The Good. The Bad. The Asinine.

People are weird

Well, they are. Look at these three, for starters.

Over in NZ, a lawyer has solved a problem that has been baffling women since we first climbed out of the trees. His client, a bouncer, allegedly promised a female patron that he could get her into his bar. He led her down a side alley, and then allegedly raped her. At the subsequent trial, the lawyer was apparently quite brilliant, leading a number of people to draw a comparison with Atticus Finch, or possibly even Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee. He saved his most brilliant argument until last, however, when he remarked that if a woman didn’t want to get raped (and I’m pretty sure most don’t) then:

All she would have had to do [is] close her legs… it’s as simple as that.

I think I’ll just leave that there.

Back in Australia, Bernard Gaynor, a white married heterosexual Catholic Army reservist who hates everyone who isn’t a white married heterosexual Catholic Army reservist and is even too wacky for Bob Katter, wrote a blog post proclaiming that transgendered people don’t exist. The source of his proclamation was Dr Joseph Berger, who also believes that we should encourage the bullying of transgendered children, because it might learn ’em some good. When reader Troy asked Bernard whether he also shared this view, he responded with this:

Sure – kids that are put in cotton wool because of their delusional feelings end up growing to think that the taxpayer should fund their cosmetic surgery. It’s not teasing. It’s letting them know that they need to grow up, not live in a fantasy land.

There’s enough weirdness in that to be going on with, given that it’s coming from someone who believes that every Sunday he eats the flesh of a temporarily-deceased Jewish zombie bastard. But the really weird thing is that Bernard has five children of his own. And he’ll continue to have five children, as long as none of them turn out to be transgendered, possibly because they would cease to exist, but most likely because they would realise their father is a wanker.

Meanwhile, in NSW, a parliamentary vote on same-sex marriage failed by 21 votes to 19. The loyal disciples of Fred Nile’s Facebook page were overjoyed, despite the vote being largely meaningless, and the legalisation of marriage equality in Australia being an inevitability delayed only by a white married heterosexual Catholic volunteer fire fighter. One disciple, Jillian, even saw fit to tell the rest of us that it was tough luck, because:

this is how democracy works the majority wins. If you know a better way please tell us all love to hear your ideas?

Yes, a living, breathing human being somehow thought it sensible to use “majority rules” as an argument against same-sex marriage, when 70% of her fellow citizens disagree with her.

Oh well, I guess it is only 70%.

Don’t let the weirdness get you down. I’m sure they’re the only three.

Why we should pay this Bill some attention

In my last post, I mentioned how I find Bill Muehlenberg’s blog both self-affirming and wildly amusing. What I forgot to mention is that it is also instructive.

Now, more than ever, the governing of a modern, supposedly secular democracy is a like a chess tournament, with hundreds of games being played out on a wide range of issues. In many, if not most, of these games, change-resistant conservatives are doing battle with change-embracing liberals (the literal kind, not the Tony Abbott kind). And much like an actual game of chess, knowing your opponent’s strengths, weaknesses and tactics is crucial.

Take the same-sex marriage debate, for example. When locked in a marriage equality chess match against someone like Bill Muehlenberg, it’s extremely useful knowing that he relies heavily on his Bishops, has an irrational fear of Queens, doesn’t believe in mating with a Knight, and gains a lot of confidence from the support of his mindless pawns. All of this information can be used against him, and greatly increases our chances of winning.

Understanding the way people like Bill think is therefore immeasurably important – even if it leads to the conclusion that they don’t think at all. Bill’s latest post, “On the Subject of Subjectivism”, is a perfect example.

He begins thusly:

I really like Dr Pepper. But for some odd reason, many people do not. Now, I do not think that those who dislike DP are miscreants who need to face the death penalty. I don’t even think they are in any way wrong. That is because when it comes to matters of personal taste, there really is no right and wrong. There are simply subjective preferences, likes and dislikes.

