a spat out dummy on the ground. So, apart from lacking cleverness, and not being at all funny, I didn’t really see much wrong with it. Here it is again, in case you’ve forgotten.

Haha, boy that Serena sure is grumpy! Point made, fair and square. Right?

Well, not quite. Call me old fashioned, or a (partially qualified!) actuary, but I happen to think that it’s always a good idea to check your assumptions. In a spreadsheet, ideally. And so despite my assumption that Mark’s cartoon was merely a bit cräp, the fact that so many people thought it had transcended cräp and jumped feet first into full on racism gave me pause. So I did what every reasonable person would do and just ignored them to make myself feel better. Oh wait, no I didn’t. I actually went and read about why people were upset about it. Interestingly, it had absolutely nothing to do with the point Mark Knight was trying to make. No one seemed to be upset about his claim that Serena had thrown a massive hissy fit, or that she seems to be playing with a wooden racquet that is smaller than her head, or that he’d coloured the whole court blue when the perimeter is clearly green, or that professional athletes very rarely use a dummy due the risk of choking. What was clear, however, was that many, many people were objecting to the way he had drawn Serena, and, perhaps even more so, the way he had drawn the other player in the cartoon, Naomi Osaka.

Serena was hard to miss. Not only is she the subject of the cartoon, but Mark had depicted her as a ridiculously large woman, with huge arms, huge hair, huge face, huge mouth, and huuuuuuge bum. I mean, the size of her bum is something to behold, assuming you could even find enough hands to hold it. It looks to be six times as wide as her racquet, which would make it around four and a half metres across, and happens to be the same length as my car. Haha… Serena big!

Now, I know what some of you are thinking. “But, but… it’s a caricature! And she is a large woman!”. Let’s park that for a second.

There is a second player in the cartoon, being Serena’s opponent, Naomi Osaka. In contrast to Serena, Naomi is depicted as a small, svelte, white woman with a blonde ponytail. This must obviously be a caricature, because that’s what Mark did to Serena, so in real life I guess Naomi must be less skinny, less blonde, and have fewer ponytails. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that Naomi is actually of Haitian-Japanese descent, has dark skin, dark hair, is 5cm taller than Serena, and weighs only 1kg less. And has exactly one ponytail. Interesting.

But back to Serena. Why was everyone upset about his depiction of Serena? Two seconds on Google was all I needed. He had basically drawn her in the same way as 19th and 20th century cartoonists who openly admitted they were racist.

At that point one might have hoped that either Mark or his publisher would take all the feedback on board and issue some kind of explanation. Something along the lines of “Look, I didn’t realise at the time, but I can see now that my cartoon is offensive to people of colour”. But no, of course what we had as a doubling-down on the next day’s front page, with cries of political correctness, and dire warnings of the demise of free speech. Which, when added together and yelled by the same person, invariably means they just want the right to be a massive ärsehole.

So far, so predictable.

But it shouldn’t be. And to make things easier for people like Mark Knight, I’ve prepared this handy guide, The Official Good Bad Asinine Guide to What to Do When You’ve Drawn a Cräp Cartoon That Lacks Cleverness and Isn’t At All Funny and Lots of People Get Upset Because It’s Pretty Racist. Enjoy.

The Official Good Bad Asinine Guide to What to Do When You’ve Drawn a Cräp Cartoon That Lacks Cleverness and Isn’t At All Funny and Lots of People Get Upset Because It’s Pretty Racist

1
If you want to make a point about someone having a hissy fit, and you’re able to make the point without drawing them with a 4.5m butt, then you should do that.

2
The people with the most insight into whether something is offensive are generally not the people doing the offending.

3
If someone explains to you why something you did was racist, complaining about political correctness just makes you more racist.

4
There’s no shame in admitting you’re wrong. But there is plenty of shame in being racist.

Hope that helps!

