Bernardi’s zombie values in modern Australia

We ought to thank Cory Bernardi for illustrating that the conservative right politician can swing so far to the right that they are utterly backwards.

Liberal senator Bernardi is making the news with the release of his new book, The Conservative Revolution, in which he makes a number of points that, from his interview this morning with ABC, are based on confirmation bias.

For example, to support the claim that “traditional families” – that is, one that includes a mother and father in wedlock – are better for children than other family models, he relies on self-rating from mothers, overlooking the fact that evidence shows that children of same-sex relationships fair as well in schools as traditional families and much better than other combinations.

And then there’s the point that he is against something which he could never possibility understand or face in his own life – having an abortion. It’s not an easy option, physically or emotionally, leaving his opinion of the matter the only one clearly detached from the serious nature of the choice.

Much of the defence he has made for his book has been in the name of “traditional values”.

In the ABC interview, he notes that these values have been “developed over successive generations”.

Hang on. Isn’t that to say that they have been modified, dare I say it, progressively, over time, to improve morality and the standard of living for our species? What’s wrong with continuing this development to further improve morality and the standard of living?

Cory thinks not – further development is, get this, erosion.

What traditional values are we talking about? In the interview, he goes on to say that these traditional values have made our country such a good one. So these traditional values include, say, white Australian policies? What about taking indigenous Australian children away from their families to raise in white foster homes and orphanages?

If he means to go deeper – to a supposed Christian foundation under modern Australia, well we then cannot rule out the ownership (and further abuse) of other people and the subordinate nature of women to men (after all, she is about as valuable as a single male rib); both of which are key to both the new and old books of that religion.

By comparison, that the Australian government has acknowledged the mistake they made to the stolen generation, that Abbott himself wants to acknowledge Australia’s first people in the constitution, that the majority of us stand for racial and gender equality, as well as an increasing number for marriage equality all suggest we are becoming more moral.

If anything, these so-called “traditional values” are outdated. Not all of them of course. Those that actually improve the lives of people persist. Those that don’t are being rejected.

Yes the dialogue must continue – and by all accounts, the fact that we monitor the gender divide in many professions, that we debate marriage equality, that we discuss and applaud moves to improve the standard of living for indigenous Australians are excellent examples that this dialogue is alive and well in Australia.

What Cory really means is that he thinks we overshot utopia some 60 years ago. He hates that many of the bad ideas of his parent’s childhood have been buried. Of course, he didn’t live it, but conditioned to think it was something that it wasn’t; something splendid, pure and wonderful before the beatniks and damned hippies screwed it all up. It is irrelevant to the moral debate today, as is his book.

Senator Bernardi needs to stop for a few moments and monitor a clock. They move in but one direction. If this values package his desperately grips onto was so great, we would have held onto it.

He won’t bring it back from the dead without, like some zombie, eating the brains and thus higher faculties of reasoning from the population at large.


Pink Cabs: A solution or giving up?

The latest talk is that Melbourne is to get pink “women only” cabs in response to behaviour that ranges from the demeaning to assault on female passengers. The response from the media, at least, has been positive.

This is not the answer.

When you receive a service from a provider in Australia, you should feel confident that your gender would not play a role in the quality and safety of that service. My wife shouldn’t feel concerned about catching a “yellow” cab. Regardless of the colour, she is only asking for a ride from A to B. That’s it.

What, next will we have pink registers with exclusively female operators servicing exclusively female customers, because male operators are notoriously pigs to female customers?

Of course not. That behaviour just doesn’t happen.

The problem is obviously the quality of the staff. Taxi companies ought to be held liable for the people they offer customers, just as is happening with the YMCA for not picking up the warning signs of  having a pedophile within their staff. Sure, the perpetrators are horrible people, but those who put them in a place of trust must be held to account for placing them they in the first place.

We shouldn’t need segregation of services based purely on gender because the industry is failing us. The industry is failing us!

Hypocritically, it was only a few years ago that cab drivers took the streets in response to assault on them.

