C'est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons, pour nos frères, La haine à nos trousses, et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère. Il y a des pays où les gens aux creux des lits font des rêves, Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue nous on crève.

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

In Defence of Unions

Please note – this is a very long post. Bored readers are encouraged to wait a few days, when I will write some shorter fluff pieces.

This post is a response to a debate I had with Damien, examining the merits of unionism.

This is a multi-layered issue. At the most immediate and local level, the Federal Government’s Workchoices legislation appears to be deeply unpopular. Given that this piece of legislation is the major Federal policy initiative since 2004, and since it is also the major area of policy difference between the two parties, I think it is reasonable to say that the 2007 election hinges on how Australians want their industrial relations.

My opinion on the matter was that Workchoices served a number of interests for the Government, including centralisation of control on industrial matters, reducing the ranks of the Labor Party's financial support base (unions), maintaining corporate profits at a time of low unemployment by keeping down wages and conditions, and keeping wages from growing, and thereby slowing inflation. Contrary to much of the leftist blogosphere, I believe that blue-collar workers have recognised the threat to working conditions that Workchoices represents.

Consequently, I believe that Labor will be handed this election (narrowly) as a result of Howard’s foray into class warfare, and not because a few Liberal ‘Wets’ have decided that asylum seekers are important, after all.

In addition to the specific issue of Workchoices and the 2007 election, this debate has touched on the merits of unionism as a whole, and has implications for broader issues of the regulation or deregulation of the economy.

To present some context to the debate on ‘union power’, I will try to represent Damien’s theses fairly:
- ‘If unions get power and boost worker’s wages it boosts the cost of living (inflation) as businesses pass costs on to consumers. Plus now that labour is more expensive with greater union power it means that businesses can afford to employ less and so the unemployed stay poor.’
- ‘People on benefits from working Australians are also the most likely to be the poorest in Australia. So no.1 cause of being poor is no job. Giving them welfare handouts doesn’t cut it.’
- ‘Statistically there are well over 1 million Aussies that are either unemployed or would be ready for more work in 4 wks time if they could get it. That means we need to increase job supply…This may drop wages, penalties etc but then these benefits were only there excluding those that don’t have the benefit of work in the first place. This is especially true given the most unemployed are low skilled and low educated and so would benefit from some entry into the workforce at a lower pay.’
- ‘In fact, more than half on the minimum wage are from high income households, so dropping it will not greatly effect the poor.’
- ‘Economists predict that a 2% drop in real wages corresponds to a 1% drop in unemployment.’
- ‘[T]he enemy is wage increase which is not accompanied by productivity increases and the pre-1993 period made the increases easier to snowball.’
- Over recent years as the labour market has grown in flexibility so too has been a corresponding growth in productivity. Part of this has come from less reliance on awards and more on AWAs etc.
- ‘You can increase training to the hilt but it is no good if employment is too expensive for businesses to come to the table.’
‘There is nothing ‘magical’ about this whole process. It makes sense that a decrease in wage cost will provide more incentive for greater output from a business which means a greater demand for more employees.
The drop in union influence in Australia in recent years has seen greater productivity, real wage growth and unemployment decrease - see Access Economics report “Work Place Relations - The Way Forward”’

Addressing all of these points in detail would take something longer than a mere blog post, but I will try to sketch a few points in response.

Background
It is curious that it is precisely now that the attack on unions has been ramped up, precisely at a time when many superficial readings of contemporary economics say that neo-liberal doctrine is the only game in town. Furthermore, it is should us as odd that the Howard Government introduced anti-union legislation precisely at a time of very high employment. Whilst employment levels have continued to increase, it is difficult to say that they are doing anything other than following a pre-existing trend.

Let us recall that unions emerged in response to the deregulation on 19th Century industrial capitalism. Each attempt at regulation of Western European industry was met with protest, and suggestions that industry would collapse should it have to incorporate child labour laws, limits to the working day, etc. Of course, capital ultimately did a good job of absorbing these faux-crises, and continuing to generate profit. The horrendous conditions of 19th Century industrial England, ably described in Das Kapital, had improved considerably within a couple of generations, thanks in large part to the trade union movement. In this sense, the union movement, far from being ‘anti-business’, actually served to maintain capitalism, merely taking the edge of its nastier aspects. For this reason, many early leftists regarded trade unionism as ‘counter-revolutionary’.

Today in Australia, union membership has clearly declined. About 50% of all Australian workers were unionists when Hawke came to power, compared to approximately 17% now. Nonetheless, it is worth remembering that unions are the largest political organisation in the country, with a membership that dwarves that of the combined numbers of all political parties. Australians will express, by democratic means, just what they think of workplace deregulation.

Deregulation & Unemployment
When we look at the behaviour of employers under conditions of deregulation, I see no reason to believe that ‘market forces’ serve anything other than the interests of employers. The tendency of employers to reform their behaviour, whether in terms of industrial relations, or, more recently, the environment, typically results as a consequence of pressure from within and without, and is usually met with significant resistance.

There are few truly ‘free’ markets to use as examples. Chile under Pinochet is arguably a case in point. Whilst Pinochet’s apologists hailed his economic ‘reforms’, many figures have suggested that, during his reign, the wealthy became very wealthy, whilst everybody else became poorer. It has taken the people of Chile a long time to recover from Friedman.

Little wonder, then, that employers’ advocates cry out for more ‘deregulation’. Yet there is still a persistent mystical strain in free-market thinking. Correlation is frequently mistaken for causation. For instance, when Damien says that ‘It makes sense that a decrease in wage cost will provide more incentive for greater output from a business which means a greater demand for more employees’, this is by no means self-evident. This is every bit as deterministic as vulgar Marxian economics, with the added obfuscation of a supposed causal link between incentive for ‘greater output’ and lower wages.

Similarly dubious assumptions are made by other agitators for deregulation. In a virulently anti-union paper, Gerard Jackson tells us that:

In the free market there is always a tendency for every factor of
production
to receive the full value of its product, especially labour. If
unions set wage
rates above the value of labour’s marginal product then
unemployment is
inevitable.


Again, there are some enormous assumptions made here – note the use of the terms ‘always’ and ‘every’. Absurdly, Jackson seems to miss the fact that if labour, as a ‘factor of production’ received its ‘full value’, then ipso facto the employer would cease to generate profit! No union in recent memory has set wages above the value of ‘labour’s marginal profit’, as this would self-evidently lead loss and downturn. The reality, of course, is that labour is almost never paid its ‘full value’. It is a question of ‘how much’ rather than ‘if’.

The extent to which labour is shortchanged is determined primarily by employers, and always with the profit motive in mind. When we speak of unions acting to shore up reasonable wage rates for workers, we are not speaking of paying workers beyond their value, since this logically cannot happen. We are merely talking about unions acting on behalf of their members to lessen the extent of the ‘shortchanging’ by which their labour is valued.

With the foregoing in mind, it cannot be held that unions ‘cause’ unemployment. Damien, and a variety of economists, repeatedly makes the weaker claim, namely, that unions maintain unemployment. By supposedly ensuring higher wages, unions act as a deterrent for businesses considering new staff.

This claim is as difficult to prove as it is to refute, as any statements here can only be based on the sketchiest of correlative evidence. There are always many factors determining unemployment – finding a single culprit is unlikely.

To submit this argument to a bit of reductio ad absurdum, the logical outcome of this thinking is an economic system like China’s, a much-feared ‘race to the bottom’.

Given that areas of staff shortage are generally for skilled, rather than unskilled employees, it seems unlikely to me that lowering pay and conditions will greatly assist employment of this latter group. A thousand lowly paid attendants of some sort will not fill a single vacancy in IT, teaching, medicine, etc. In reducing the pay and conditions of the lowly skilled, we are, in effect, depressing economic conditions, and run the risk of creating a ‘working poor’, all the more since Australia is experiencing conditions of relatively high employment. Let us note, also, that if Australia’s high employment rate has emerged as a result of ‘deregulation’, it has been that of the Hawke/Keating years, not Howard’s Workchoices. In an economic downturn, the latter legislation may facilitate great unemployment, given that employers are given the right to dismiss workers relatively easily, with few obligations by way of recompense. If the workforce has become increasingly casualised, surely this is in spite of the efforts of unions, rather than because of them.

I remain unconvinced that there is a substantial link between unions and the maintenance of unemployment. There is no evidence that this link exists in Australia. In countries such as Italy, where there are major differences in unemployment between regions, we also find that there are major differences in union membership between regions. The impoverished South is also the least unionized; the industrial North has a large, and, at time, militant union base.

