Iain Hall's SANDPIT

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So you say you want a revolution

Mao is famously quoted as insisting that “all power comes from the barrel of a gun” and while that may hold true for a country in the throes of a revolution or subject to military conquest in an established democracy like our own all power comes form the most persuasive tongues and the dialogue those tongues foster within the part of the population who are politically active or engaged.  For a very long time during my lifetime those persuasive tongues were controlled by the owners of the mass media who were able to disseminate their ideas and understandings to a receptive audience who could only respond and engage with the issues via a limited facility provided by media owners in the form of “letters to the editor” they heavily controlled the choice and publication of such feed back to maintain their monopoly of political  discourse. This made owners, editors and Journalists both powerful and significant in our democracy. Political parties and aspirants to office openly courted the media and media owners and editors of both political inclinations have not hesitated to promote or deride the political players of their day especially when it came to promoting their own beliefs or vested interests. Thus we have a business focused player like Rupert Murdoch considering not only the players who will serve his political ideals but also his business interests. We should never forget that the reason that anyone publishes a news paper or owns a commercial television channel is to make a quid by selling advertising on or in it so it naturally follows that a media entity has to be responsive to its audience and to some extent reflect the needs desires and aspirations of that audience as well. Thus no matter what the ideology of a media owner may be (and I’m sure that some readers are imagining Rupert Murdoch as an evil manipulative puppet master right now) he or she also  has to respect and reflect the audience who buy his product.

The media landscape changed with the rise of the internet and the invention of the blog. All of a sudden political discourse was not controlled by mega rich gate keepers who shaped the discourse through their cohorts of authorized writers and speakers (journalists) Suddenly ANYONE  could write anything they pleased about the issues of the day and more importantly ANYONE could comment freely on what had been written. And comment people did with spirit and gusto. In the political blogs that were the pioneers of this brave new online world it was not uncommon to have comment threads that had many hundreds of postings as commentators had lively debates in real time as they tried to “find the plan” to explore an issue with great thoroughness. The problem is that most of these blogs have become very tribal indeed. A sort of mob rule mentality and tribalism has become the norm in most of the online spaces where politics are discussed. Thus if you visit any popular political site you will find that the commentators who have views consistent with the slant of the site tend to gang up on anyone with a dissenting voice who happens to raise their heads above the parapets and offer a contrary opinion. I’ve seen this happen on both left-wing and right-wing sites and it almost always devolves into personal attacks upon the person espousing a heterodox position along with the accusation that they are “trolling”.

My question is does it have to be this way forever? Surely the better way to go would be for those who have a passion for politics to do more than just seek the affirmation of those with a like minded.  Democratic politics is first and foremost about the art of persuasion. If you want change you have to persuade those who disagree with that change that they are in error and that the changes you propose have real virtue. No one is ever going to be persuaded to change their opinion if they never even encounter a rationale for a contrary opinion or if they never have their own beliefs challenged which means that even the most spirited but  “within the tribe” discussion is ever going to change a single mind. To make change within a democracy you have to change the minds and vote of those who give our political candidates their jobs.

What I advocating here is that those who want to see a better standard of political debate in this country learn to respect political difference and to embrace diversity in their interlocutors and further that everyone who wants a  better Australia needs to try to breakdown the tribalism in the online spaces where we discuss the issues. At the very least you could learn more about why those you disagree with think the way that they do, and you may even find that you can persuade them to a position that is closer to the way you see things.

Of course if you are going to be at all convincing you will have to interact with your interlocutors sincerely and with a generosity in debate that many culture warriors (as so many long time blog commentators become) find difficult. You see snarky comebacks and put downs become quite addictive when you are arguing with someone in an online forum (I know because I have not always  been a saint on that myself) but if you can resist that temptation you will discover a couple of things pretty quickly. Firstly your “political opposites” are often  not that different to yourself and that you may well have more in common than your think you do. From common ground you can find a common purpose and from a common purpose you can find a way to try to reconcile the differences in your positions. Even if you can’t reconcile those differences you can at least learn to respect each other.

As I suggested with the tittle “So you say you want a revolution ” its very easy to want change if you don’t think about how that change is to happen and what is to be built in the place of that which you want to tear down. Well I want to see a revolution in political discourse where those on the right and those on the left are willing to engage in productive online  debate that does not just degenerate in to acrimony and rancor. Hopefully in time we will see roughly equal numbers of players in the modern electronic sandpits but if we can’t have equal numbers any time soon can we at least have some respect for those of one political persuasion who go and play in the sand pits of the other-side? These brave souls bring that most rare and valued thing to these debates and that is what the Catholics used to call “an advocate for the devil”. You see once you have an advocate for the devil in your debates the depth to which you can explore the issues increases as a consequence. Of course those who just go into online comment threads for a bit of venting and affirmation from the like minded will probably hate having their blinkered thinking challenged, they will also hate having to justify many of the notions that they have previously taken for granted but the totality of the debate will have benefited. In the end we all want to change the world, we all want to see the plan, but you need to do more than carry pictures of Chairman Mao if you want to make it with anyone.

