Monthly Archives: June 2011

Diced cows?

Janet Albrechtsen (“Sacred cows get diced by reality”, 29/6) casts a remarkably wide net when she blanket-accuses Malcolm Fraser, Julian Burnside, the ALP, Fairfax, the ABC, Lindsay Tanner, Doug Cameron, The Greens, and advocates of gay marriage, climate change science, immigration, and refugees, among others, of the sin of believing their own views are correct, which makes them guilty of “moral superiority”. It’s not what they say, but the way they say it that makes them wrong.

Albrechtsen diagnoses the cause of their error as a refusal to accept “reality”, that is, her own views. It seems she also suffers from a form of superiority – just not the moral kind.

Big tobacco, the nanny and the IPA

Both Chris Kenny and The Australian’s leader-writers sheepishly admit big tobacco is nasty, but argue that infringing the god-given liberty to market addictive carcinogens is nastier. These claims of a thin-end-of-the-wedge totalitarianism are piffle: there are already many uncontroversial examples of heavily restricted but legal products, such as prescription drugs, explosives and alcohol. Could the explanation for this disingenuousness be that The Australian’s favourite talent-pool, quoted by Kenny but not disclosed as such, is the big tobacco funded IPA?

Imaginary lines

Craig Emerson’s paean to the pacific effects of free trade (“The quiet achiever of world peace”, The Australian, 28/6) is missing a vital stanza: the free movement of labour. While people are corralled behind imaginary lines on a map in the name of “border protection” and used as cheap labour, what passes for free trade amounts to little more than people-farming.

Feigning neutrality

Frank Furedi’s attempt to paint gay marriage support as defining “cosmopolitan cultural elites” (“Where gay matrimony meets elite sanctimony”, The Australian, 25/6) fails for the simple reason that it is a view held by the majority of Australians, making it the only mainstream value rejected by both major parties.

Furedi’s argument is of a familiar fallacious pattern: take an issue with feisty antagonists, and pillory one side only for its feistiness, while feigning neutrality on the issue itself. The fact that he (presumably) would not take this position if the question were, say, the abolition of slavery, betrays his assessment of gay marriage as unimportant at best.

An apt malapropism

“Begging the question” does not mean to invite inquiry, but to assume the conclusion of an argument in its premise. Greg Sheridan’s use of this malapropism in “A lethal blow for government scheme” (The Australian, 27/6) is unintentionally apt, as he argues that Australia’s carbon price is dead on the say-so of U.S. uber-Republican Jim Sensenbrenner, who wants it that way.

Illegitimate iconoclasm

Angela Shanahan is of course entitled to cling to social tenets of the past, epitomised by her use of the hoary term “illegitimacy” to describe human birth (“Boomers to blame for young people’s failings”, 25/6). But she cannot meaningfully regard herself as an “iconoclast” simply because she is outnumbered by those who hold modern views, nor label the latter group an “elite” on the tautological grounds that one must hold those views to belong.

Like many of her conservative fellow-travellers, Shanahan seems unsure of whether it is she or her adversaries who are part of a minority whose views differ from the mainstream, and whether this is a good or bad thing. As she explicitly rejects the social sciences, she would be well-advised to abstain from attempting to practice them.

Invisible hand shoots itself in the foot

Tim Soutphommasane’s “True liberals are at liberty to disagree over what it means to be free” (The Australian, 25/6) is welcomed as an antidote to the simplistic polarities of much media politics and as a recognition that liberty is complex.

As Soutphommasane notes, few today outside of the extreme old Right actually oppose the ideal of liberty, although conservative liberals have trouble explaining how they otherwise intend to enforce tradition.

But in the real world, we must apply values to choose between conflicting liberties. Does the freedom to own a gun have a higher value than the freedom to walk the streets without fear? If not, we need gun control. Does the freedom of an entrepreneur to reap the benefit of their effort override that of a property owner to charge whatever rent the market will bear? If so, we need rent control. Does free trade imply the free movement of labour? If so, we must relax our borders.

Despite what naive market libertarians tell us, there is no stark choice between liberty and government control, but a considered weighing of liberties against eachother. If we don’t make such decisions, the market’s “invisible hand” shoots itself in the foot.

Dills and shills

If Joe Bloggs, who is not a doctor, mistakenly believes he has written an article debunking medical orthodoxy, is The Lancet suppressing free speech by choosing not to run it?

Some sections of the media publish reams of nonsense from the dills and shills of climate denial, claiming thereby to champion free speech. But neither free speech, nor balance nor rigorous debate are served by giving ignorance and error equal time with meticulous research. Free speech is being abused as a pretext to pursue a political objective.

I’ve never been broke, so why keep working?

Matt Ridley’s advice that, as pessimistic predictions rarely eventuate, we should simply relax and let the free market automatically perfect the world (“Why rational optimism beats ephemeral happiness”, The Australian, 22/6) ignores the most plausible possibility: that some disasters never occur precisely because people are so worried about them, and thus take action to avert them. It’s a bit like saying, “I’ve never been broke, so why keep working?”.


Bolt’s small but noisy and support group loves to make its hero out to be a misunderstood dissident, but the fact is that free speech has always been moderated by law, including defamation and vilification laws, and they were not made especially for Bolt. He blew his dog-whistle a little too hard and has been called to account, but in typical Bolt style, he wants to change the whole legal system rather than face the consequences of his actions.