In the US, the situation is different. Industrial law ensures that unions remain relatively weak. This weakness coexists with relatively low levels of unemployment in the US (I’m generalizing here, obviously the US is a big country). Nonetheless, even if we made the unsubstantiated assumption that deregulation and de-unionisation were responsible for this low unemployment, we still have to face the fact that the ‘working poor’ that has been created as a consequence by no means places the US in a better overall economic position. To be sure, employers are in a better position to profit, but the deregulators still need to explain why an unemployed Australian will almost certainly be in better economic health than a low-income American, and will quite likely have more money to put back into the larger economy. This is especially true when we observe that one of the artifacts of ‘deregulation’ in the US has been to drive down minimum wages in real terms over the past few decades. Hardly a success story, in other words.

In short, I don’t think that anyone can conclude satisfactorily that unionism maintains unemployment. Furthermore, I think we can conclude that ‘deregulation’ and the weakening of the union movement will almost certainly correspond with diminishing wages and conditions for those who are employed.

In some respects, this is a moot point for Australians. Workchoices, consisting of 1,200 pages of legislation, is the precise opposite of ‘deregulation’. None of this should surprise anyone who knows the Howard Government for its widespread use of corporate welfare and agrarian socialism. There are many compulsions built into the legislation, which even goes so far as to limit employers’ abilities to work constructively with unions in hammering out agreements.

Obviously, there is nothing in this legislation that remotely resembles a ‘level playing field’, or that allows worker and boss to be equal partners at the negotiating table. A boss can remove conditions and fire almost at will. The worker, on the other hand, does not even have the right to withdraw his or her labour! This is true even if the worker is attempting to negotiate for an AWA. Workchoices and deregulation are, I in this sense, two separate arguments. The main shared feature is anti-unionism.

Unionism and working conditions
I looked at some of the references provided in favour of the pro-deregulation, anti-union argument. I think that any attempt to correspond ‘reform’ in the economic sphere with reform in the industrial sphere must be met with strict limitations, but here is a brief look at some papers.

The 1998 article by Peter Dawkins argues for lower unemployment by way of lower wages and, to a much lesser extent, sustained economic growth. Whilst Dawkins says that there is ‘strong evidence’ that constraining wage growth will lead to increased employment, much of the paper is merely assertion. Dawkins himself acknowledges that, in the case of skilled workers, constraining wages (to minimise inflation) is actually likely to be antithetical to ‘market forces’ in a period of growth! Dawkins seems to presume that there are various disincentives to working, yet does not consider that reduced wages for unskilled workers may increase the disincentive to work. Moreover, he proposes that, in order to offset the impact of lower wages on the poor, we would need to implement a flat tax rate of 50% or more, particularly for higher-income earners. Again, this is hardly deregulation, and I can’t see Dawkins’ arguments winning much sympathy from the free-marketeers.

The article by Access Economics’ Charles Richardson, commissioned by the Business Council of Australia (itself a kind of union) is, like many in this field, entirely partisan in its sympathies. We would no more expect it to advocate against the interests of capital than we would expect ACTU media releases to argue against unions.

Overall, the paper reads more like a manifesto than an argument. A number of wild assumptions are made throughout the paper. For instance, consider the statement ‘fairness is better achieved through taxes and transfers than industrial relations policy’. Firstly, this statement is far from controversial, and is not exactly demonstrated by Richardson. Secondly, what precisely is Richardson proposing in concrete terms? A system of increased welfare to offset what would necessarily be a less fair industrial system? Notably, Richardson dismisses Australia’s long history of unionism, and workplace regulation (not all of which is directed toward ‘prosperity’ ends) as ‘mistakes’. This apparently ignores the fact that precisely these measures have given Australia one of the best standards of living, and standards or working, in the developed world.

In this climate of supposed deregulation, it should also be noted that, whilst workers are discouraged from collective bargaining, small businesses are encouraged to do the exact opposite. The Government’s own advertising material, aimed at business, avers that collective bargaining ‘enables businesses of all sizes to work together co-operatively’, and adds ‘flexibility’, ‘efficiencies’, more ‘power – without compromising individuality’, and ‘greater control and support when it comes to making the deal’. Are we supposed to believe that these benefits do not likewise exist for workers, as well as businesses?

These double standards are particularly galling when one considers Workchoices. AWA’s were already readily available to all workers under pre-existing legislation, but simply had a ‘no disadvantage’ test to dissuade employers from excessive shafting of workers. Even a year ago, they applied to only a tiny proportion of the workforce – about 3.1%.

Unskilled, poor and female workers are the most likely to be shafted under the new legislation. AWA’s tend to lower wages, and the above Griffith University study showed that women on AWA’s were working more than those on a collective agreement, but were receiving 5% less pay. When the Government were kind enough to share their figures with us, we learnt that 45% of AWA’s strip conditions to which workers would have been entitled under an award:

‘Conditions were stripped from the vast majority of the agreements examined,
and these included shift loadings (removed in 76 per cent of the agreements),
annual leave loading (59 per cent), incentive payments and bonuses (70 per
cent), and declared public holidays (22.5 per cent).'


This in a country where Australians already work long hours, already sacrifice much time with loved ones, and already have a poor ‘work/life balance’. One might have expected the free-market economists to place some value on these things also. Another study foung the new ‘no disadvantage test’ was ‘failing adequately to protect employees from a deterioration in their terms and conditions of employment’. Naturally, the Government no longer releases such data.

Unless the Government hopes that increased devaluation of females in the workplace will be some sort of backhanded incentive to more procreation, I can’t see the economic or societal benefits of such a manouvre. And this is another point that is missed by those with a narrow focus on ‘market forces’ and economic rationalism. Deregulation of the workplace can have a range of unintended consequences beyond the economic sphere, whilst unionism brings many non-economic benefits. At the broadest and most abstract level, a functioning union provides a democratic voice for workers and their interests, interests that are not worth less than those of business or various other lobbyists. It is no coincidence that from Saddam’s Iraq, to the former military junta of Indonesia, to Communist Poland, to contemporary Colombia, people with money and power violently persecute unionists.

At a more practical level, it requires fanciful leaps of the imagination to expect that workers’ OHS issues, for instance, can be ‘self-regulated’ by industry (or even Government, for that matter), or that any effective OHS system can emerge spontaneously simply by employers getting together and feeling charitable one day. Increased deregulation of the economic end of the workplace will correspond with increased deregulation of the OHS aspects too.

It is woth mentioning in passing that, for the individualists out there, there is nothing ‘individual’ about AWA’s whatsoever. An academic study found that AWA’s are used for 3 reasons: to foster employee/employer relations, reduce labour costs, and promote union avoidance. Far from offering more choice to workers, these authors found the opposite:


‘While it is possible for employers to utilise individual contracts to
foster closer ties with individual employees, the literature widely notes that,
in practice, there is generally not much that is “individual” about individual
agreements. In fact, individual contracts are often referred to “…as standard
packages, individually wrapped”. … [T]he widespread rhetoric of
“individualisation” has, in the practical sense, been accompanied with a general
trend towards greater standardisation of the employment contract.’

All in all, the evidence points to a widespread deterioration of working conditions subsequent to Workchoices and its ‘deregulation’. There are economic benefits, of course, but the evidence strongly suggests that these are reserved solely for employers.

Productivity
I thought it may be useful to look at unionism under the aspect of productivity, and specifically, to challenge the myth that unionism equals reduced productivity, This is supposed to occur because unions impose work rules and conditions that make employers less efficient. There is significant evidence opposed to this myth.

For instance, Ron McCallum of Sydney University reported that, in the mining industry at least, there was no evidence that productivity was improved by moving workers onto individual agreements, and that managers largely sought such agreements for ideological, rather than economic reasons.

US researchers, among others, have argued that collective agreements give workers an incentive to improve productivity, by granting them a greater share in productivity gains:

The economics
literature points to the fact that
unionization
and high productivity are
certainly compatible. A recent study
surveyed a
broad swath of the literature,
concluding “a positive association
[of
unions on productivity] is established for
the United States in
general and for U.S.
manufacturing” (Doucouliagos and
Laroche, 2003: 1).5
Earlier research also
came to similar conclusions. Brown and
Medoff (1978:
373) found in looking at
manufacturing industries that
“unionized
establishments are about 22 percent
more productive than those
that are not.”

Furthermore, the gains of productivity, which are not equally distributed at the best of times, are particularly inegalitarian under a de-unionised workplace system. In the three years from 2001 in the US, the above paper shows that corporate profits jumped by over 62%, whilst labour compensation grew by 2.8%. CEO’s are regularly given productivity-related wage bonuses, to the tune of millions, whilst such bonuses are supposedly ‘harmful’ to the economy if given to workers. This makes mock of arguments that contend that the economy is best served by anti-unionism. To say it again, a small minority receives economic gains – the rest work for them.

