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Fright Makes Right

A few days ago, I read an article on the Guardian about asylum seekers. Admittedly, and in the interest of disclosure, I do not have strong feelings about this issue but I have been influenced a lot by many friends past and present who were boat people, books like Anh Do’s book (The Happiest Refugee), and the opinions of various friends and influences who do have strong feelings on the matter. Suffice to say, as a result I gravitate towards the idea that both major Australian political parties’ attitudes towards asylum seekers is horribly awry.

But back to that article: it was more than a little jarring to learn from the comments section that there are a significant number of people who believe the government has an obligation to restrict immigration and prevent asylum seekers from entering the country and claim that, as a democracy, the government must oblige “the will of the people”.

I find this extremely disturbing, but I cannot fault their logic. It is true that “we the people” (as the Americans would say) wield the power to eject governments that do not reflect their interests – as we will certainly see in the upcoming election (a Rudd comeback notwithstanding). However, my problem is that it is also a case of “might makes right“, where any idea supported by sufficient numbers can triumph regardless of whether it is ill-informed (as is likely the case, as I’ll get to shortly), or outright wrong.

The Australian mainstream media (MSM) cannot claim with a clear conscience that they had no part to play in this. Every issue is sensationalised, and the hysterical reporting inevitably wrings the topic to within an inch of its life for whatever potential it has to harass the Government (and sometimes even the Opposition) for no better reason than to generate column inches and sell newspapers. It goes far beyond what is strictly necessary in the interests of journalism and reporting – here is an example borrowed from an article on The Hoopla:

Christopher Pyne held a media conference Monday morning as well and had a crack at talking about the Liberal Party’s education policy. The first question he was asked when he finished? What did he think about Kevin Rudd’s leadership chances.

The second question he was asked was what happened to the rat that bit him during a charity sleep-out on the weekend. He quipped it died of bubonic plague. The third question to Christopher Pyne was from an excited journalist, thinking he had the scoop of the week, seriously asking if Pyne now had bubonic plague as well. Pyne had to point out it was a joke.

Oh yes, and questions on the education policy Pyne had spoken about? Zero.

So essentially, what really gets me is the possibility that people are agitating for change based on misinformation fed to them by lazy journalists and power-mongering media moguls. Of course, there’s always just plain old stupidity.

No doubt some will claim that the problem is a lack of leadership in this country. I don’t buy it. There was a profound quote in a letter to the editor of the Australian Financial Review: “Leadership in a democracy is by the consent of the led.” Sadly, its author, Greg Angelo, mentioned it in the context of criticising Julia Gillard, but I took a completely different meaning from it. The comments in the Guardian article show that a significant number of Australians do not consent to being led at all – they simply want a token figurehead to express their bigoted tendencies into law.

That does not bode well for either Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott after the election, although Abbott has the clear advantage in that he possesses some of those bigoted tendencies.

Thoughts on Gillard’s speech

Australian Prime Minister Julia GillardI am so angry right now. The backlash by the Australian media over Julia Gillard’s speech against Tony Abbott in parliament a couple of days ago has made me positively livid. I’m not affecting a faux interest in the issue of feminism, in which as a man, I have no stake or claim. Rather, I am enraged by the continued efforts of the media to mislead the public on issues that have a huge negative impact on how our country is governed.

Articles in the mainstream media focused on how Gillard used her speech to vent her spleen at Tony Abbott’s expense, labelling the Prime Minister a hypocrite for “supporting” Peter Slipper, the Member for Fisher. In doing they they completely missed the context that the Opposition had recently tried to raise a motion to dismiss Slipper as the Speaker of the House – a particularly douchey move considering that parliament cannot simply vote to dismiss a member. It was a wedge tactic designed to force Gillard to be seen either as supporting Slipper by opposing the motion, or else having to concede that she made a mistake by installing Slipper as the Speaker in the first place by voting with it – ultimately forcing her into a no-win situation.

Hence it was a shocking surprise that the Prime Minister managed to pull a Jesus and the Adulterer on Abbott.

The Opposition has been using destabilising tactics on the already-shaky minority government through their acts of chaos in Parliament, as well as their constant undermining of Gillard’s authority using tactics that amount to “because she’s a woman” and causing the media to incite sexist and misogynistic sentiments from the electorate. At this point some of you are probably thinking “what a load of crap, Australians aren’t that small-minded!”, but as Anne Summers shows in graphic detail in a speech titled Her rights at work: The Political Persecution of Australia’s First Female Prime Minister, the point is undeniably true.

Therefore those who criticise Gillard of using her speech to gloss over the Peter Slipper issue are missing the point. It was calling attention to the dirty tactics that the Opposition use to ensure that this country continues to remain in turmoil. Every make-believe crisis of leadership and claim about a lack of personal integrity that the Liberal Party successfully perpetuates – followed along by their all-too-eager co-conspirators in mainstream media – reinforces the self-fulfilling prophecy that our country is in trouble. The government is therefore, constantly on the back foot as it tries to convince its cynical constituents that we are actually in a very good position (which we undeniably are).

The fact that the motion to dismiss the speaker lost by a vote of 69:70 is irrelevant since party members are required to vote with the party, so in a minority government this is an entirely unremarkable result.

Meanwhile, the Coalition have barely updated any of their policies since they lost the 2007 election and continue to campaign on making the other team lose, rather than winning on the merits of their own platform. Truly, if this country (and its politics) has descended into farce, Tony Abbott and the Liberal Party have the most to answer for.

