Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Would you like a dose of castor oil or some agonistic hyperpluralism?

(Above: a twit twittering about twits).

First up, it has to be said what an astonishingly vulgar and irritating program Q&A is, was and will continue to be.

In the usual way, the pond switched off the great debate between George Pell and Richard Dawkins after five minutes. The tweets and the clap happy applause as each side cheered and giggled some ostensible scoring point wasn't a quest for insight or clarity, but a kind of Roman circenses without visible blood.

What does it mean to be told that an audience supposedly interested in matters of religion and atheism was made up of 13% Greens, 47% coalition, and 31% ALP - except to wonder what happened to the 9% who failed to declare an allegiance?

In what earthly or even unearthly way does political balance in matters of atheism and faith deserve this sort of attention? It's the superficial notion of balance, egged on by hysterical ideologues, that has reduced the ABC to a world of spurious drivel, right down there with commercial television. The notion isn't to generate an interesting debate, but to generate ratings, hits and platitudes of the most banal kind by presenting utterly opposed forces determined not to give an inch, cheered on by a balanced pile of toga party Romans ...

Pell of course is too much an arrogant tosser and humbug to realise just how stupid he sounded, but Dawkins didn't come out of it any better, chiding the audience like an errant school master. Sure the audience deserved chiding - it sounded like the prerequisite for assembling a "balanced audience" involved assembling a bunch of cretins - but it's not the best debating tactic.

On the other hand, Pell showed he understood debating tactics, even if it meant he sounded woefully stupid, as emerged when he enjoined Dawkins to go look up the truth about Darwin:

Pell: ... Darwin was a theist because he said he couldn't believe that the immense cosmos and all the beautiful things in the world came about either by chance or out of necessity. He said, "I have to be ranked as a theist."
Dawkins: That's just not true.
Pell: Excuse me it's ...
Dawkins: It's just plain not true.
Pell: It's on page 92 of his autobiography. Go and have a look.

Of course there might actually be a few interested in going and having a look, and immediately you realise that Pell was indulging in the old debating trick of false specificity. It's on page 92 indeed. What humbug, what a lie.

If you head off to Project Gutenberg, and the watered down, but free autobiographical sketch by Darwin, edited by Sir Francis Darwin, here, you can find theist sentiments expressed, but in the third chapter on religion (starting page 55) it becomes clear that Darwin liked to see himself as an agnostic, and repeatedly referred to himself as such:

"I cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us, and I for one must be content to remain an Agnostic."

But of course the point of the program is not to arrive at an insight, but to score points, and to slash the cheek of the opponent, as if it's some kind of Germanic duel.

And then there was this classic contretemps about Neanderthals which began with a truly stupid and misleading question from Tony Jones:

Tony Jones: Sorry, can I just bring you, in a sense, to the point of the question? Do you accept that humans evolved from apes?

It's as if the entire Scopes trial suddenly had to be re-run on television. Why not just make a joke about monkey's uncles Mr. Jones? Naturally Pell rose to the bait:

Pell: Yeah, probably. From Neanderthals, yes. Whether ...
Dawkins: From Neanderthals?
Pell: Probably.
Dawkins: Why from Neanderthals?
Pell: Well, who else would you suggest?
Dawkins: Neanderthals were our cousins. We're not descended from them and we're both descended from ...
Pell: These are extant cousins? Where will I find a Neanderthal today if they're my cousins?
Dawkins: They're not extant, they're extinct.
Pell: Exactly. That's my point.
Dawkins: Your point is that because they're extant they can't be our cousins.
Pell: I really am not much fussed.
Dawkins: That's very clear.

Of course nothing much is clear at all in the discussion of Neanderthals, or the how and the why of humans going around today with Eurasians having 1-4% of genomes being contributed by Neanderthals, but if you want to understand something about the subject, five minutes with the wiki Neanderthal brings more insight than a lifetime of watching Q&A.

You can feel the intelligence draining from you by the minute, and the incoherent mob mentality replacing it ...

But how else could it be, when you get Pell making a joke about the weather in Ballarat as a way of deflecting any sensible discussion of climate science. As if he wanted to prove we were all derived from the monkey's uncle ...

Even on his home turf Pell managed to be offensive, and Dawkins simply disbelieving, as when the question of Adam and Eve and transubstantiation came up. Pell was quite happy to dismiss Adam and Eve as a myth, but then did the old one two on transubstantiation:

Pell: ... I believe that the core of the being becomes the bread, becomes the body and blood of Christ and continues to look exactly as it was. We believe that in the Catholic Church. Now I know you're a cultural Anglican and we can't blame the Anglican ...
Dawkins: I'm also a rationalist. I mean I use - English is my native language. The wafer does not become the body of anybody in the English language.