Religious Protections? How Astonishing!

scott-morrison

It’s generally a good rule that you can determine what’s important to a country by observing what its government or laws protect. Of course, in the case of Australia, the phrase ‘unrepresentative swill’ has a curious persistence in the public mind, possibly created by the fact that we are, in fact, governed by unrepresentative swill. Just as cream rises to the top, so too does scum, and generally in unregarded places – the dark corners and byways of our great nation where we can’t be bothered to go. It’s worth thinking about how we actually got our current crop of leaders. It would seem that the main ways would be through the kinds of community networks churches are so good at (more of which in another post), and through the internal mechanisms of the two major parties and their feeders, being the union movement and big business/big Jesus respectively. So for Australia, what needs to be said is that you can tell what the government, without reference to the people, cares about by observing what it’s most willing to protect by law.

Back in the heady days of the Same Sex Marriage Don’t Call It Marriage Equality Debacle And Signal Failure Of Parliamentary Responsibility, which I call ‘The Coward’s Plebiscite’ for short, many questions were raised, some by this author, as to whose job it actually was to make laws. Now this is quite a basic question, and it was quite tricky to expand the answer – parliament – into a six hundred word post. I did this mainly by impugning the character, tolerance, and courage of our fearless leaders, being hesitant to address that which is much more difficult to determine, i.e., what they were actually thinking. In the light of hindsight, and with our nation’s new First Creationist, I mean, Prime Minister, having emerged from his gratuitous bloodbath to set his policy agenda, it has, in fact, become a bit easier to determine what it is this particularly trollish coterie known politely as ‘the conservative faction’ were actually thinking. Basically, our first impression was correct. So unwilling were they to institute equal civil rights for homosexuals, they followed a template from their favourite bedside book and did a Pontius Pilate. Washing their hands of the responsibility, they devolved the power of execution onto the mob hoping, I’m now absolutely certain, that the mob would be nasty and vote to crucify the progressive movement. The fact that they were so emphatically wrong still keeps me warm on cold nights with the memory of the time I fell even more deeply in love with my country.

But that’s all ancient history in the rough and tumble of politics, right? Well, not exactly, as it leads me back to my original point that you can tell what a government thinks is important by looking at what it’s willing to protect with legislation. The review on religious protections, commissioned by Turnbull as he bravely ran away from yet another of his political principles, has reported. The government is now getting ready to implement its recommendations, and all of this is going very smoothly. The report’s still secret (not officially, just in a ‘not yet released’ way), but even the Jesuits on the panel are saying that it’s just a matter of putting ‘some small tweaks’ into existing anti-discrimination laws. I really don’t have a problem with this. Religious freedom is key, and is the very principle which allows me to say that Scott Morrison’s religion is only separated in craziness from Scientology by its age and pedigree. But the problematic part is what it tells us about the nature of this government.

Basically, this Liberal government was so unwilling to make laws protecting the equal civil rights of people outside their own template of normal that they spent twenty million dollars of our money taking a punt on the Australian public being as ungenerous and backward as themselves. Simultaneously, they’re so willing to protect their own atavistic, myth-loving kind, that they’re announcing legislation to do so, almost as a first action after the chaos of their own utterly self inflicted wounding. So it’s pretty clear that religion is the most important thing to these people. I would hazard a guess and say that this is simply not the case for the majority of Australians, but I don’t have to thanks to the census. Which leads me back to the idea of ‘unrepresentative swill’. Worth thinking about, if you live in Wentworth or, if you don’t, as a thought to save up for whenever God tells our PM to call an election.

Jordan Peterson – The World’s Most Popular Halfwit

jordan peterson

I know I’m going to cop a lot of flack for this one. Jordan Peterson is much loved as an inspirational figure, a voice of reason and morality in a crazy world of hyper-liberal relativism, a light in the darkness of a post-feminist, post-structural, post-everything-good world. The thing is, I get it. I have no intention of hitting the same old tired tropes of most Peterson critics – his unintelligible Jung and Hegel derived flights of rhetoric, the fact of his worldview being actually and technically fascist, his apparent (but almost certainly nonexistent) misogyny, his rarely acknowledged political funding sources, his severe logical deficits and habit of eliding definition resistant generalities into chains of reasoning which are invalid in all possible universes. None of these things really matter when it comes to him or his followers because nobody who is actually a philosopher can accept him as one, and nobody, therefore, who thinks of him as one, tends to forensically examine his arguments, such as they are. In the same way that the Sermon on the Mount, taken from a certain point of view, doesn’t make a lick of sense, Peterson’s pronouncements are not, as far as I can tell, valued because they make sense or are specific, but because they don’t and are not.