Sounds quite reasonable, doesn’t it? Maybe Bill’s not that bad after all…

But of course not everything is just a matter of subjective taste. There are many things which have objective reality whether we know it or not or like it or not. For example, there are objective truths such as: 2 + 2 = 4. This truth does not depend on your subjective feelings and tastes.

No, actually, he really is that bad.

The two quotes above highlight a very important point about the way Bill and other conservatives think. They are actually capable of deploying sensible, superficially nuanced arguments, but only as a way of backsolving to their already-held positions. The conclusion is decided first and the arguments are decided second, and if anyone comes along with an opposing argument, why, it must be the opposing argument that’s wrong, because it can’t possibly be the conclusion. And so, instead of Bill reading his own analogy and seeing it for what it really is – an obliviously ironic defence of homosexuality – we end up with something else entirely: “People can’t help their preferences, but you’re not allowed to be gay, because I know addition”. I would call it asinine, but to do so would be to do that fine word an extraordinary injustice. So I’ll just call it ironic.

Bill then decides to copy and paste 600 words from C.S. Lewis, which is notable only because it raises the average word length of the post as whole, before concluding with the following:

So as we fight the various culture wars, we must also fight the big ticket items, and in this case that means standing up for objective truth and universal right and wrong. Without that we will simply flounder and sink in the quicksand of relativism and subjectivism.

Once again, that all sounds reasonable, right? I’ll even go so far as to say that I completely agree. Moral relativism is a ridiculous concept, and if there are no objective moral truths, then pretty much anything can be justified. There’s just one problem. What happens when the source of your objectivity is itself subjective?

It’s all very well for Bill to claim he’s married to objectivity, but it’s somewhat cheapened by the fact that Christianity is his father-in-law. He would, of course, be singing a different objective tune if he’d been born in Riyadh, instead of Jebusville USA. The fact that Bill seems to be the only person who doesn’t realise this highlights another important point about how conservatives think. It is apparently impossible for them to consider the world from a different point of view.

There will, unfortunately, always be chess matches to play, and there will always be Bill Muehlenbergs to play against. And if we want to win the game, or at least, not throw the board back in their faces, we need to remember one thing.

For people like Bill, irony and empathy just don’t compute.

Oh, and they really are terrified of Queens.

Mark Rabich. Mark Rabich, Mark Rabich, Mark Rabich, Mark Rabich, Mark Rabich, Mark Rabich. Mark Rabich!

For those that have repressed the memory, I introduced Bill Muehlenberg’s blog to you last year. Since then, I have read pretty much every post. And the more I read, the more I realise that Bill’s thoughts are not only an endless source of self-affirmation, but also wildly amusing. Even funnier than Bill, however, are the kindred simpletons who agree with him, and come to his blog to tell him he’s fighting the good fight, feed his rather significant persecution complex, and scratch his impressively undeserved ego. And his beard, probably, which is also impressive.

And so it came to pass, that when the NSW Greens proposed a motion highlighting the dangers of so-called reparative therapy, and NSW Labor spoke out against the expulsion of gay students from ostensibly Christian schools, Bill became outraged, and wrote a post about how the banning of so-called reparative therapy and the expulsion of gay students from ostensibly Christian schools is something the Nazis would do (see I told you he was funny!). And a reader named Mark Rabich stepped forward to dazzle us all with his wisdom. And by that I mean he asked a whole bunch of poorly-considered questions for people like me, that he hasn’t thought through, and doesn’t want the answers to anyway. Well, Mark Rabich, Ima answer them for you anyway.

What evidence is there that people are ‘born homosexual’ as you claim? Surely your thinking needs significant scientific evidence to back it up?
No one is born homosexual, Mark Rabich. People are born as babies. And just as babies can’t be Christians, Republicans, neo-Ricardians, generous, arseholes, or good at sports, they also can’t be gay. Because they’re babies.

Now yes, it’s true, some of those babies go on to become homosexual, or Republicans, or arseholes. And sometimes even homosexual Republican arseholes. The reasons for any of these outcomes aren’t exactly known, because they all involve the complex interaction between genetics, hormones and a myriad of environmental factors. The one thing we do know is that homosexuals aren’t just faking it to piss off the rest of us. They really, really, really are attracted to the same sex.