Pink cabs are not the answer. This is gender discrimination fed by outdated behaviour also motivated by gender discrimination. We have a right to be appalled and a right to demand better. If we allowed such behaviour to continue, the current taxi drivers ought to be those in pink cabs… also sporting a snout.

Each one of us deserves to obtain a safe ride home when we ride in a taxi and gender has not role in that service.

Abbott, have you forgotten about human rights?

Tony Abbott has released his proposed plan to tackle boats full of refugees – navy firepower, named Operation Sovereign Boarders (sounding straight out of some super-macho Matthew Reilly styled story).

Since when has this situation been a national emergency, when Australia takes on so few people in need? I suspect about as long as Australia collapsed into economic ruin with the intoduction of a carbon price – Tony’s falling sky that never happened. Maybe the slogans and demonisation of asylum seekers has gone on so long that Mr Abbott now believes his own spin.

Most troubling about this move is his references to asylum seeking as “illegal”? Since when is it illegal to be displaced and how can one be displaced if they cannot move from conflict without falling into a wall of guns? Where have basic human rights disappeared to?

Cheap Labour and Poor Working Conditions: Who really is to blame?

The working conditions and wages paid for cheap goods from developing countries have again been in the news recently. People are quick to vilify businesses that supply such goods in their stores while turning a blind eye to this problem.

Yet, the critics themselves are without a doubt more often wrapped in clothing from suppliers undertaking inhumane practices. The problem itself is nothing new. The critics therefore are just as guilty for the demand of these product and wilful ignorance of the conditions behind their production.

All we want is reliable goods at rock bottom prices.

Well there’s your problem. Thoughts of this nature are no better than Gina Rinehart’s lament over the cheap labour costs of African workers when compared to Aussie workers.

To remain viable, business activities need to undertake cut-throat behaviours. Now forty years into the neo-liberal market, the “consumer” is detached from the realities of production across the board. For instance, seasonality of fresh produce is something long forgotten. Mending, indeed the expectation of a household item simply lasting, are long gone; it’s easier and apparently cheaper to upgrade and replace household items.

This is only true because some poor sap has no other option but to scrape out an existence on a daily wage less than we would spend on a coffee on our way to work.

These practices are so often reported on that no-one can be excused for buying goods ignorant to the fact. K-mart or Apple or whoever the critic wants to pick on today is guilty, true, but so are each of us for the purchase of these goods. Equally, the “designed obsolescence” and the throw away culture make all parties, from production to user, guilty of ridiculously mounting levels of waste.

Personally, I doubt anyone should be so quick to vilify producers and sellers, due to the risk of hypocrisy. Instead, what we need is a movement aimed at overcoming this paradigm. Of course, the alternative could not be as cheap, but it could be more durable and sustainable. It would definitely be more humane and otherwise ethical. Surrounded by growth economy which has evolved little beyond the lessons learnt by an invasive weed, the community of this movement would need persistence too.

If we do not like implicit involvement and thus guilt, we would do better to set a new example rather than trumpet hypocrisy to our personal activities. If business cannot fulfil the needs of the consumer, then it does not deserve the consumer dollar.

Marriage Equality: Helping to demonstrate just how absurd religious thinking can be

Cory Bernardi’s recent repetition of repugnant comments on marriage equality of course deserve comment and ridicule. I’m often left wondering what goes through the minds of such people whom not only uncritically write-off marriage equality, but oddly take it deeper into bizarre realms, seemingly unassisted by outside influences…

Is it really a reflection supporters of marriage equality or the minds of accusers themselves?

Anyway, the truth of the matter is best summed up in the “slippery slope” comic by B. Deutsch.

Bernardi, however, reminded me of earlier comments by Bernard Gaynor, reporting on the concerns of Bernard Gaynor. This inspired the following comic.


How the Enlightenment Has, So Far, Let Us Down

As a child, learning of the Enlightenment, I came to think of it as a revolution. To me, I saw it as a point where our species finally developed a critical tool kit, leading us to empirical evidence and thus a solid basis for understanding. I saw it as a turning point from ancient unfounded thinking to the modern era, leading to the industrial revolution and ultimately all that surrounds us today. I felt pride for our achievements and lucky to have been born in such an enlightened age.