What Peterson is primarily selling is a feeling. It’s very easy when looking out at the world, especially if one’s lens on that world is the internet, to get the feeling that masculinity is, in fact, in crisis. An entire generation weeping over puppy dogs and irrelevant causes, drowning in political correctness, and in headlong flight from tried and tested values like masculine pride, personal responsibility, and freedom of speech. Peterson’s clear and apparently sincere indignation at these regressive tendencies has an appeal which is very easy to understand, and his habit of reducing the solutions to these problems to simple, self-help style commandments makes for compelling stuff. Follow the twelve simple rules, and you can immediately cast yourself as a warrior for freedom, an island of sanity in an insane world. And when it comes to things like taking personal responsibility for one’s failings and actions, keeping one’s space and oneself neat and tidy as a nod to both universal order and self respect, parsing all politics through an aggressive dialectic and forensic lens, I find myself in complete agreement with the man. All of these things are vitally important. As important as it is to be proud of one’s manhood, in whatever form it is expressed, to set boundaries and draw lines around tolerance, to avoid at all costs pandering to pity and outrage merchants, or to the blind knee-jerk advocacy of partisan causes. I more than agree with all this stuff. In fact, I actively proselytise it. The problem with Peterson does not lie in this side of things in which, as a clinical psych, we’d sort of expect him to be rock solid. Where there is a massive problem is in the elision of this very sensible thinking with a world view which is not just parochially narrow, but actually crazy.

It should be freely acknowledged that the regressive left is a problem. In the rarefied atmosphere of some university campuses, and in quite a bit of the feminist and LGBTQI press, a certain kind of victim rage insanity festers and spits at the rest of the world and, because media largely trades in emotions like outrage and shock, gets wildly disproportionate and unrepresentative airplay. It should also be acknowledged that Canadian universities seem to have a particularly bad time with these idiots, with faculty losing their jobs on political grounds, blatant propagandising, and the espousal of frankly loopy positions. I would point out, though, that Peterson’s own dismissal appears to have been the simple result of a refusal to follow a reasonable instruction from his employer. But that’s by the by – and highly arguable – my point here is that when we look at the environment from which he’s come, it’s very easy to identify the dragon which he wishes to slay. But Canadian higher education – Canada in general, to be brutally honest – is not even close to being the whole world. What we see from Peterson, however, is a classic narrative of threat which seems to be predicated on the opposite assumption. It never ceases to amaze me how people who can be cynical about the manufactured threat narratives of global terrorism, Macarthyism, AI alarmism, and so on, can so utterly fail to see that the exact same methodology is at work in Peterson’s message.

Let’s take a look at some of his more classic statements in order to explain what I mean here. “For thirty years now, nobody – at least nobody who is on their side – has been talking to kids about responsibility.” What in the name of sanity does this statement actually mean? Parse it as closely as possible, sieve it for nuance, make all possible allowances, and all we can really get from this statement is that the world is going to pot because this new generation hasn’t been brought up properly. Leaving aside problems such as the appallingly invalid assumption that every young person across the globe is in the same boat, or the galling refusal of the speaker to provide even a working definition of ‘responsibility’, it should be pretty obvious to anyone not blinded by love or ‘me-too-ism’ that this is a sentiment (and I use that word advisedly) which can be found in the writings of cranky old men from 2000BCE to the present day. Or let’s take this doozy: “Medical science isn’t about welfare, it’s about science.” Well, yes, if you’re willing to suspend the three seconds of thought it takes to arrive at the conclusion that medical science is, in fact, one branch of the entire medical endeavour which, for the entirety of civilisation, has been about the welfare of individuals and groups, among other things. Or the nanosecond of thought required to understand that something as huge as all of medical science cannot possibly be summed up in a fortune cookie bon mot. But that’s the thing with Peterson. It’s not about logic, or fine points like parsing the actual meanings of statements. No, what it’s about is furious and indignant agreement – an extrapolation of personal responses to our own ant’s-eye views of the world into global positions predicated on the basis of ‘stuff was better when I was a kid’ and ‘I’m disturbed by what I’m seeing’.