You would know this if you spent two minutes on Google.

After all, everybody has a mother and father, so the fundamental assumption of your thinking goes against the life experience of 100% of people on the planet, including yourself. How do you justify this disregard for straightforward facts about human sexuality?
This really is an intriguingly nuanced argument, Mark Rabich. I’m very impressed. If everyone on the planet is the product of a heterosexual union, then obviously that must mean that everyone is heterosexual. And a happy corollary is that everyone on the planet must also be fertile. Which is of course true. Right? Yaaaaaay!

You are the one with the completely unscientific viewpoint, aren’t you?
No, Mark Rabich. That would be the one who believes that a 900-year-old man built an oceanic zoo. (that’s you.)

What does this word “homophobic” mean?
I feel a little embarrassed pointing this out, Mark Rabich, but we now have these big books called dictionaries. And dictionaries allow you to– actually never mind. I don’t want to confuse you. Homophobia is a fear of or contempt for lesbians and gay men, or behavior based on such a feeling.

Phobias are generally debilitating and life-impacting fears of various ordinary things in life (flying in planes, enclosed spaces, dogs, etc.) and need professional expertise to diagnose and deal with. Are you a medical expert? Are you a psychological expert?
Oh, Mark Rabich, this makes me very happy. I couldn’t agree more. Homosexuality is indeed fairly ordinary, and a fear of homosexuals can be quite life-impacting (especially for the homosexuals), and chronic homophobia probably would be dealt with best by a psychiatrist.

But to answer your question, no, I am not a medical professional. I mean sure, I’ve watched a lot of House and Grey’s Anatomy, but, let’s be honest – if anyone came in with undiagnosed homophobia, House would have it figured out before the first ad break, and given he normally needs 43 minutes to diagnose whatever weird medical condition the writers googled that week, the rest of the episode would be kind of boring. As for Grey’s Anatomy, it’s been pretty light on medicine since Katherine Heigel left to throw herself at every rom-com she could find. OK, maybe… maybe if I’d watched E.R., I could say I was a medical professional, but I didn’t, and I can’t be bothered downloading it now. So I guess I’ll just have to listen to the real doctors like everyone else.

I am glad, however, that you are as eager as I am to defer to the experts on these kinds of issues. It will come in handy later.

Isn’t this worthless word ‘homophobia’ simply an invented word?
Why yes, Mark Rabich. Like every other word on the planet, ‘homophobia’ is indeed an invented word.

Isn’t the usage of this word purely a political tool to stir up hatred against people who are merely stating simple facts about human biology that the two sexes are complementary and compatible to each other?
No, Mark Rabich, it’s a very useful word that accurately describes the motivation for one particular type of discrimination. But we can call you a dickhead if you prefer.

Why are you stirring up hatred against others? What place is there in Australia for the kind of collective bigotry you are whipping up? Anybody who has a different concept of homosexuality than you, you wish to outlaw!
Firstly, Mark Rabich, no one’s trying to outlaw people, because that makes no sense. We would, however, like to do everything we can to protect the vulnerable from persecution. And in this case, the vulnerable are homosexuals, and the persecution is coming from homophobic bigots like yourself. See, this is where it would be really great if you knew how to use a dictionary, because you’d soon find out that the bigot is the one doing the persecuting, not the one trying to stop it.

I’m tempted to compare you to Hitler, sitting in his Berlin bunker about to commit suicide, asking “Why is everyone picking on me?”. But I won’t do that, because it’s a little early for Godwin, don’t you think?

Are you Nazis? Are you brownshirts? Are you the new gestapo?
Dammit! You beat me to it.

Once again, Mark Rabich, I feel a little embarrassed pointing this out, because it’s something pretty much everyone knows, but, um, the Nazis kind of hated gay people. They definitely would have sanctioned the expulsion of gay school students, if anyone was brave enough to come out at a Nazi school, that is. And sure, they may have banned reparative therapy, but only because therapists are a lot more expensive than bullets.