Surveys routinely show that many Catholics are in the Dawkins camp, and that perhaps as few as thirty per cent accept that when they snack on a wafer, they're actually wolfing down the flesh of Christ. (It reminds the pond of the time a wafer got stuck in the teeth, and naughty little fingers tried to move it along. Out of the blue came a mighty whack across the chops by a Dominican nun, with the fierce whisper "Don't you dare touch the body of Christ", so it was left until a little later and a toothbrush to move the flesh of Christ down into the belly. But really the wafer didn't taste like red meat, or even white chicken or snake meat, it just seemed to be a sticky wafer).

Nothing of interest emerged in the exchange, even though transubstantiation (and perhaps cannibalism) are some of the more interesting ideas going around in the Catholic church.

Instead we had Tony Jones perform his standard imitation of the white rabbit, with an okay, all right, enough of that, you disagree rather substantially, let's get on to the next question.

But where does this leave a viewer interested in a question? Both the panellists disagreed substantially about everything - wasn't that the point of having them go toe to toe? - so it was always quick, hurry, hurry, we're late for an important date or insight, so let's rush on helter skelter to the next question, so we can give it an equally insubstantial and meaningless going over.

The only thing to be said in favour of Q&A is that it provides a transcript. That way you don't actually have to waste your life watching stupidity in motion.

And if all that wasn't enough, the pond caught a bit of Waleed Aly discussing with Scott Stephens his perception of the fall-out for the program, and so this morning felt the need to head off to Stephens' piece Questions without Answers in the kingdom of whatever, wherein Stephens tries to explain how we've reached a state of agonistic hyperpluralism ...

What the fuck? It turns out that Stephens is of an apocalyptic bent, whereby the whole of western society is in a state of decadent collapse, with no shared values, and no chance of agreement, no common good, the world ruined, things lost, the centre not holding, rough beasts Dawkins and Pell slouching together towards Bethlehem, and perhaps social media and the intertubes to blame.

Wouldn't it have been simpler and more to the point to just say it was a shitty program, as Q&A is always a crapfest, full of superficiality and rhetorical sparring, with little point other than idle distraction, and that the twitterfest with which it is laden is just icing on that rhetorical cake?

More to the point, at a time when the program might have deserved a judicious response within the ABC, all the religion department can offer is more of the same - a skewering of Pell and Dawkins and the show - while deploying a rich vein of jargon of the hyperpluralist kind.

May the long absent god help the ABC because it seems no one can help its viewers ...

It was almost a relief to turn to Peter "the smirk" "the eternal loser" "the man who came second" Costello giving Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne Dr. Phillip Freier a dust-up in Bank-bashing archbishop mining an unprofitable vein.

It seems the Archbishop sounded a bit too much like Wayne Swan for Petey boy's liking:

... I don't think it is going to work for the archbishop. Are people going to flock to church to hear sermons against miners and banks? Bank-bashers are a dime a dozen. You don't have to wait until Sunday to get an earful of that.

Yep, and you don't have to wait until Sunday to get a servile lickspittle sucking up to banks and miners.

Just wait until each Wednesday so Petey boy can serve you up a fresh dish of humbug explaining how screwing the poor, the meek and the mild, is just another day's work in one of Christ's noble followers.

Funnily enough, Costello, who fancies himself as a Christian, sounds like a secularist, demanding a separation of the state into church and state, and putting these pesky, noisome, troublesome, worrisome pesky priests into a box:

When the church speaks of its unique message - the life, death and resurrection of Christ - it draws on centuries of Christian thought and theology. I doubt Christendom has done nearly as much work on the taxation of mining profits and modern banking policies. If the clergy want to get into that area, they had better do some deeper thinking. Archbishop Freier's Good Friday publication is not going to spark a new social contract any time soon. It might pay to work out the details before we decide to ditch the present one.

Uh huh. So where might we expect to find the smirk when it comes to religious services? That's right, off with the cult they call Hillsong, saluting signs that say Strength, but might as well say Strength through joy:

Yep, Hillsong is a natural home for Petey boy. As well as its prosperity teachings, there's its support for creationism and intelligent design (teach the notions in schools), and the standard stuff about homosexuality being unnatural (god took a holiday when it happened), abortion, women, stem cell research, and the great gift of being able to speak in tongues.