I suspect most people see the Enlightenment in much the same way. However this is entirely wrong.

Yes, a small group of our species turned from philosophical reasoning to the more concrete tools that would develop into scientific methodology which in turn created the technological wonders of recent centuries, but this wasn’t universal.

Even today, in affluent countries where individuals are exposed to greater education than ever before, opinion and reason are simply not given their due weighting. Look for instance at media where the hard won lessons of research compete on even grounds with the cleverly designed opinion of a few and the reader is more often unaware of the absurdity.

How often have I heard, “because I believe in [a favoured holy scripture], I think…” as an opening of an answer to a question about the natural universe as though it were virtuous and sensible.

When one chooses to tackle any alternative to scientific reasoning, from the various alternative medicine ideologies (eg, natural therapy, anti-fluoride, anti-vaccination etc), religion to the popular climate change “scepticism”, one finds the same fundamental problem; faith in an idea that holds little to no empirical grounding. Such belief ultimately rejects reality as it is understood in favour of the unsubstantiated idea.

What’s more, the larger community tends to give them the respect of airing; everyone has an opinion and each opinion deserves a voice.

We don’t honestly believe this as there are many ideas that are abhorrent. For instance, racial discrimination is nowadays increasingly left to pockets of disliked groups to complain about within their sub-communities (I suspect gender preference discrimination will follow the same fate over the coming decades).

Yet where the idea holds no emotional response or social rejection, we fail almost entirely to demand solid evidence for the supposed factual claim as part of its right to airing. The Enlightenment may have provided the conception of modern scientific methodology, but it has not improved the awareness of critical reasoning for the vast majority of our species. We are by and large as drawn to myth and misconception as anyone else beyond the scope of the Enlightenment.

For all the talk, debate and correction one finds within various media in response to a certain falsehood, we achieve meagre returns outside of where doubt already exists within the faithful. The devout remain devout if not even further solidified to their delusions for all the effort undertaken to correct the misinformation.

The emphasis must therefore be on education. Religion has applied this for millennia; knowing all too well faith is more likely ensured if the mind is hijacked at a young age. We must shore up the minds of our youth with dedicated teaching in critical thinking prior to insult of erroneous memes and outright assault from faith. In essence, ensuring our children are not credulous through the provision of a personal critical tool kit – by educating them from a young age how to test an idea (that is, how to think, not what to think) – we are effectively vaccinating them against invasive detrimental memes.

A few generations hence with such dedicated effort and maybe we might be able to come close to the common perception of the Enlightenment.

Australian Media Reforms: How We’re Made into Fools

In Australia, there has been a lot of talk regarding media reform bills. For the most part, I have to conclude further still that the Australian government hasn’t a clue and this is little more than an election stunt.

Only a person with a mind like a tomb would seriously argue that free media is not fundamental to democracy. Fewer still would argue that we do have a problem when popular media increasingly speaks for a minority.

Thus is it easy to conclude that we have a problem in Australia. The reach of any of the major newspapers, for instance, is far greater than the media that attempts to correct such partisan propaganda. Watching the Deniers is a very successful blog, but does Mike come close to matching the range of Andrew Bolt? I doubt it. Likewise I have no doubt that Monckton’s lunch with the AFR was read by many more people than my critique of the article.

However, the way forward cannot be as proposed by these bills and we risk damaging the tatters of our failing democratic process even further.

The Inertia of Ideas

Dawkins “meme” seems revolutionary for the same reason the notion that free will is an illusion, as debated by Harris, sits so uneasy to most. In essence, it comes back to my previous point about the power of ideas.

We hold no ownership of ideas. An individual may provide new insight or invent something that changes how a society functions, but in truth, they only did so because of the background conditions that led to a certain resolution. This is why our ancestors scratched out rudimentary agriculture around ten thousand years ago and not the tablet computer.

Ideas develop, sometimes fuse and eventually evolve, using us as hosts all along. Ideas belong to no-one. For this reason, the transmitter is of little importance while the receiver is everything.

The only the difference (and I mean only) between Chris Monckton and, say, the walking sign, screaming hysterically that the end is near is the audience. The message is manic, obsessive and irrational in both cases, but the audience provide validity to the former over the latter.