Calling a gay person a Nazi makes as much sense as calling a Jewish person a Nazi. Actually, why don’t you wander on over to Tel Aviv and do that? Let me know how you get on.

Why are you demonising people who simply think differently to you? You don’t really champion ‘diversity’ do you? You just use the word ‘homophobic’ to force people to think the same as you, don’t you? You’re just bullies, aren’t you?
This is the thing, Mark Rabich. If all you did was think differently to us, that would be fine. I have no problem with you sitting by yourself at home, thinking about how much you hate gays, and imagining all the vile sex things they do to each other, over and over and over again. But you’re not content to just think about how much you hate gay people, are you? You’re on a mission to make them miserable. And it’s getting a little tiresome.

So no, Mark Rabich, I don’t use the word ‘homophobic’ to try and force you to think like me. Not only is changing the way you think predicated on your ability to think in the first place, but, as I said above, I really don’t care about you think. I care about what you do.

What difference does it make to you if someone decides they want to change their own life? How does it affect you? How does it influence your life even the slightest?
These are very good questions, Mark Rabich. Write them down, so you can re-read them when one of your children comes out as gay, or wants to become an atheist. Also write down the word “IRONY”, in large capital letters. You won’t know what it means, but it will make me giggle.

If you disagree with the work of some people, you don’t need to see someone who engages in this kind of work, do you? So why does it concern you?
Tell me, Mark Rabich… how do you feel about gay prostitutes? Write that word “IRONY” down a few more times.

Australians generally value freedom – why do you think people should not have the right to make their own decisions and employ someone to help them with those decisions? Do people not have the right to run their own lives? Why do you want to shut down freedom?
OK, Mark Rabich, cross out “IRONY”, and write down “BONE HEAD” instead. According to your professed creed, no, people do not have the right to run their own lives. If they did, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, because homosexuality wouldn’t bother you.

Many people – with numbers into the thousands – have in fact changed their life in a way that you claim is “harmful and unscientific”. How can your claim be true when these people actually exist?
Just to clarify, Mark Rabich, are you suggesting that because thousands of people have been harmed by an unscientific theory, then the theory can’t possibly be harmful or unscientific? That’s an interesting way to look at things, Mark, but I know how much you like to consult the experts on these kind of things, so I just have to ask, are you a medical professional? Are you a psychology professional? Oh, you’re not… well that’s disappointing. You know who is though? The American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association.

How do you like your experts now?

Do you realise you are claiming these people are liars – either about their lives before, or their lives now? Why do you think these people are liars?
Actually, Mark Rabich, it is you who claim they are liars. After all, you’re the one who insists that everyone on the planet is heterosexual, that no one is “born gay”, and that same-sex attraction is either a choice or a mental illness, depending on your mood. So anyone who claims they’re gay must be faking it, right?

To my readers – I hope you enjoyed this brief foray into the deranged, obliviously ironic thinking of a homophobe.

And to Mark Rabich, if you ever happen to stumble across this post, I invite – nay, beg – you to comment. I’m always up for a giggle.

You Are a Dancing Bear

Judging from recent comments on television and the internet, it would seem that I was the only person in the country who had not met and fallen in love with Thomas Kelly prior to his tragic death. That alone could explain the level of outrage at the criminal court daring to hand out a proportionate and just sentence.

Or is there, perhaps, another reason? Could it have something to do with the fact that the nation’s media picked it up and was able to find enough elements of ‘human interest’ to keep the ball in the air for long enough that the story sticks in our minds?

That might explain why nobody seems to give a shit about the man who was shot a week after, or the rather nice man who was beaten senseless and left in a coma the week before. Or the thousands who are assaulted, some fatally, every year.

It can’t just be that we remember who he is. There must be something else going on here, to explain why we’re all so outraged at the criminal justice system so arrogantly daring to simply do its job in spite of all our feelings.