There are other economic and productivity benefits to unionism, such as lower turnover, which, in turn, means lower training and hiring costs.

Some papers have argued that the jury is still out on the positive correlation between unions and productivity, but, even here, where productivity gains are not achieved through unionization, it appears to be more reflective of the particular union (and workplace) in question than an inherent impossibility of the thing occurring.

International comparisons yield more evidence to suggest that the economic benefits of de-unionisation are dubious, at best. For instance:

‘The dramatic drop in unionization in the United States from 1979 to 2005 did not lead to faster productivity growth than in the seven largest European countries with union density greater than 60%. In fact, those countries' average annual labor productivity growth of 1.7% equaled productivity growth in the United States. Output per hour worked is higher in the Netherlands, France, and Belgium, where more than 80% of employees have union contracts (compared to the United States' 12% unionization).’

At the very least, we can safely conclude that unions do not harm productivity, and are likely to improve it.

Conclusions

I think I’ve outlined some good reasons to believe that unions are beneficial, not only to workers, but to the Australian economy as a whole. Many of the counter-claims do not, in my view, withstand scrutiny.

I understand the theory underlying the presupposition that unions drive up inflation, but in practice, I’m yet to see evidence for this happening in contemporary Australian politics.

Furthermore, the argument that unions are contributing to unemployment is also suspect. Even if we accepted it as true, it is the wages of unionized workers that is providing the unemployed with their sustenance. I assume that those who are pro-deregulation prefer private charity to public handouts. If this is the case, why do they wish to impede the ability of workers to distribute wealth privately?

Lowering of conditions and wages is likely, above all else, to result in the creation of a ‘working poor’, and create a concomitant drop in living standards. This is not desirable in Australia, a country which, for all of its faults, comes closer than most to being egalitarian, and being relatively free of overt class antagonisms.

I do not accept the notion that half of low-income/minimum wage earners are from high-income households. Those who are from such households are presumably the children or spouses of high-income earners, and not the sole providers to a family. In any case, undercutting the working conditions of women and children will eventually lead to reduced employment of breadwinners. Even now, we are all familiar with the phenomenon of employers working casualised teens to the bone from the age of 15, only to abandon them at 21.

Finally, the claim that productivity, so central to economic growth, is hindered by unionism is not supported by evidence. On the contary, the converse may be true.

We can readily understand why the likes of the HR Nichols society, or the Business Council, might advocate anti-union, de-regulatory policies. These groups are merely acting on behalf of their own interests. It is considerably more baffling that it should be thought appropriate for workers to be prevented from acting in their own best interests.

Many of the foregoing points are merely academic. Despite Howard’s claims, ‘union bosses’ have negligible influence over Labor policy. See the current nurses strike in Labor’s Victoria should you need any evidence of this.

Finally, I’d like to respond to one of the intertubes’ more belligerent commenters, who attempted the following counter-arguments to my earlier posts:

This argument a variant of “Capitalism needs a level of unemployment to work
properly”, which is of course total utter bullshit.
As the economy grows and
more capital is invested in business more employment is generated until there is
a shortage of labour and what occurs is an equilibrium where everyone is
employed. This however doesn’t destroy the market place as businesses will
continue to compete for a persons labour.

The benefits to employers of unemployment are obvious. The notion that economic growth creating a state of ‘equilibrium’ strikes me as almost theological. It is as if embracing ‘economic rationalism’ is akin to Jack planting his magic beans in the ground – miracles will just happen, take my word for it!

Since when do you run an economy on feelings? Of course labour is a
commodity. I still don’t get why it is an axiom with left that economic
rationalisation is a bad thing.

Finally, it has always struck me as paradoxical that self-identified conservatives should be comfortable with the commodification of everyday life, and with the instrumentalisation of all human relations, where each individual is merely a means to somebody else’s end. One cannot worship two gods, and acolytes of the god of the marketplace inculcate consumerist values in everybody from a very young age. The conservatives look at the decay of contemporary society, with its grappling with fundamentalism, the trivializing of all human relations (including marriage, and parenthood), the reduction of humans, particularly women, as mere objects or ornaments, where any ‘experience’ is a mere consumer item, ready-made for purchase, where we see the prevalence of depression, and narcissistic pursuits of quick self-gratification. Having observed and decried these things, they find it easier to blame this on the sinister machinations of far-left ideologues than submit out social and economic systems to even a minutes’ scrutiny. Worship of the neo-liberal market place precludes both conservatism and radicalism – it is, strictly speaking, ‘liberal’.

Saturday, 27 October 2007

Idealism Versus Materialism (sort of)

Life doesn't really allow us the opportunity of performing controlled experiments in the area of philosophy. The 2007 Australian Federal Election will, however, give us the opportunity to test a hypothesis or two.

I think by now it's reasonable to assume that there will be an overall swing toward the Labor Party. Whether this swing will be enough to see them elected is another question, but several months of polls have consistently put Labor's popularity in the stratosphere, compared to the incumbents. A Liberal staffer has supposedly admitted that his comrades are 'shitting themselves'.

In some states, particularly Queensland and Western Australia, Labor hit pretty close to rock bottom at the last election, and were always likely to bounce a little, if only slightly.

The blogosphere and media are busily trying to analyse the whys and wherefores of the impending swing. One theory doing the rounds is the notion that so-called 'small "l" liberals', (also known disparagingly as 'doctor's wives'), in traditional, blue-ribbon Liberal seats, are turning away from Howard.

This theory suggests that the small l's can get all the 'fiscal conservatism' they like from Rudd, without having to endure Howard's ugly social policies. If this theory is correct, we should see big swings in seats such as Wentworth, Kooyong, Higgins, and Goldstein, among others. Some of these seats have never been held by Labor, and it's difficult to imagine the extent of blue-rinse suicides should such a theory eventuate in practice.

The other theory that has also done the rounds, and to which I'm somewhat partial, is what I'll term loosely the 'materialist' theory.

Howard has reignited class warfare with his attacks on unions, and especially, with his gutting of workers' rights via Workchoices.

Sure, unions are in decline. They still have about 1.7 million members, which is substantially more than the combined membership of all political parties.
And sure, our friends at News Ltd tell us that 'class no longer exists', and is merely a rhetorical fiction, intended to keep aging Trots in print. Those doing overtime on AWA's might beg to differ when examining their payslip.

If this theory is correct, we might see the biggest swings not in blue-ribbon seats, but rather, blue-collar seats. AWA's, interest rate rises and the Liberals' hollow claims about economic prosperity don't play so well among the so-called Howard's battlers. If I am correct in believing that these people will respond to the economic and industrial warfare being waged against them, we should see major swings in seats such as Corangamite, Paramatta, and even McEwen. I take my examples from Vic and NSW as I know these two states better than the others, but some people may have other suggestions.

Of course, it could also happen that both groups of voters swing towards Labor. At this point, I'm not so sure that this will occur. Despite some recent fluctuations in polling data, I'd guess the 'real' 2-Party Preferred vote is something like 55%-56% for Labor at the moment. The fluctuations have generally been well within the margin of error. If both groups are swinging, we might see an election of Canadian proportions.

We shall see which explanation is the more likely after several more long weeks.

UPDATE:

This was an election-related post from 23/10. I gave some of the ideas contained therein a run on Larvatus the other day, and some people were mortified at the idea that supposed Liberal Wets were not going to single-handedly give Labor a victory.

Friday, 26 October 2007

Much Ado About Nuffers...

Earlier in the week, I posted on a topic that had been on my mind a while, namely, the way some extreme rightists attempt to smuggle authoritarian, proto-fascist views under the aegis of libertarianism, or conservatism. In particular, I cited the examples of AWH blogger John Ray, who seems to expend most of his creative energies trying to demonstrate that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites. I also referred to his hapless follower, serial blogstalker Iain Hall, who has issued his unwavering support for Ray and his cronies.

In predictable squadristi fashion, my post was met with hostility.

Iain Hall continues to flood my comments threads with his efforts at dissembling, and appears to be carrying on a flame war with a character named Fang. He also seems to have turned his own blog into a 'Partisan Watch' site - 3 of his last 5 posts are dedicated to me.

Hall continues to view himself as a martyr of Christ-like proportions, when the only similarity he has with JC is an unwashed beard. Notably, he is the only defender of Ray's obnoxious, racist views. Anyone familiar with Hall's inept blogging will attest to the fact that, with friends like him coming to your defence, you really don't need enemies.