What is the public interest?

These proposed media bills suggest that the public interest can be defined, but this is simply untrue. All information that could possibly exist is of public interest. Democratic culture is defined by the the freedom to be audience to certain ideas and not to others.

Infinite ideas exist and the potential for these to be defined by the community to develop their cultural expression, either through acceptance or rejection must remain an inherent right of choice to the society in question.

Regardless of where this governing body of public interest sits, by selecting what information is available for the public, they are in fact deciding for us what is in our interest. This concern is not challenged by the fact that we indeed have a problem of misinformation within many popular media in Australia.

To be sure, there are some horrible ideas that exist, but it is us who have decided it to be abhorrent which gives credit to our cultural ethics. This should be praised.

We are made infantile if this process is stripped from us.

Buttressing Democracy

The power of an idea is in the receiver; in the audience. For this reason, regulating the transmitter is a wasted act. Our politicians may stand around patting themselves on the back over their discussions regarding these bills, but don’t be fooled; it all sounds great in an election year (noting too the fast turn over expected for these bills).

Yes, ensuring that popular media cannot be monopolised is a good idea but apart from that, this media reform is not in the public interest. How on earth could they regulate information in any way that wouldn’t be classified censorship? Such an act is doomed to fail, as nice and virtuous as all the hype now sounds.

The more difficult but more appropriate course of action would be education. The human mind is inherently lousy or lazy with information. One will, without thinking twice, tend to accept information when it is provided by someone the individual deems an authority on the matter or if the information confirms ideas already held.

A seasoned journalist can thus get away with a lot when the audience has come to accept them as an authority on the subject. A clever propagandist can take an already held idea, or a bundle of similar ideas and fuse them into something a primed audience will accept, as Chris Monckton often demonstrates.

Therefore the only course is to teach critical analysis of ideas so that the general public are sceptical, even of the potential for internal biases within them. An idea, a projected reality; such things are not personal, as much as it is seemly evident the opposite. We are not defined by the ideas we play host to if we a taught not to be. We must be taught to let go of such and learn to be inquisitive. It is empowering to do so.

If the Australian government cared truly for the accuracy of information, they would empower the minds of the people to have the ability to critically assess the quality of ideas rather than treat us like infants whom need to be directed through approved information.

Monckton’s Democracy for the Few

Good Lord Chris Monckton assures us that he fights the good fight.

Everyone left of him, however, seems to be a communist of varying degrees. Depending on which interview or report by him that you refer (as he changes the message to fit whatever position his key audience is primed for) this includes even most US Republican senators, whom don’t have much lead on their belts…

He insists his is a position of centre right, but how central is it to believe that a huge Marxist movement is crawling under the banner of “environmentalism,” plotting to kill off six out of seven people, especially poor Africans, because they hate them, especially wealthy Westerners, because they hate them, all run under a world wide dictatorship developed under the UN?

Is anyone fooled by his centralist claims?

Anyway, the good fight ol’ Chris is waging is against these hidden enemies who hope to bring down democracy. Chris is all about defending democracy. Or is he?

The type of democracy he aims to protect seems to be one where political members can be bought and sold by the highest bidders, the upper crust of the free market. For instance, a group of US Senators signed a letter urging the President to back the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Those signing senators were paid, on average 340% more by fossil fuel industries than their counterparts.

How on Earth is this democracy where the elected representatives of a community can be bought to support the private interests of a wealthy few over the majority?

Yesteryear we had hereditary aristocratic classes syphoning off the wealth of the working class, through taxes based on little more than established ideology. Nowadays this is obviously replaced by a new minority class of barons whom have enough wealth to influence governance, protecting their wealth extraction while the majority of us are largely ignorant to the loss of our democracy and ultimately, our freedom.

Like so much of what Chris offers us, if one chooses not to be spoon fed and instead takes the time to read the nutrition label on the side of the box, one finds nothing but empty calories; a lot of hype without substance.

He has no interest in genuine democracy for the people, but rather defending the rights of the few to subvert justice and freedom for the majority.