I honestly think that the vast majority of Peterson supporters are intelligent, decent people. I also suspect that almost all of them engage with his actual content at the same level most people do with the law. They think it’s a very good thing, will fight vigorously to defend it, and, for the vast majority, have never actually read a word of it. I read the pieces which attack Peterson, and by no means are all of these from the left wing press. The majority of articles I’ve read have been from faculties of philosophy, political science, and, weirdly, international relations. They come from a broad spectrum of people from left and right of centre (I’m sorry – I really can’t be bothered with the extreme ends of the spectrum, so don’t know what they have to say about him) – and uniformly express utter disbelief at just how childishly simple it is to spot that his entire body of work is deeply irrational and founded on reasoning so invalid it isn’t actually reasoning. And that’s the biggest problem – Peterson’s framework does not stand up to even the most cursory rational examination, sure, but for as long as he so effectively touches the right emotional chords in his audience, they’re never going to subject him to it. And given that he seems to be genuinely half-witted enough to believe that his ramblings are actually cogent chains of ratiocination, he’s going to be imbued with the kind of Messianic sincerity which practically guarantees this result indefinitely.

Scott Morrison’s ‘Upbeat’ Church

Australia is under threat from extreme ideologies. The creeping influence of these vile theologies has penetrated our civil society, soured our political discourse, and impacted every level of our nation, right up to its highest office. I am talking, of course, about Christianity.

There has been some recent and very polite attention drawn to the church of our new Prime Minister, Horizon Church, particularly in the SMH, wherein can be found an extremely soft soap profile of their high priest or pastor or god whisperer, or whatever they call themselves. In this article which, the more I read it, the more it looks like a masterful exercise in misdirection, senior Jesus Wrangler Brad Bonhomme is asked a series of searching questions about his energy levels and the fact that he is not a member of the Liberal Party. Or, at least, that is the only inference which can be drawn from the content of the article. He describes his church as ‘upbeat’, and then spends a long time being utterly irrelevant in a beguiling way by explaining that he has no input on the Liberal Party’s policy direction. Which is one of those truths which is actually a lie. But nowhere is there any exploration of what a Pentecostal church actually believes.

The Pentecostal churches and I are old adversaries. I have always contended that they are a cancer on society, exploiting the poor and vulnerable, openly operating for profit, hiding toxic and hateful beliefs beneath their manic smiles and doing all of this, of course, not only without paying any taxes, but with a fair amount of government money and, around election time, courtship. It’s probably enough to say that among the council of churches of which Horizon is a part is that cankerous boil on the backside of religion known as Hillsong, but I feel it’s important to go where the SMH either didn’t dare or think to tread, and provide answers to some actually important questions about the church.

It’s telling that it takes four clicks to get to their doctrinal basis. For those not as intimately familiar with religious doublespeak as this Catholic educated author, I should explain that the doctrinal basis is like a theological constitution. It describes core and broad beliefs, but like a constitution, limits itself to those which are fundamental and non-negotiable. Basically, it’s a useful document because it’s a valid assumption that all members of this church either believe, or say they believe, the stuff on the list. And as far as this list is concerned, it’s actually quite worrying stuff. The preamble uses the phrase ‘inspired Word of God’ in describing the bible. This is usually code for ‘I’m a fundamentalist nut job’, but not always. You’ll find a similar phrase in the Baptist doctrine, for example, but Baptists are generally free to interpret the bible in their own way. But not in this case. The phrase appears multiple times with the addition of words like ‘direct’, ‘sufficient’, and ‘accurate’. Basically, the Pentecostal churches are biblical literalists.