The response over at AWH has been less innocuous. Ray has been churning out post after post after post on his many blogs, attempting to lend a scientific veneer to his views on the intelligence of blacks. Here are some more pearls of Ray wisdom:

The outrage brigade will have stopped reading by now but I must make
clear that I am NOT equating blacks with chimpanzees. Blacks are clearly vastly
more intelligent than chimpanzees.


Glad you cleared that up for us.

Ray attempted to refute the claims of a statistician who pulled apart the mathematical basis for factor analysis and IQ testing:

Cosma Shalizi is a rather egotistical-sounding young man of apparently
Afghan ancestry.


An inauspicious start from Ray, who is perhaps attempting to refute his opponents by way of mentioning their ancestry. He concludes:

The sloth should rise above his fascination with mathematical processes and
focus on the underlying reality.


It seems our good Herr Doktor is not afraid to indulge in the personal abuse he professes to abhor. It also seems that he thinks he has privileged access to the 'underlying reality' of IQ-related matters. And what is this 'underlying reality'? According to Ray, it is nothing other than blacks being intellectually inferior to whites.

Naturally, the flailing from AWH's blackshirts didn't stop there. Ray penned this post accusing yours truly of 'hate speech'. As we might expect, his mindless sycophants and jesters chimed in with some charming comments:

And did you notice those very nasty allegations he made. Now if it was a
Hicks or some murdering terrorist, he'd be braying about rule of law, evidence
and international law, but for a Conservative blogger, no worries. No need for
any of that, just throw about any allegation or slur under the guise of free
speech.
(MK)

His nom de blog "Happy Revolutionary" ought to tip anyone off that he is
just another Che T-shirt wearing,anti everything democratic -loser.
(kman)

AWH should put a bounty out for his photo and address.
(Panday)

PandayI would like to see that scrote have to own the vile slurs that he
splashes about with gay abandon but as attractive as the idea of giving him a
taste of his own medicine may be we should resist the temptation of descending
to his slime filled level. By all means he should be outed though. I have
absolutely no problem with anyone writing under a pen name but when someone,
like Hap, uses anonymity to slander people, who write in their own names, then
these anonymous scumbags become an open target to be named and shamed.Personally
I offer a bottle of Scotch to anyone who can name the scrote.
(Iain Hall)

Hall doesn't seem to grasp that it's no act of virtue for unemployed hacks like himself and Ray to post under their names. Their identities are, after all, worthless.

Finally, I've long since been banned from commenting at AWH. This isn't something over which I've cried myself to sleep. There's no sense in debating these people, though there is some value in confronting them. In any case, when I open up the AWH comments page on haloscan, my ISP number is recognised, and I see a message at the top of the screen indicating that my comments will not be published. I was curious, then, to see that somebody had been publishing under my name and avatar here and here, to which AWH responded by launching a homophobic tirade.

So there you have it. Iain Hall is once again trying to 'out' his ideological enemies. AWH is still homophobic and racist. Ray is still trying to encase his contempt for blacks in scientific tartuffery. And deranged, far rightist trolls are using sock puppets, and impersonating me in an attempt to make their points.

Plus ça change, eh, mon amis?


UPDATE:
Not content to flood my comment threads with idiocy, or devote his own blog to lame critiques of my posts, Hall has now taken to writing threatening emails. I received this today (26/10/2007):

Remove the vile slur from the text of your post, I won't expect
an apology because you don't have the honour for it to mean anything , and we
can all move on to far more important matters of political discourse. But know
this should you fail to do the right thing here I am not going to let this
matter drop. You will be pursued wherever you go using this blogging identity
and when your real identity is discovered, as it will be, you will be named and
shamed. There is a line, in even the most heated political debate, that should
never be crossed and you sir have crossed that line.


Once again we have this great defender of Western freedom trying to bully others into silence.
Ironically, there isn't actually any 'slur' directed at Hall, other than some attacks on his feeble 'arguments'. Once again, Hall has no shame, as he clearly intends to add to his long history of cyber-stalking, bullying and harassment.

Thursday, 25 October 2007

The Abuse and Misuse of Language


I think it's time for a bipartisan plea for a couple of words to be respected. Some words tend to get thrown around in political (and other) debates with scant regard for how they might actually be used properly. A couple spring immediately to mind, though other people may have other suggestions:

Projection

It's standard fare in a blogospheric debate for one party to accuse the other of 'projecting'.
Often, this arises from Debater A telling Debater B that he/she is 'hate-filled', or some other such thing. B then tells A that he/she is 'projecting', which is little else than a slightly more sophisticated way of saying - 'I know you are, but what am I?'.

The term projection derives from psychology and psychoanalysis. In the former discipline, its usage is somewhat 'loose' and outdated, but in the latter, it has a very precise meaning. I'll look briefly at both in turn, drawing somewhat from LaPlanche and Pontalis in The Language of Psychoanalysis.

The 'loose' use of projection can be found in psychological discourse for much of the 20th Century. I take it to signify, more or less, the act of 'meaning construction' or 'subjectivisation' or 'personal interpretation' undertaken by individuals. Almost every detailed paradigm within psychology has a theory of projection in this sense. Cognitivists, humanists, and psychoanalysts would all grant that individuals actively construct the meaning of their worlds, though different theorists differ as to how this occurs. This is the sense in which 'projection' is used with reference to 'projective tests', such as the Rorschach, for instance.

Consequently, this use of the term projection is too broad to have any use in debate. By this definition, one could accuse one's opponent of 'projection' almost anything, because the process of 'meaning construction' or 'sense making' is, in part, 'subjective' for all people. By this reasoning, we can see that the likes of Bolt and co, who use the term 'projection' frequently to disparage ideological opponents, are merely engaging in lazy and half-understood rhetoric.

The psychoanalytic usage of projection (Projektion) is much more precise, and derives, understandably enough, from Freud. Freud used the term to refer to a paranoid or psychotic defense mechanism, and expounded this notion at greatest length in his account of the Schreber case.

In psychoanalytic terms, projection should not be confused with transference, or with the 'loose' meaning of the term. To risk a somewhat simplified definition for the sake of brevity, Freud distinguished between the subject and the 'outside world'. Freud uses the term projection to refer to an instance of the subject finding an aspect of him or herself radically unacceptable, and, rather than come to grips with this 'something', dislodging it onto a part of the outside world.
In the case of Schreber, for instance, Freud argues that the subject projected his latent homosexuality onto his clinician, and ultimately, onto god.

Projection presupposes that the feeling or wish being projected is something the subject refuses to recognise. To look at a hypothetical example, take a self-described 'Howard-hater' who accuses the PM of contemptuous treatment of asylum seekers. Let us then imagine that the Howard-hater's interlocutor accuses him/her of projection their own malevolent tendencies onto the PM. We can see that, in this case, it makes no sense at all to refer to projection, since there is apparently nothing disavowed or unrecognised in the Howard-hater's position. Even if there were, it is highly unlikely that, according to any psychoanalytic definition, the unacceptable 'thing' would sit neatly at the surface of some argumentative discourse.

In a nutshell, it makes little sense to accuse one's opponents of projection, unless one is being ludicrously general, is referring to clinical practice, or is simply being speculative. In any case, the term is not suitable for rational debate.

Existential

There have been plenty of discursive shifts in the so-called 'post-9/11 world', one of which is to band the term 'existential' about as a predicate, to lend ballast to whatever empty noun one is expounding on. For instance, how many times have we heard some 'expert' on a current affairs show ramble about the 'existential threat' posed to a nation-state?

The obvious rejoinder to this sloppiness is to distinguish between an 'existential threat', and a 'threat to existence'. The two are not the same.

It may be useful here to think of Walter Kaufmann's edited book, Existentialism From Dostoevsky to Sartre.

Kaufmann traced the first use of the term 'existential' to the Danish philosopher Kierkegaard. It was the German philosopher Heidegger, however, who referred to his musings in Being and Time as 'existential analyses'. It should be remembered that, despite this, Heidegger affirmed that his philosophy was not itself 'existentialist', and ultimately this philosophy took a different path to that suggested by Being and Time.

Heidegger studiously avoided referring the 'existential' to anything we might broadly term 'concrete'. Heidegger's 'existential' analyses were, he said, ontological analyses, that is, analyses of 'being', and were not referred to consciousness or the empirical world in any great measure. Since our good foreign policy experts never speak of 'ontological' (or ontic) threats, we may reasonably presume that they are not Heideggereans.