I have an idea. I believe it might have something to do with the fact that mass media, over a couple of hundred years of operation, has discovered that there is nothing the middle class punter enjoys more than a little bit of self-righteous indignation. So, on the principle of giving the public what they want, they ensure that we are outraged by just verdicts, lenient verdicts, heavy verdicts, illegible street signs, the war in Afghanistan, anti-war protesters, or whatever else they think we’re incapable of perfectly understanding.

FACT: The criminal justice system has no remit to pander to public opinion. It’s only job is to deliver justice as defined by the law, without fear or favour, and without regard to pressure from any source, political or otherwise.

FACT: The sentence handed down in a criminal court has everything to do with the court’s assessment of the defendant’s culpability and almost nothing to do with the value of life.

FACT: What happened to Thomas Kelly was a tragic waste of life. Joining in with a media driven three ring circus, however, simply cheapens his memory.

FACT: If you are outraged at the Loveridge sentence and cannot claim to understand how the criminal justice system works or even what it is for – you are a dancing bear.

Why Your Vote is Meaningless

Okay – I admit it: cheap attempt to grab attention. Don’t worry – what follows here is not an attack on representative democracy, an aimless whinge about party politics or that mainstay of the intellectually moribund – a hand-wringing apologia for the benevolent dictatorship.

No. All of us can tell, intuitively, that something is not quite right about the way government works. We feel alienated from it and irrelevant to it because something has broken the link between ourselves and the operation of the state. Of course, to have any hope of fixing it, we need to find out exactly what is wrong.

My intention is to fly in the face of precedent and tradition laid down by generations of political commentators before me and attempt to identify these problems using a little something I like to call ‘Reason’.

My plan is to take a simple observation, being, in this case:

Observation No. 1

Ordinary Australians, on the whole, feel alienated from the processes and activities of  OUR government.

I will then attempt to find, or possibly even prove, a ‘Statement’, thus identifying one or more key aspects of the problem. I will then conclude with an answering ‘Proposition’, containing more or less sensible suggestions for solutions.

If you are interested in keeping up with this conversation, but, like me, have a limited time allocation for the wafflings of total strangers, please feel free to just read the Statements and Propositions.

So, with reference to Observation No. 1, the obvious first question is: Are we still participating in our government in any meaningful way at all? Well, yes – the most universal and relevant participation has to be periodically showing up at a school hall, buying a sausage and failing, yet again, to understand the long method of filling out the upper house ballot.

Wait a minute – universal and relevant, you say? Then what about the vulgar controversialist title you chose, where you said voting was meaningless?

Good point. Well made. I can see that I’m going to have to explain myself. When I say it’s meaningless, what I mean is that, for the vast majority of Australians, the level to which they are politically engaged and the way in which they form their decisions, renders their vote basically meaningless for the purposes of choosing effective representative government. Big call? Well, let’s go through the heads of my one point argument.

  • The way in which most Australians exercise their franchise bears little or no relation to the system within which it exists.

In this country, as I’m sure you’re all aware, we do not directly elect the PM. Back in primary school or in year 7 commerce, someone would have briefly told you about the Westminster System and representative democracy. Now, if you can cast your mind back to what was probably one of the most boring days of your life, you may be able to recall why representative democracy exists.

Put simply, our nation is a very big place, with a number of variously populous areas, all of which have more or less different modes of life, critical industries,  local concerns, etc. Ideally, a representative of good character, being currently in residence and/or possession of a property in the electorate in question (and therefore committed to the community) is chosen by direct election to represent the specific interests of his or her electorate in parliament.

This, when you think about it, is a brilliant way of doing things. Very few of us are on speaking terms with our Head of State, or even with her Viceregal representatives. Some of us might be lucky enough to rub shoulders with senior civil servants, Ministers or even the PM, but, for the vast majority of us, raising a concern with any of these mighty and inaccessible beings is not really an option. Therefore, we pick one of our own – a solid citizen from our own neck of the woods, to get our view across in the big house.

Problem 1.

