Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Germs in the Soil?

(An exercise in meta-pointlessness)
For goodness sake, I was kind of hoping, with the end of Howard would be the end of the minority bash. The germs must have been left in the soil. (comment from joe2 on that thread
at LP)
It shouldn't be any surprise that the germs were left in the soil - they were already there before Howard was first elected. Howard's political success was based on cultivating them, and spreading them. It's a little disheartening to discover that they've become so widespread. That discovery has wiped away the last of the cosy post-electoral tristesse I've been feeling since the Rudd victory. In its place there's just a weary relief - things are crook in this country, but nowhere near as crook as they'd be under three more years of Howard, or one and a half years of Howard followed by another one and a half of his anointed successor, now mentoring up-and-coming Liberal talent from the Opposition backbench.

I'm not in the habit of explaining how, or why, I write posts or offering justifications for my choice of topics and the way I treat them. "Wait, I can explain" isn't a particularly inspiring personal or family motto. However today I'm at the arse-end of one unwanted stoush too bloody many, so I've decided to indulge in a little personal reflection and contemplation of how the latest happened. If that results in "fightin' words" then so be it.

I picked up on the topic of kirpans from AWH where MK had a little brain-fart about leftie multi-culti double standards - they'll let Sikhs carry knives but they won't let me carry a concealed handgun. It would have been easy - far too easy - to write a post using MK as a butt. Instead, I chose to do a little research, which led to the story of a five-year legal case in Canada, where the end result was that Canada's Supreme Court upheld the right of Khalsa Sikhs to carry kirpans (subject perhaps to some necessary accomodations to public safety) under Canada's Bill of Rights.

Given the actual recommendations of the Victorian Parliament's Education and Training Committee on the subject, and the fact that Victoria has a Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities guaranteeing freedom of religious expression, it struck me as inevitable that, one way or another, Victoria would end up making the same decision as that the Canadians made through their Supreme Court. You might like to cite that as another instance of out-of-touch judges making decisions that don't reflect community feelings or community perceptions, but that's exactly what judges are supposed to do when they sit on constitutional issues and cases where the interpretation of the law is at issue. Newspaper columnists fulminate against "out of touch, unrepresentative judges" for two reasons. Firstly, they're a soft target. Secondly, they're all self-righteous, opinionated buggers who aren't content to offer their opinions for your consideration, and possible rejection - they want to see their opinions on how the country should be run in the way the country is run, and nothing serves that purpose better than whipping up a vociferous outcry from angry readers insisting that something must be done.

The Howard government didn't have much time for "unelected, unrepresentative" judges either, particular those on the High Court who sometimes stood between them and their exercise of executive power. Again, there are two reasons for that - one is that the judges' role is to determine whether in fact, our laws allow the government of the day to exercise every executive power it aspires to. The other is that those unelected judges might occasionally hold legislators to their word. When you have an executive that is power hungry, and equally power hungry journalists fomenting public fear and public outrage to serve personal political agendas that they lack the personal integrity and conviction to pursue through the electoral process, you end up with a very dangerous synergy.

The hallmark of John Howard's political style was his willingness to use fear, division and mistrust to further his political aims - political aims that dwindled, in the end, to holding onto the Prime Ministership for one more term if he could, or keeping Peter Costello out of it if he couldn't. The hallmark of the opinion writing and reporting at the News Limited dailies has been a willingness to use fear, division and mistrust to further their commercial aims - to sell newspapers and make a profit. Hardly surprising, then that a News Limited reporter should pick up on a moderate, sensible recommendation from a parliamentary committee and put an alarmist spin on it to notch up another publication and thereby advance her career.

What did sow shock and dismay in these quarters (the room where I sit writing this) was the response to the first post - within a very short time, I went from being (in my own estimation at least) and advocate of a moderate, pragmatic approach to accommodating religious belief and religious practice, to some kind of loon advocating wholesale slaughter in our schools. It didn't help that some of those who stepped into the debate on what I might think of as "my side" were so belittling of the minority religion whose rights they affected to defend - consistently referring to the kirpan as a "trinket" for example, or making their acceptance of Sikh practice conditional on the kirpan's "trinketisation".

Small wonder, I think, that I had a brain-fart of my own (due to the cerebral equivalent of irritable bowel syndrome), later apologised for. Trouble was, the comments thread raised a lot more issues than it settled, so I did some more research, some more thinking and some more writing, this time focussing more on the News Limited reporting of procedings in the committee. There I proved more "antagonistic" than "persuasive".

I've decided, after some thought, that the charge is mostly crap. Granted, I have little patience with people who can't argue coherently and hence retreat into hyperbole and gobbledy-gook - other people that is. I'm quite willing to dish out the hyperbole and gobbledy-gook myself, but only as a last resort, when all other methods have failed. The real problem, I think, is that in writing about a topic that interested me, in a way that interested me (and therefore, a way that might attract a few readers) I affronted quite a few people by challenging their own beliefs about themselves. I've had that misfortune before. One blessing I guess I should count this time, is that it's the Rudd era - if it were still the Howard era the sense of affront would have been so much greater and the angry response so much more vehement.

So much for any delusions I might have harboured that the election of a Federal ALP government would result in the speedy restoration of civil society in this country. The restoration of civil society, now that we have the opportunity, isn't a task for government anyway - it's a task for all of us. Piss-weak and whingey as it sounds, I'm trying to do my bit. It would be a damn sight easier if there were a few less people sitting around on their lazy self-satisfied arses shouting abuse.

No discussion or correspondence on this post will be entered into.