The first and foremost self-proclaimed existentialist philosopher was Sartre. However, for Sartre, an existential 'crisis' or 'threat' was something that related primarily to meaning. It is the feeling of Angst one experiences when one contemplates openly the alleged void of meaninglessness at the heart of existence, or the irreducible fact that, as subjects, we are doomed to die. The existential, for Sartre, is bound up with the subject's consciousness, and cannot ever be used sensibly in relation to something like a nation-state, since this latter is a mere abstraction in Sartre's terms. In Camus' L'Etranger, it is just as 'absurd' that the protagonist must die 'in the name of the French people', as it would be any other grouping of people.

In short, 'existential' threats refer to individuals, not nations, and ought not to be confused with the threat of death. People emerge through existential threats by a range of means - reflecting upon life, seeking love or pleasure, listening to Leonard Cohen - but the threat of death is not dismissed via the same means.

So please, dear readers, when encountering foreign policy 'experts' who refer to existential this, and existential that, ask them to pick up a book for Freud's sake.

Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Rage is All the Rage

Since rage against Islamo-Fascism continues to be the new black this season, I thought I'd share a couple of relevant comments/posts:


As a woman, I really hate the way that the government of Iran treats women
in Iran. That does not mean that I want to bomb the women of Iran.

And:

Oh the Feminists hate Republicans
And Republicans hate the Feminists
To mock all Feminazis
Is an old G.O.P. rule
But during Islamo-Fascism Week
Islamo-Fascism Week
You’ll see Ann Coulter On Our Backs at USC
She’s helping Muslims seek
Their Feminine Mystique
Simone De Beauvoir’s really very
cool...

From here.

Monday, 22 October 2007

The Gentrification of Racism

Fascism, via other means...


In the Western World, the 20th Century was a battle, above all else, against fascism. It is convenient for some revisionists to suggest it was a battle against socialism - such revisionists invariably confuse the policies of the USSR with those of socialism itself.


Nonetheless, the ideology of the radical right persists in its attempts to
legitimise itself. To that end, the radical right, in Australia, at least, often
eschew the imagery and symbols of the Reich, whilst retaining similar
ideological underpinnings.


Since the vast bulk of people are repulsed by any politics that extols racial and religious discrimination, violence toward minority groups, vulgar Darwinian social and economic policies, and imperialism, it is necessary for the radical right to smuggle their doctrines into the mainstream vie other means.


These 'other means' are most frequently libertarianism and conservatism, of different sorts. Science, or at least a cartoonish version of it, is another vehicle for the radical right. Naturally, libertarianism, and even conservatism, are not explicitly and inherently racist. They do provide convenient shelter for would-be flag-wearing jackbooters.


Enter AWH blogger John Ray, he of the countenance below, and with a penchant for pseudo-intellectual justifications for bigotry:





Not to mention his witless followers, such as the increasingly embarrassing Iain Hall:




Would any responsible adult leave their children alone with either of these men?

Both bloggers recently wet their pants with excitement upon learning that Nobel Laureate, James Watson allegedly suggested that blacks were less intelligent than whites, primarily as a result of genes. The work that Watson and Crick undertook in relation to the structure of DNA was undeniably brilliant. Their forays into other areas, such as neuroscience, and eugenics, have been less successful. In any case, Ray and Hall appeared to see in Watson's comments a 'scientific' confirmation of their own long-held prejudices. Hall is non-committal (and characteristically irrelevant and illogical) in his conclusions; Ray is more circumspect, and simply cites an article verbatim, rather than offering comment.


An Aside on Intelligence
(I will offer a very brief aside on 'intelligence', as this concept is not the primary subject of my post. Simplistic nature versus nurture arguments are largely obselete, since these concepts are indiscrete. If we follow the theory of natural selection, 'nature' is itself determined by 'nurture'. Nature in turn may influence the sorts of nurture that one receives. Intelligence testing is predicated on the hypostasised warblings of the psychometricians. It serves a practical purpose for individuals. For instance, a child struggling at school may benefit from IQ testing, in order to establish his or her relative strengths and weaknesses, and 'learning style'. From IQ testing, we may learn that a child may benefit from greater 'chunking' of information, or may benefit from visual cues when presented with verbal stimuli. IQ testing is also a determinant in qualification for 'disabled' status. Other than these rather limited uses, I see little merit in IQ testing).

Why Science, Libertarianism, Conservatism?
When raising the proposition that Hall and Ray have seized upon Watson's comments as a result of their own racism, we can expect the same nonsense attempts at rebuttal. Namely, the 'PC' crowd have stifled freedom of speech, the 'enlightenment' tradition demands respect for all science (including, apparently, racist pseudo-science), and that these beliefs are consistent with conservatism and libertarianism.

We need to distinguish carefully between Hall and Ray in this matter. Hall is a credulous fool, but, until stupidity and love of ignorance become a doctrine, he cannot truly be considered an ideologue. Ray, on the other hand, likes to peddle himself as a kind of libertarian. You know, those fun-loving guys who are anti-tax, and pro-guns? (Presumably their utopia is Alabama). Libertarianism, whatever we may think of it, provides some far more respectable positions than anything on the radical, proto-fascist right. Though I don't agree with the libertarian perspective, it is not obviously racist in any way - see, for example, blogs such as Catallaxy, or Australia's LDP.

We can see that something like libertarianism provides a veneer of legitimacy to cretins such as Ray, by means of which they can peddle their race-hate.

Let us look at some of the evidence by which we can situate Ray, AWH, and their imbecilic followers with the radical right, rather than with the libertarians or conservatives (much less scientists). It goes without saying that Ray is of the school of thought that deems Hitler to have been a 'leftist', and repeatedly has said that Marx was a 'fascist'.

The Shame File - Fascist Tendencies Revealed
As I pointed out in a recent comments thread, there are several lines of argument that demonstrate the slithering proto-fascist inclinations of Ray and his clique of bedwetting poltroons at AWH:

1. AWH regularly calls for violence against Muslims and other minorities. This has been repeatedly pointed out by myself and other bloggers. This coincides with an increase in rightist, racist violence in Australia and the world. In Australia, asylum seekers are demonised, even whilst blacks are being bashed and murdered.

Unlike his sycophantic acolytes, Ray himself is sufficiently careful not to openly call for violence against blacks and Muslims. This does not prevent him from trying to provide a 'scientific' justification for such calls.

2. AWH ideology is warmly embraced by white supremacists. On 10/10/2007, disturbed AWH blogger Keef (aka KG) posted, word-for-word, the introduction of a post from another blog. Rather astutely, KG himself did not offer any comment on the diatribe he cited, this latter being a defence of right-wing extremism as regards racial matters.

Following the links, we come to the land of Norse myth, pornography, and Aryanism, by way of a nasty Scandinavian blog called the Gates of Vienna. Sure enough, we learn quickly enough why KG cited this post, given that it contains a turgid rant, replete with the following proto-fascist gems:

Numerous studies have demonstrated that people tend to prefer their own ethnic group above others. (Author cites one irrelevant study in support of this claim).

Guarding your identity is thus a universal human trait, not a white trait. In fact, it is less pronounced among whites today than among anybody else. (Hence the supposed need for a 'white' revival).

There are no Britons left in Pakistan, so why should there be Pakistanis in Britain?

There are not many Dutch people left in Indonesia, so why should the Dutch be rendered a minority in their major cities by Moroccans and others?

I suspect future historians will call this era the Age of White Masochism. (Probably not future Iraqi historians).

In amongst the charming banter of the comments thread, and between calls for whites to reconnect with their 'racial consciousness', who should turn up, but former member of the Australia First Party, and current member of the Anglo-Australian National Community Council, Darrin Hodges, warmly expressing his agreement with the sentiment of the post.

In fairness, Hodges' comments were more moderate than most of those found at AWH by the likes of KG or Tiberius. For a case in point, see the AWH defence of the Cronulla rioters, and deft avoidance of the fact that some of the said rioters distributed white supremacist literature. It is obvious that the AWH crew are the blood-brothers of Stormfront and the like, given that they share the same views on these matters.

It is therefore clear that, despite AWH's claims to the contrary, they are drawing water from the same ideological well as our friendly white nationalists, and have ventured far from anything that remotely resembles libertarianism or conservatism. I haven't the time or inclination to trawl the white supremacist blogosphere, but I'd hardly be surprised if there weren't more examples of good 'Anglo-Australian' nationalists cosying up to AWH.

3. AWH blogger John Ray openly supports racism. He has written about it numerous times, far and wide across the blogosphere. In fact, the number of blogs that this guy has makes Iain Hall's shameless efforts seem paltry in comparison.

It's not surprising that the radical right should seek to defend racism, and racialising theories. This fits neatly with their pre-existing prejudices, and provides them with good reasons to oppose any kind of progressive social policy.