What this means is that we have a Prime Minister who believes that the world was literally crafted and made by God, that humanity was literally created by God from the clays of the earth, that Moses literally received the law in tablet form on Mount Sinai, and that every word of the books of the law should be followed. If you click through their bible reading plan, you’ll find that the first reading is Leviticus, that famous book of laws about stoning gay people and people who wear clothes of different fabrics. Now you might think I’m overstating this, but click through to the doctrine and scroll down to the end, past the bit about getting the world ready for the second coming, and the one about believing that sinners burn in hell for all eternity, and you’ll see that there’s a simple, clear statement of belief in creationism.

Now, I should point out that we live in a pluralistic society. I firmly believe that everyone has the absolute right to believe whatever crazy garbage floats their boat, whether it be Ickean lizard monarchs, gay frogs, or immortal Jews with revolutionary tendencies. But I also think it’s important to be aware of just who the crazy people are. Given the last census, it’s worrying to see just how unrepresentative the Parliament generally is when it comes to religion. Fraser Anning: Evangelical. Mike Baird: Fundamentalist. Tony Abbott: Catholic. Cory Bernardi: Catholic. Scott Morrison: Happy Clappy Tongues Speaking Lunatic. And these aren’t just vague religious affiliations – they’re forward deployed, staunchly held positions. Morrison himself has been quoted as saying that faith informs everything he does. So no wonder he doesn’t like climate change scientists. The man has apparently got a B.Sci himself, though I have no idea what kind of insanity is required to reconcile that with creationism in this day and age. But what I mostly wonder is, if faith does inform everything he does, then what steps will he be taking to prepare us for the Millennial reign of Christ at the End of Days, as his church instructs him is necessary? And what steps do we think he’ll take to try and save all Australians from the eternal hellfire?

The biggest question, though, is this: Should we accept a Prime Minister who has beliefs incompatible with basic sanity?

I say no.

Orwell Would Have Hated You, Stupid. And Me Too.

When Orwell died, he left clear instructions that his notes and papers be destroyed. It’s typical of the way the world has always treated him that I’ve read them all for the simple reason that his dying wishes were ignored, and all his essays, letters, and short manuscripts are now available in an annotated Penguin collection, a format, by the way, which he would have despised.

There’s quite a lot of debate about Orwell’s politics, all against a near constant background hum of his words and works being co-opted in support of everything from Chinese Communist Party propaganda to libertarian arguments against regulation. As with most figures in history, in order to understand his politics it’s probably beneficial to know a little something about the man himself. Everybody will have read the Penguin bio, so would know that he was born Eric Arthur Blair, that his father was an official of the British Empire, and that he therefore went to Eton on a scholarship, but I’d hazard a guess that that’s generally as far as it goes.

Orwell was a man tortured by class. This can be very clearly seen in multiple works. In Keep the Aspidistra Flying, a semi-autobiographical account of a starving writer caught between his parlour communist posh friends and actual working class folk who despise him, there is a telling quote. The protagonist has a financial windfall and goes on a champagne-fuelled binge. Somewhere in the middle of this, he catches a sort of pitying look from one of his posh mates and reflects on his own mendacity, thinking that “…the rich take their pleasures gracefully…”, and seeing his own feverish, poverty-driven excesses as ridiculous aping of his ‘betters’. In Wigan PierSuch, Such Were the Joys, and even when disguised as a tramp and meandering from Spike to Spike in Down and Out in Paris and London, Orwell is plagued by a sense of his class, the idea of being a ‘gentleman’, and the fact he has not the money to sustain this position. He hates the charity of his friends, the shame he feels in his own poverty, and the system which, to his mind, debars him from simply and permanently becoming a navvy or dustman. In fact, the only time he doesn’t seem hagridden by the constraints of his social status is during that passage of Down and Out where he is living as a dishwasher, or plongeur, in Paris.