In-tolerance we must

NOTICE: intolerance will not be toleratedI once read a question on Quora where somebody asked why Christians in America feel like they’re a persecuted minority. The answer written by Robert Hegwood is intriguing: in a nutshell, he describes how Christians were used to living a certain way of life, behaviours that had been acceptable – expected, even – for a long time, but because of the rise of Atheism they now find themselves suddenly forced to dispense with hundreds of years of accumulated history (dating back to before America existed), simply because it offends modern sensibilities. Christians are essentially being forcefully told “you can’t do that any more”.

Is it fair to ask a person, or even a significantly large group of people, to change, when what they were doing has been acceptable for decades prior? Supporters of Atheism will likely bring up all kinds of anachronistic behaviours, and social norms of past eras which now seem ludicrous, to justify a general purging of all belief even if they aren’t practiced any more. Granted, situations like the recent riots in response to a sacrilegious Youtube video do little to help, but using this as a argument for banning all religion is like pointing to soccer hooliganism as a reason for banning all sport.

Religion is more than fad or fashion – it is peoples’ way of life, moral compass, worldview and belief system. One could reasonably argue that religious belief is no more or less dangerous than a political ideology. Both have their good and bad – wars have been fought for both causes – so why is one “politically correct” (ba-da-boom) while the other isn’t? It brings to mind the famous Stephen Roberts quote:

“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

… except I contend that we are all religious. I simply believe that an atheist’s “god” is ideological rather than metaphysical. Let’s be clear: I’m not saying an atheist “worships” their ideology as one would a deity, but a rational person must accept the existence of a system greater than themselves, of which they are necessarily a part – whether they choose to accept that or not. I don’t buy existential nihilism, which – to bring this post back around full circle – Nietzsche believed to be a widespread phenomenon of Western culture, and that it was an unsavoury yet inevitable phase that humanity must go through on the path towards transcendence.

In other words, let’s not get too carried away with this current zeitgeist of non-belief – it is just part of humanity’s journey, not the destination.

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This post is part of the series An Atheist in God’s Kingdom.

Old McDonald had a… problem

Test tube meatDuring a recent dinner, a friend asked me whether I would eat artificial meat – i.e. that which is created in a test tube rather than coming from a slaughtered animal. I said that I would, so long as it tasted identical to the real thing. Would you?

Before I get into the meat of the post (ba-da-boom), it would probably be useful to elaborate on my stance regarding animal cruelty because I can almost feel the heat of indignation caused by my many animal-loving friends. Clearly I am a meat eater, which means I haven’t had an epiphany about the ethics of how my food is sourced. It doesn’t mean I think it’s right that animals should suffer for my sake, just that I have not yet found a compelling reason to weigh my rights vs. responsibilities in that area (read: it’s in the “too-hard basket”).

So getting back to test tube meat, something that occurred to me: assuming it were to take off, and the farming of chickens, pigs, cows and other “meat producing” animals was no longer required – what would happen to those species? As far as I know, these animals are complete domesticated and don’t exist in the wild at all. Does it mean that they’ll effectively become extinct, other than the few that might be kept by zoos and as pets or for personal consumption?

Also on the endangered list would be derivative industries such as “organic” manure, gelatin, leather, and a whole host of other products derived from the meat industry or its by-products.

Food for thought, or thought for food?

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Interesting reading:

The Conversation: What is the value of an animal’s life? http://theconversation.edu.au/what-is-the-value-of-an-animals-life-4412

Scientists working on $330,000 test-tube-meat burger http://articles.latimes.com/2012/feb/20/business/la-fi-mo-test-tube-meat-20120220

Trigger-nometry

By now you’ve probably heard the news about the shooting at a screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. Unsurprisingly, the public discussion quickly turned into a gun debate – a highly contentious topic in the United States due to the tension between violent crime involving guns, and the country’s constitutional right to bear arms. While mulling over the tragedy of the situation a few thoughts occurred, which I thought I’d put out there – seeing as I haven’t posted in quite some time.

My dad’s always been a stickler for security: prior to ol’ Johnny Howard’s Gun Buyback Scheme in 1996, he used to own a shotgun for “hunting”. I can’t remember whether he actually ever took it out (for recreational purposes or otherwise), but I do remember the gravity of its presence in the house. My own personal firearms experience is going pistol shooting for a friend’s bucks. I’ve lived with a gun in the house, and I’ve held and fired a gun – so I feel somewhat qualified to speak about it, although any American (and probably no small number of Australians) would laugh in my face for making that claim.

Yosemite SamFear dominates both sides of the debate, whether they care to admit it or not. On one hand, fear drives gun ownership – guns are used for protection, be it from physical injury, or as a “big stick” to enable a person to speak boldly and exercise their personal rights. It’s fitting that the right to bear arms is second to Free Speech in the US Bill of Rights, as human tendencies will typically necessitate the former as a result of the latter.

Guns are as much a symbol of authority as much as they are a tool for violence. Note how despite the highly publicized tragedies that occasionally pepper the news, most Americans live in relative peace and safety with firearms – so long as it remains largely symbolic.

Take the guns away and people live in fear, literally powerless. The population becomes meek and subservient to any kind of power, with rhetoric being the tool of choice. Without force behind it, this is easily ridiculed – I hazard that this might contribute to the explanation of why “tall-poppy syndrome” in so pervasive in Australian culture.

Like how money used to be backed by gold prior to fiat currency, authority in the US is backed by firepower. Until some other form of individual empowerment materialises with sufficient clout to replace the brute force of firearms, I think it will be largely futile to try and annul the Second Amendment – its influence on the psyche of the average American is far too strong.



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