Where do we begin with the racial theories of Ray and AWH? We could start with this AWH post by Ray, where he praises the use of racial categories. Nobody denies that racial categories exist within a given language. We might, however, debate the uses to which they are put. Ray helpfully points out some ways in which generalising on the basis of racial categories may prove useful:

And the generalization: "blacks are very crime-prone so it is safest to
keep away from them" is also a matter of fact and can be useful. And "white
flight" shows that most Americans act on exactly that generalization.


'Fact', eh? Ray gives his point further clarification here - 'once we have got to know an individual black person and found him peacable, it would be foolish to continue with avoidance behaviour towards him'. So if I've read this correctly, Ray is saying that whiteys should, as a general rule, avoid those awful 'crime-prone' blacks, as long as we make room for the exceptions, namely, any individual black person who Ray assesses as 'peacable'. Noice.

Pseudo-scholar John Ray is, like his fascist forebears, clearly obsessed with theories of race, having published mild racial theories in some social science journals. One wonders what the editorial board of these journals were thinking.

More revealing are Ray's many crap and hilariously unpublishable articles, most of which consist of an attempted debunking of Frankfurt theorist Adorno (by way of a woeful misreading), coupled with various defences of racism, such as the notion that racism is 'normal', and has nothing to do with either authoritarianism or individual neurosis. And down the slippery slide we go...

We might also take note of a 1979 article by Herr Doktor Ray, purporting to demonstrate that South Africa, in the throes of Apartheid, did not display any evidence of white racism. Obviously, there were plenty of non-consciously racist South Africans, but equally obviously, this was hardly universal. According to Ray, however, white South Africans were no more racist than any other white person. He sums up nicely:

In fact because the South African system keeps blacks "in their place".
South Africans might feel more free to be generous in their sentiments towards
blacks than members of many English communities would.


We have here a wonderful strategy for combating white racism - just keep the non-whites 'in their place'.

By all means, however, don't believe my view that Ray is a proto-fascist, who has dedicated his wretched life to peddling race-hate. In an article by Tim Wise, we learn that Ray has lavished:

praise for the “very scholarly” book on IQ by Christopher Brand, an admirer
of eugenics (policies to promote selective breeding of “superior people”), and
an adherent to the belief that blacks are intellectually inferior to
whites.

Again, noice. Wise provides another instructive passage on Ray:

In a more recent essay by Ray, on the opening page of David’s site for
October 8th, the author concludes that racism is not always bad, and is a rather
natural human instinct, suggesting, “Feelings of racial, national or group
superiority are natural, normal and healthy and can as easily lead to benevolent
outcomes as evil ones.”

Wise is not the first to have noted the proto-fascist tendencies of AWH's Herr Professor. Ray is the subject of a chapter on academic racism. I'd like to take the liberty of quoting some passages at length, just to make the nature of Ray's ideology entirely clear:

Ray himself holds some forthright views on racism. His book Conservatism
as heresy
(81) includes chapters with such
appetising titles as 'Rhodesia: in defence of Mr Smith' and 'In defence of the
White Australia policy'. Ray also argues that it is "moralistic nonsense" to
denounce racism.
Well might Ray defend racism. He does not mince his words
when he writes about Australian Aborigines. Ray says that "aborigines are
characterised by behaviour that in a white we would find despicable . . . White
backlash is then reasonable. Unless we expect whites to forget overnight the
cultural values that they have learned and practised all their lives, they will
find the proximity of aboriginals unpleasant" (p.58).
Ray has conducted a
number of academic surveys in order to bolster his prejudices. For instance Ray
assumes that it is natural that whites should develop an antipathy towards
Aborigines:

"If, for instance, people suddenly find themselves living in close contact
with Aborigines and Aborigines happen to be in fact rather unhygienic in their
habits, some people previously without prejudice will start to say that they
don't like Aborigines." (p.261.)
Therefore Ray designed a survey to measure
white Australians' attitudes towards Aborigines, comparing those who lived near
Aborigines with those who lived further away.
The results of his survey
failed to confirm his prediction; Ray did not find that whites living near
Aborigines were in fact more prejudiced. Ray described his results as
"disappointing" (p.267). Instead of discarding his hypothesis, Ray still strove
to maintain his own prejudices; he searched around for reasons why his
questionnaire might not have obtained the correct results. Thus, even in the
face of negative results, Ray clings to what he calls his 'rational prejudice
model'.
Ray's prejudices do not just relate to Aborigines. Dr. Ray enjoins us
to "face the fact that large numbers of even educated Australians do not like
Jews or 'Wogs'." (p.70.) Ray writes approvingly of people who will

"among friends, exchange mocking misnomers for suburbs in which Jews have
settled: Bellevue Hill becomes 'Bellejew Hill' and Rose Bay becomes 'Nose Bay';
Dover Heights becomes 'Jehova Heights'." (p.71.)

Ray obviously has sympathy with the racists and anti-Semites. Many of the
people who make the comments Ray cites, are according to our Australian
psychologist "superbly functioning and well-adjusted Australians". In Ray's
opinion such people will "justly deny being racists" (p.70): n.b. the give-away
word 'justly'.
The main reason why Ray does not find such attitudes racist is
that he considers them perfectly logical. Thus he asserts that people "who don't
like sloth . . . may object to Aborigines. People who do not like grasping
materialism, will certainly find no fault with Aborigines but they may find
fault with Jews" (p.265).

It seems that Dr Ray, in an academic paper about psychology, is repeating
the racist and anti-Semitic assumptions that Aborigines are lazy and Jews are
'grasping materialists'. It is hard to find any other explanation for Ray's
continual defence of prejudice.
In his academic papers Ray has a tendency to
use some curious turns of phrase. Thus when he criticises, as he often does, the
classic work in the psychology of fascism, The Authoritarian Personality by
Adorno, Frenkel-Brunswick, Levinson and Sanford, he refers to "the work of these
Jewish authors" (see, for instance, the start of Ray's article in the
distinguished social science journal Human Relations).
(82) This is not the standard way of describing
opponents' research, at least not since the days of Nazi Germany.
But there
again Ray is not exactly ignorant of the ways of Nazism. During the 1960s Ray
was a member of various Australian Nazi parties. In fact Ray has openly
described his seven-year association with Nazism (see, for instance, his article
'What are Australian Nazis really like?' in The Bridge, August 1972).

I will concede, from the outset, that I am intellectually merely a throwback to old-fashioned high theory and strident leftist. Perhaps a more enlightened soul can advise precisely how Ray's doctrines exemplify conservatism, libertaranism, or the Enlightenment project.

Clearly, in amongst these turgid attempts to produce biological theories of race, with a good deal of pseudo-psychological quackery, we are dealing with nothing other than an embittered, thorough-going racist, flailing desperately in an attempt to justify his bigotry. The evidence is irrefutable.

4. John Ray has lent his support to another noted bigot, disgraced Australian academic Andrew Fraser. Fraser taught at Macquarie University prior to being dismissed for peddling very similar racial theories to Ray, and has a long history of involvement in Australia's fledgling white nationalist groups. Fraser came to prominence after pursuing the argument that blacks are intellectually inferior to whites. He subsequently found it difficult to receive airtime in academia.

As you'd expect, John Ray claims to be in favour of free speech (except at his blogs, of course), especially where that speech concerns racial bigotry. Ray is also not averse to ignoring the appalling scholarship of his fellow-travellers. One presumes it was in that spirit of community-mindedness that Ray decided to lend his support to Fraser, to the extent of making the latter's vile defence of the White Australia policy available.

Ray says that his decision to publish Fraser's work was made because of his libertarian leanings. Nonetheless, as we've seen, Ray's preoccupations appear to revolve around race more than anti-statist censorship. Furthermore, he charmingly defends the article and distinguishes his own views from Fraser's, saying - 'I am not at all bothered by Australia’s intake of Asians, for instance.'

In sum, the phenonemon we have before us is an attempt to smuggle in a range of fascist belief systems under the aegis of more respectable right-wing views. Given the tendency of ideologues on the right to demand condemnation from of 'extremists' by 'moderates', the comrades and I will wait with baited breath for the genuine conservatives and libertarians to see Ray's racist drivel for what it is, and denounce it swiftly and sharply.













Monday, 15 October 2007

Democracy-Building: Hint #20167

Supposing, for a moment, that we are to take the Coalition of the Willing seriously when they aver that they wish to 'build democracy' in Afghanistan and Iraq.

As we all know, the parliaments of Iraq and Afghanistan are not the prime movers of this equation. The fate of these nations rests not with Baghdad, or Kabul, but with Washington.

It therefore follows that, if we take the CoW seriously, we should be seeking to give Iraqis and Afghans the vote. In US elections. This might substantially alter some of the rhetoric and policy-making that emerges from DC.