It’s during this period that we get to see another side of the man. The bulk of this passage of writing, which I would highly recommend as incisive social history, has to do with food, not having enough, and the trials and tribulations involved in trying to keep fed. Orwell was so hard up he recounts waiting five days for a cheque to clear before he can eat, stating that his sole refuges were tobacco, without which “life would not have been tolerable”, and a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories, which were all he was “capable” of reading. In the context of being this hungry, he lists a series of disasters which can befall a poor man. Queuing for five centimes worth of bread, the girl clumsily over-cuts the loaf for the customer before him, saying, “You don’t care about a couple of sous extra, no?”. This causes Orwell to walk shamefacedly away, as should the same thing happen to him, he has not even a sou to cover it, going without bread as much because of his shame at his poverty as the poverty itself. Or another time, starving in a garret, he is boiling milk and potatoes in a spirit stove when an insect of some kind falls into the pot. He recounts, as a matter of course, that the whole meal must then be thrown away. But even in the midst of all this we see a keen spirit of observation reminiscent of the Enlightenment novelists and thinkers who were among his literary heroes. He notes that a man’s description of what bread tastes like to a starving man (thick, wet, doughy) is accurate. He records faithfully a typical example of tenement gossip, involving a miserly eccentric suspected of being a paedophile, and a shipment of cocaine (nothing changes). He notes with the care of an eighteenth century naturalist the lassitude, sensory changes, changes in mood, in texture of spittle, associated with both starvation and extreme fatigue. He records in full the alcoholic boasting of a teenager claiming to have raped a virgin newly installed in a brothel. Orwell is that very rare type of observer who is fastidious and methodical enough to make observations of value, and willing and able to become intimately familiar with the dregs of life.

And here, I think, is the key to understanding where Orwell stood. He stood alone. If there was a tide making, he would almost certainly swim against it. He has been described as a “perpetual political misfit”, and this is true. We can see it in his essays where he excoriates right wing patriots and revolutionary communists alike, where he agonises over whether or not to support his country’s war effort, rails at Auden for his use of the phrase “necessary murder”, accuses Dickens of childish parochialism while praising his imagination and social activism to the skies, staunchly defends English cooking, English murder mysteries over American, and rails passionately against the existence of the compound word ‘onto’. And we can see it in his journalism, his unflinching and strangely unsympathetic accounts of the very poor, his furious frustration with Spanish anarcho-communists, parlour socialists, his doubt of the veracity of his own socialism, and his frank disgust at the smug self-satisfaction of his friends and supporters on the left. And we especially see it in his literature. Animal Farm, amongst other things, is much more a tale of ideologues enforcing their own particular vision of the state without reference to the people than it is anything else. And as for 1984, only a fool or a teenager would allow themselves to be distracted by all the quaint futurism and buzzwords like “newspeak”, and thereby miss the central point of that work, which is despair. Despair at the limitations of the proletariat, at the cowardly conformist mendacity of humankind, of any possibility of human redemption or perfectibility. Two plus two equals five not just because the state says so, but because the people will grant this and anything else besides, merely in order to feel safe and fill their bellies. To be relieved of the burden of actually having to think about anything.

While it’s not possible to sum up a human in a single sentence, it is possible to say a true thing about them, and the true thing in Orwell’s case is that he was uncompromisingly rational. He hated all forms of mob enthusiasm, all manifestations of blind and mindless party allegiance. He prized self examination above all things, and was contemptuous of anyone either unwilling or unable to think past their own feelings. And this is why a libertarian co-opting his arguments against totalitarian control in support of deregulation is basically the equivalent to pissing on his memory. The whole attitude of ‘my ideology right or wrong’ was deeply invidious to him, as was the kind of obtuseness capable of blurring the distinctions surrounding his own arguments. And as for communists and ersatz socialists repeatedly and determinedly missing the point of his calls for revolution, the same applies. And as for me, I think he would have been deeply annoyed by my faith in the military, my tolerance for homosexuals and Catholicism, my cowardice in choosing to feed myself by teaching the children of the rich. And he would have been seriously unhappy about the fact that I read all his letters. So I don’t quote him in support of my ideas as I’m very well aware that he would not have liked me. And nor would he have had a single second for the unreflective armchair activists and keyboard warriors who spew out what passes for political discourse today.