Party politics. In a lot of cases, especially in key electorates, party politics, not standing in the community, will largely govern the selection of candidates made available to us. In the case of politicians who are key players within one of the major parties, it is not at all uncommon to simply parachute the most strategically appropriate candidate in. So, we see immediately the potential for party politics to at least partially compromise one of the most important pillars of our political system.

Problem 2.

Geography. How many of us know or have ever engaged with our Member of Parliament? In some of the lower profile electorates, how many of us even know their names? The reality of the modern state (and this has been the case for some time) is that electorates are so large that it is simply not feasible for an MP, try as they might, to be engaged across the entirety of the community they represent.

So, for most of us, come election time – our local representative is a matter of profound indifference. Which leaves us with what? The exact same shambles we get every election. People voting along party lines or in accordance with their preference for the media persona of one or another of the party leaders. Stupid? Maybe not – in reality, the average voter will have seen much more of the two candidates for PM (albeit on TV) then they will of their MP.

The consequence of this behaviour, however, is a near total negation of the operation of representative democracy. If the majority of an electorate are making their decision based on factors that have nothing whatsoever to do with their electorate, then we have:

  • A vote that is cast without reference to what it was designed to achieve
  • A process that cannot effectively ensure that we are represented in government.

Additionally, regardless of how cleverly you may cast your own vote, if an actual majority of people are voting in a way that ignores the system, they have not only diddled themselves, but they have rendered your ballot virtually meaningless as well.

Now, it occurs to me that someone might say: “Representative democracy is not our only means of communication with government. What about the media? It alerts the government to public opinion.”

Right. ‘Public Opinion’. This is usually identifiable as the headline of the Daily Telegraph and represents a position on an issue. Firstly, the Australian people never have just one position on any issue. Secondly- by the time ‘Public Opinion’ is in general circulation, the only constants governing which position will be put forward are: Loudest, Stupidest, Least Syllables. Furthermore, the arbiters of public opinion (i.e. the primary sources of information and opinion that help to form it) can be counted on a blind butcher’s left hand. If you think that your interests are adequately represented by talk radio loonies, amoral, fanatic-for-hire lobbyists and the tiny group of merchant emperors we’re pleased to call ‘Industry’, then I envy you your optimism.

So, having said all that, I believe we can justly make the following statement:

Statement No. 1

An actual majority of the people of Australia no longer have direct and effective representation in government.


Now, the ordinary political commentator would stop at this point, possibly breaking off to wax lyrical about the good old days and how everything worked so much better under Gough, or when every street corner had a general store, or something equally maudlin and futile. I, however, object to the practice of whingeing endlessly to no good purpose. So, let’s have a look at what I came up with for:

Proposition No. 1

  • Improve the frequency and relevance of education with regard to the way our nation actually works. Government, types of government and our government specifically deserve to form a subject all their own. In the US, this subject is called ‘Civics’. The maintenance of a population that understands the nature and operation of their state is usually a key priority. At least, it is according to Plato and Sir Thomas More.
  • Change voter behaviour or change the system. If the people all vote in a way that bypasses a key pillar of the system, then perhaps we could ensure that, instead of rows of crazy-eyed leaflet people at polling stations, we could have dead-eyed civil servants, handing out educational literature. Yes, I know – that has as much chance of being effective as Belgium has of being a superpower. So, what’s wrong with this idea: if voters insist on voting as if we practise direct election, why not take that as a vote for direct election? One ballot each for the lower and upper house and then one for PM. 
  • Enact legislation that requires news reporting agencies and their associated publications to tell the truth. What I’m proposing here is not the setting of an impossible standard of fact checking, but rather, some way of gagging the divisive, ill-informed, irrational and, in some cases, functionally illiterate ‘opinion’ writers who seem to have so much control of our political dialogue. The simplest way I could think of was to make it illegal to talk shit in a publication that purports to engage in factual reporting. This way, you’d buy a paper for the cut and pasted articles from Associated Press and then, if you felt you had to, you could buy a copy of Jugs, or FHM, to read an opinion column in its natural and appropriate habitat.