We might go further, and argue for a US vote for all citizens whose countries host the US armed forces, or are subordinate to the US as their primary source of 'aid' and trade. This would, of course, encompass most of the world, and create a sort of global state.

The power-brokers in the US would obviously have some objections.

But then again, as a Frenchman once said, 'Nous somme tous Americains'. Leaving aside the problematic status of this 'Nous somme', this statement means, more or less, that this 'war' concerns us all. We are all 'other' to the terrorist hordes, all linked together in our primal struggle for survival, all bound by the same neoliberal logic of the marketplace.

Consequently, 'we' are all Americans now. Leaders and ideologues of the USA loudly proclaim their democratic credentials.

Is it not therefore time that we were afforded our basic democratic rights?

Sunday, 14 October 2007

An Aside on the Environment

Environmental issues are not a particular interest of mine. There are plenty of bloggers who do a much better job than I could of discussing issues such as climate change, for instance.

As Al Gore has just won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in this issue, we might predict that the blogosphere will be working overtime, particularly with rightards eager to denounce climate change as a vast left-wing conspiracy.

To be clear, I am no fan of Gore, and I haven't seen his movie. To me, all post-WWII Democrats are merely Republicans with velvet gloves. Besides, the Nobel literature prize is usually more interesting than the one for peace.

It should also be remembered that environmental issues are by no means traditional leftist causes. To be sure, Marx noted that capital's insatiable need to reproduce itself was likely to have disastrous environmental consequences, but this observation was an aside from his more general theses on capital. As recently as a few decades ago, leftist interest in environmental issues might well have been seen as a petite-bourgeois indulgence.

This has changed more recently, with climate change being recognised almost universally as an 'issue'. Greens parties, across a number of Western parliamentary democracies, increasingly represent a form of organised leftism.

What are we to make of this phenomenon? Clearly, there is strong opposition to the notion of climate change, and to any consequent environmental remedies. It is appropriate to examine the source of this opposition.

It is hardly surprising that oil companies and the like should voice strong opposition. It is also sadly predictable that these companies' pimps in think tanks and the intelligentsia should likewise attack any notion of climate change.

What is more surprising is the other opposition that has emerged. The opponents of climate change engage in such poor reasoning and, frankly bizarre belief systems as to almost represent, a fortiori, evidence of that which they oppose. There can be no greater argument in favour of man-made climate change than the oil companies, their unctuous salesmen, and the right-wing ideologues and conspiracy theorists who oppose it.

Can there be any serious doubt that industry and capital impinge on the environment? The climate change sceptics need only inhale some of the polluted air of Athens, or Budapest, or Beijing, or any number of other places to see that yes, pollution has a discernible impact at a local level. If this impact exists locally, what reason exists to think it would not exist globally, or have ramifications beyond the the immediate surrounds of a given industry. After all, as Heraclitus noted some time ago, air and water move.

Let us take a more local example, that of Francis Street, Yarraville, an inner suburb of Melbourne. This street is a short suburban street in a residential area. Unfortunately for the residents, this street also serves as a link between several of Melbourne's major freeways. In particular, trucks use the road to go between the Westlink Tullamarine Freeway, and the Westgate Freeway, which itself splits into the Princes Freeway and Western Ring Road a short distance away. In addition to linking four of Melbourne's major freeways, the street is also near a number of major industrial sites and Melbourne's docks, giving trucks another reason to be in the area.

Having travelled on the road myself, the pollution caused by fumes was clearly evident. Should there be any doubt as to the veracity of my senses, the EPA also set up a booth in Francis Street, monitoring air quality and noise pollution. The EPA concluded that the air quality had deteriorated, largely as a result of truck activity, and that this deterioration had potentially serious health risks attached. The air pollution in this street was even reported to be significantly worse than that in one of Melbourne's major arterials, the appalling Hoddle Street.

Obviously, it doesn't take a Nobel Prize winner to work out that spewing massive amounts of fumes into the environment will have some unpleasant consequences. To our climate change sceptics, however, these sorts of results are the product of a labyrinthine leftist conspiracy, intended to recruit followers into the Green 'religion'. Not prone to hyperbolae, our good sceptics (such as Senator Brandis, or Andrew Bolt) have even compared the Green movement to the Nazi party.

I suspect that 'scepticism' is far too dignified a term for this delusionalists. Scepticism implies a reasoned philosophical position, which in turn, presupposes a degree of reasoning. When you smell the air in the cities I mentioned, when you view the smog-filled skylines, I do not see anything remotely like 'scepticism', but rather, merely psychotic denial.

Friday, 12 October 2007

For the Health-Conscious...

Somewhere in the aphorisms of Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche tells us that mockery, among other things, is a sign of good health.

With that in mind, I'd like to take a brief look at a blog I discovered, courtesy of this charming American 50-something.

The blog in question appears to be an unofficial fan site in honour of Republican Presidential candidate, Sam Brownback. Unfortunately, the blog does not appear to be ironic or satirical.

Of note is this particular blog entry, containing a clip of a relatively tame French music video, accompanied by the moderate heading - 'Why France is our Enemy'.

Being partly disposed to Francophilic tendencies myself, I though I'd peruse just why France is to be deemed an enemy of the USA, especially on the basis of a single music video:

This is the pinnacle of French culture- a debauched and depraved
temptress cavorting about for the tittilation of the vilest and most sinful
instincts within us.


Methinks he doth protest too much. And I'm sure the French themselves might argue that they have other cultural highlights than obscure music videos.

Until the French language and culture are exterminated, our culture and
our way of life will weaken under their relentless attack. France is our true
enemy. We must never forget this, nor can we forgive them for weakening our
culture and values enough that Al Qaeda could find a way to attack
us.


Despite the professed Christian leanings of the blog, one wonders if its author was under the influence of mind-altering drugs at the time of wondering, in light of the profound distortion of causality at play here. One also wonders whether the authors drug-induced paranoia has led him to dream up a cartoonish amalgam of striped-shirt wearing, accordion-playing, cheese-eating surrender terrorists.

Nonetheless, in the comments, astute and even-handed readers respond to the authors' call for genocide:

Sweet Jesus! I have never seen such a blatant attempt to push the gay
life style down mainstream societies’ throat than this video. It makes my blood
run cold thinking of the number of young men who despoiled themselves watching
this brunette cavort about in a tight dress and take their first step on the
road to drag queen hell. If this is what passes for entertainment over their
France well no wonder they don’t have the stones join us in the war for Freedom
against the Iraqis. This move is a blade out to slice off the manhood of any guy
who watches it.


Ah, not only are the terrorists French, they're also gay...

The author responds to readers' concerns (in bold):

“That video is one of the most depraved things I have ever seen in my
entire life. Why did you show us that, Sisyphus?”
I’m sorry, Marcia. I felt
it was important that we should know what we’re up against- harlots and
temptresses.
“Without French culture we would not have Les Miserables, The
Three Musketeers, Monet, Manet, Notre Dame etc etc.”
You call that culture?
Flush it all down the toilet and give me a decent movie like The Passion any
day.
“Why is this video so troubling? The girl doesn’t reveal anything; aside
from the short cut at the legs, even the costume is fairly conservative. She’s
just singing.”
And undulating her body in a lewd and suggestive manner. It’s
a criminal offense in most jurisdictions of America.
“Now look at Madonna:
for her entire career her specific goal was to push the buttons of traditional
values and spit at the boundaries she saw imposed on women. And she was
American! If you penalize the French on this one, look at home for more
disturbing “troubles”.”
Madonna never would’ve gotten away with that if not
for centuries of French culture leading up to it.


By my way of thinking, even The Passion is surely too lewd, containing as it does well-known Euro-hussy Monica Bellucci. Give me Charlton Heston anytime...

And on it goes. Read the whole thing if you've got time, and feel a need for a good laugh. Elsewhere on the blog, the author calls for the US to overthrow its erstwhile ally, Turkey.

Of course, we in Australia have our share of RWDB freaks, known by a range of traditional terms. We have Fred Nile and the Australia First Party in politics, Andrew Bolt and Janet Albrechtson in the media, and Tim Blair and Iain Hall on the intertubes.

Still, it's nice to know that things could be even worse.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Stupidity


'A stupid man's report of what a clever man says is never accurate because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.' (Bertrand Russell)


'Almost half of Australian women aged 18-41 were sexually abused as a child.
Research shows a staggering 45 per cent of women were abused as children by family members, friends or strangers.Abuse ranged from non-contact behaviour -- such as indecent exposure or being forced to watch pornography -- through to rape.' (Herald Sun, 9/10/2007, reporting on Griffith University research)


Examples of Stupidity.