With a hat-tip to John and Paul

Labor needs a VERY big spoonful of sugar

Spoonful

If ever there was a staple in the topical diet of politics tragics it would have to be the ever present reporting of opinion polling. To may mind they are rather like the rolled oats of  our political diet, bland and ubiquitous but still rather filing and nourishing. So of course we all pour over each iteration of this stalwart of our democratic process. If the poll shows  “our” team performing well then we tend to think that it must be right on the money and if it shows our team in the poo we tend to  find reasons to dismiss its results, for instance  my friends from the left love to claim that because phone polling  is only done to land line numbers then it is naturally biased towards the older demographic who are not totally devoted to cell phones like the younger brethren, this of course (according to their argument) means that such polling “naturally” has a “conservative” bias. When things get truly desperate for your team you can always fall back on the tried and true  “the only poll that matters is the one on election day” side step of the issue but I doubt that anyone really every buys that line.

click for source

click for source

Apart from a very brief Indian summer late last year Gillard and her administration have been consistently in disfavour with the voting public and the only raisin in the porridge has been a very slim hope that the personal unpopularity of Tony Abbott may just save them, especially when it comes to his perceived problems over the so called “women’s issues” things like abortion and women in the workforce were the one thing that have been sugaring the Labor tragic’s oats and sadly now they are discovering that the sweetness they though was nourishing sugar was in fact saccharine.

As Julie Andrews reminds us a spoon full of sugar helps the medicine go down  however when the medicine is this bitter there is no spoon on the planet big enough to sweeten the  brew that Labor and its true believers will be supping on up to and beyond the election on September 14.

Cheers Comrades

stir

Jeremy Sear (again) defends Bob Brown the clown

One of Jeremy’s favourite activities on his blogs is to defend Bob Brown, the leader of the Greens, of which he is a member. Jeremy even defended Brown for his outrageous comments which alleged that the Australian coal industry had contributed to the Queensland floods last year, when no scientist would draw such a causal link.

When Bob Brown delivered a weird speech at a Greens conference, which addressed the crowd as “fellow Earthians” he was rightly ridiculed. But Jeremy again leaps to his leader’s defence on his blog of intellectual dishonesty:

If Brown’s speech was really as “wacky”, “batty” and “barking mad” as Penbo and Sharwood claim, surely there’d be some other juicy quotes in it? Some more hilarious examples of this crazy person who’s gone way off the deep-end, this mad “UFO spotter” with his “thousands of words of madness”?

And yet… neither David nor Anthony could apparently find any.

The reason, of course, is that whilst Brown did pick an unfortunately odd-sounding opening phrase (“Earthians” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, which is presumably why you rarely hear it from anyone but bad science fiction writers and crystal-wearing hippies who relish sounding weird), the rest of the speech made quite reasonable points.

Jeremy makes it sound as though other than the opening “fellow Earthians” line, which he insists was just an unfortunate choice of words (even though it implied that there was life outside of planet Earth when there is no evidence of that), the rest of the speech was perfectly sensible.

But you only have to keep reading to find out that even Jeremy concedes that this is not the case:

The biggest problem with Brown’s speech is his call for the development of a “one person, one vote, one value” global democracy. And that is because such a global democracy is more than a little incompatible with a world in which authoritarian nation states like China contain such a large proportion of the world’s population. I don’t know if Bob has a particular proposal for tackling this problem (and keep in mind, in the speech he was calling for global democracy to be an aim we work towards, not something we impose in five years involving submission to overpopulated dictatorships: it’d hardly be a “democracy” if a fifth of the voters have their votes effectively controlled by their government) but it’s something worth asking him. It’s something worth having a serious discussion about.

There are a number of problems with a world government, and not just the fact that most nations are not democracies. Firstly, the majority of people on earth are poor, so this would necessarily lead to a massive redistribution of wealth from wealth-creating nations to poorer nations with no guarantee of long-term benefits for the developing world. Secondly, the vast majority of the world’s population have very low levels of education with very little understanding of global issues. Thirdly, the world’s population does not share the same values or political goals, when this would surely be required if nations were to unite under the one government.

So Brown’s idea of a global democracy is a joke, a leftist fantasy which simply does not stack up with reality. No wonder Brown was ridiculed. Jeremy should admit that Brown’s critics have a point rather than defend the indefensible.

Surely that would be more intellectually honest than serving up what is arguably pro-Greens propaganda.

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