The Source:

'I’m always horrified by the abuse of children. But I must say that almost every Australian woman has been abused by dodgy statistics. ' (Andrew Bolt)


Responses to Andrew Dolt:
'Griffith is a strange place.
It is also a hotbed for Wahabism in Australia. Taxpayer funded, of course.' (Village Idiot)


'That is an enormous spectrum of ‘abuse’ and implys that almost every second woman I pass on the street has been ‘sexually abused’.
So before this ‘statistic’ moves into the vernacular as they invariably do - think belief in AGW - let’s see the individual breakdown of these statistical elements otherwise it’s sensationalist nonsense.
Again, kind of like AGW. ' (Inbred Retard)


'Griffith has provided a mecca for Far Left academics and student since established.Unfortunately some escape to mainstream education and positions of power within anti-development groups and Government quangos.
Just read some of the blogs originating from Griffith academics and you will get the message.' (McCarthyite Degenerate Checking Under Bed for Reds)


'Rubbish. Pure unadulterated rubbish! I grew up in a big family with a huge extended family and no one has ever been abused, or has done any abusing. Of course, in making that statement, I leave out all our childhood fights and spats. I well remeber when we were kids the girls gave as good as they got! According to the study and your statement, I should at least know someone, or even know of someone who has been abused, or has been an abuser. Sadly for you, that is not the case.' (Self-appointed & Cretinous Representative of all Mankind).




'Man is arrogant in proportion to his ignorance.' (Edward Bulwer-Lytton)




Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Hang the Intellectuals

The weekend rag had an opinion piece by Chris Middendorp, asking why the works of Australia's greatest novelist, Patrick White, were more or less ignored by mainstream Australia. Middendorp attributes this phenomenon to 'cultural cringe'.

Clearly, Australians have much to cringe about, but most of our cringeworthy objects these days are not cultural, but political. We might ask some other questions about why a writer such as White is ignored, and ignored precisely by our good nationalists in the media.

To be sure, White is a 'difficult' writer, but no more so than any number of other modernists. We should find it striking that this era of cultural whitewashing, where Australia's racism is routinely re-branded as patriotism (or, in the cases of racism directed at Aborigines, as a 'goodwill' intervention), is precisely the era where Australians of international significance among the intelligentsia are either ignored (Patrick White), maligned (Germaine Greer) or co-opted (I'll refrain from citing examples for this last category).

It is no coincidence, of course, that during the past 10 years of Howard's rule, and subsequent cultural warfare, intellectuals have been a source of considerable angst to conservatives. It is also no coincidence that Patrick White, an avowed Whitlamite, homosexual, and Republican, is one such intellectual. As a Nobel Laureate, he is too well-regarded to be susceptible to an Andrew Bolt or Christopher Pearson smear-piece (though White's biographer is not so fortunate). Nonetheless, White is simply sidestepped, while the NewsCorp hacks and Liberal politicians (such as George Brandis, last week) aim at smaller targets.

It should be clear by now that, after years of 'intellectual' or 'elite' being used as terms of abuse, that conservative politicians, and a pliant media, have attempted, as much as possible, to push an anti-intellectual, anti-cultural agenda, except where the latter targets are sufficiently fairy floss-like to be considered no threat to the 'evil, Howard-hating elites' narrative.

In this vein, News Ltd. Political Hack-in-Chief Paul Kelly appeared on last Friday's Lateline, in an attempt to debate LaTrobe University historian Robert Manne. The debate topic revolved around the culture wars, and a recent essay by Kelly purporting to demonstrate that Australia has cultivated a clique of 'public intellectuals' concerned solely with Howard-hating polemic, who ignore the Liberal Governments policy 'success'.

Never mind that this 'success' is far from agreed-upon. Sure, the economy has not collapsed, and has been very generous (for some Australians only - but this topic can wait for another post). On every other front, however, there has been policy failure.

Good quality, affordable healthcare and education has become more difficult to obtain. Workers' long-held rights have been abolished. The sentiments of race-rioters are more or less echoed, repeatedly, by our Governing politicians.

Robert Manne, a long-time conservative who remains conservative (though not slavishly in awe of the Howard Government) made these points to Kelly, and noted that he, Raymond Gaita, David Marr, and Julian Burnside are all 'elites' who are systematically demonised by the News Ltd crew. Manne took Kelly to task successfully:

I don't dispute there is a large group of us who think the Howard
Government has on balance done a lot of harm to Australia in the area of
culture, not the economy, but there are only three people mentioned. I want to
say just one thing about that.

The three people mentioned are very distinguished
people, not second rate in any way. Paul might disagree with them, might think
they are too moralistic about Howard and so on. One has written a superb
biography of Patrick White, David Marr. The other, Raymond Gaita, is probably
the best known philosopher of Australia except for Peter Singer, maybe. And
Julian Burnside is not a public intellectual so much as a humane and extremely
fine barrister who's had major success.

I think the category - the three people
included, if he thinks they're second rate, he should look to the cast of
journalists in Australia. I think there is a real argument and I think it's a
left-right argument, as you said. And I think it's about those intellectuals
like myself and like Ray Gaita and like David Marr and many others like Julian,
who think the Howard Government in many ways has done great damage to this
country and the question of how angry we should be or what the right moral
temper is for all of that is an important and right issue. If I could start by
something. It we look at this week, we've had, for example, a defamatory attack
on a group of academics who happen to disagree with what the Government would
like us to believe on WorkChoices. I don't know what Paul thinks about this, but
we've had an attack on the entire character of a continent - Africans. I feel
really upset about it and I don't think sort of worldly calm, as Paul seems to
think, is the right response to an attack on an entire group of people. I think
it is racism, I have to say.



And therein is revealed the intellectual bankruptcy of present-day conservatism. Preoccupied with idiotic left-right cultural flaming, they cannot assert any coherent, positive position, or even identify who 'the left' actually are. For instance, as Manne correctly noted, Kelly's targets are not rabid socialists.

For instance, Gaita is a signed-up member of the execrable Euston crowd. Burnside is concerned primarily with human rights and due legal process, and is not a polemicist. Marr is a polemicist, but of a self-described 'soft-left' variety. Whilst his criticisms of the Howard Government are frequent, and articulate, they are hardly militant.

The stupidity continued today in the Government Gazette when the far-right News Ltd hack, and board member of 'our' ABC, Imre Salusinszky, opined that the 'intellectuals have gone too far'.

Last week, the Government's 'avuncular' Minister for Serfdom, Joe Hockey, attacked an academic report that demonstrated that the Government's Workchoices legislation left workers worse off. Always more 'idiot' than 'savant', Salusinszky continued Hockey's anti-intellectual smearing by way of Murdoch's megaphone:

A quick scan, using the internet, of research centres at universities
reveals that many are structured around the "softie Left" world view that former
Media Watch host David Marr memorably nominated as the primary qualification for
entry into Australian journalism.


One can accept the above statement as true, provided one excludes the actual content of 90% of what passes for Australian 'journalism'. Only one newspaper in the country is even vaguely to the 'left', and there is no television program that could be considered particularly progressive.

Salusinszky targets that author of the industrial relations study in particular, with this obtuse broadside:

And perhaps there is no reason to be concerned that, in the era during
which the mainstream political class has come to accept the logic of the market,
an academic paid to conduct research into the Australian labour market still
describes himself as a socialist.


This statement demonstrates Salusinszky's remove from the 'mainstream', as well as his sycophantic sloganeering. Who in 'mainstream' Australia has come to accept 'the logic' of the market, other than the HR Nicholls society and a few fundamentalists? Not the many Australians who opposed the sale of Telstra, and who oppose the increasing privatisation of every aspect of society. Not the majority of Australians who despise the Government's supposed 'deregulation' of industrial relations laws. Not the farmers, who are slated to receive significant subsidies or generous retirement handouts from the Government, in order to shore up votes in rural electorates. Imre's gripe, that a labour-market researcher describes himself as 'socialist', is likewise misguided. The Australian Labor Party still describes itself as 'socialist' (with the necessary qualifiers), and remains Australia's oldest, and single-most popular party.

Salusinzsky's most comical moment, however, comes at the end of his piece, where he cites is colleague and fellow-culture warrior, Paul Kelly:

"A healthy democracy will see a healthy gulf between its politicians and
its intellectuals. But this gulf in Australia is a chasm that demands serious
attention."

That the GG could even try to publish such material, without irony, and not intended as satire, suggests that some grave intellectual deficiencies exist either among Murdoch's staff, or his readers. That, or we need to hang a few 'intellectuals'.