Of course when it comes to Christianity, and the brands he visibly supported during his time in power, Costello might have pondered the notion of a little deeper thinking. But deep thinking's not one of the long absent god's gifts. Just the power of the smirk.


  1. back in the day, this regular lurker used to enjoy Question Time with Sir Robin Day. Lots of sparring between the old socialists and the new conservatives of Mrs Thatcher. But Tony Jones ain't Robin Day, and the Q&A audience isn't a patch on that elbow patch wearing audience on the other side of the globe. -sigh-
    The white rabbit? You've nailed that spot on I'd say!

  2. Dawkins looked rooted, at one point after retarded laughter in the audience I think he was considering walking out. I can't even see the point in him debating Pell, One side uses measurable proof to create theories, the other "just have FAITH, and give us your money, we'll tell you how to think, look, feel, who to associate with, when to have sex, what drugs to take etc etc.
    Don't question its part of the plan!

  3. pell brought the house down at one point when he began an answer with "i remember when we were preparing some boys".it redeemed the whole program.

  4. Dorothy, I'm sure you'd love to read Sydney Anglicans answer to Pell.

  5. Dawkins shouldn't bother with an idiot like pell. This Sunday not a soul in my previously staunchly catholic Italian family went to Easter Sunday mass. Not a single one out of about 25. If you push most of them on it they admit they're atheists. The catholic church is slowly dying, helped along by fools like pell no doubt.

  6. Oh anon - the Sydney Anglican anon devotee I mean - you have the very best of links. What a hoot. It lifted me out of my post-Pell gloom and made me chortle with joy. Now if you can only explain why Anglicans seem so angry ...

    As for the others anons, yes, bring back leather patches, and people with pipes, if only so we can re-live Monty Python sketches, and thanks for the preparing boys tip - some things are missed in reading the transcript - and Italian Anon I'm reminded of that remark by General Garibaldi:

    "Who, remembering Galileo, his genius and his life, the torture inflicted upon him, the martyrdom he suffered-he, I say, who, remembering this, does not despise the priests of Rome, is not worthy to be called a man or an Italian"

  7. Speaking of Scott Stephens - he is essentially a right-wing catholic who uses his ABC Ethics site to promote right-wing catholic ideology. One of his favorite regularly featured authors is the ultra-odious George Weigel - a truly smarmy creep.
    He does of course sometimes speak at "religious" gab-fests sponsored by Quadrant, the CIS and the IPA - nuf said!
    He also features transcripts by the chap who lives in Rome, you know the one that wears funny hats and clown costumes. Sadly he does real clowns a disservice by doing so.

    I am all for funny hats and clown costumes by the way. All of our parliaments should have a court jester. I think it was the deadly serious Ollie Cromwell that abolished court jesters in the UK. And look what he did to the catholics in Ireland.
    A court jester would certainly liven the ABC Q & A show up.

  8. Oh my Lord, Dorothy, have you seen Greg Sheridan's piece today on Pell's preformance ?

    "What was so distinctive about Pell was that he was a clear, self-confident, erudite but easily understandable spokesman ..."

    That man needs neurosurgery!

  9. Thanks Anon, any news of Greg Sheridan is news indeed. And it's always good to put in direct quotes so that people who want to google and beat the paywall have the tools they need. As a bonus, the more delusional the better e.g.:

    Dawkins was so obviously boxing above his weight division, was so completely outclassed in all aspects of the encounter, that you felt the event promoters were being cruel to him.

    While everybody knows Sheridan is a complete nong, here's a lengthier version of his full-on nongism:

    What was so distinctive about Pell was that he was a clear, self-confident, erudite but easily understandable spokesman for mainstream Australian Christianity. In sidelining such voices, the mainstream media, with honourable exceptions, sidelines the most important and biggest non-government institutions in our society, and indeed the institutions that in large measure created Western civilisation.

    Got to help googlers wanting to beat the paywall. The notion that anyone would pay to read Sheridan verges on the obscene. This way you get to read him praising Pell for completely misrepresenting and traducing Greek attitudes to their gods, and the attitudes of their philosophers 450BC. For free.

    Now some might argue that the opportunity cost - the time wasted could be spent reading a Walt Disney comic - means it's not free, but hey, at least it's not money in the maw of the Murdochians ...

  10. I think Greg Sheridan must have watched a different debate to the one I did because the one that I saw had Pell running rings around himself and resorting to derogatory humour to score points of which none were scored! And what was even more embarrassing was the group of fundamentalists who were set up in the audience to laugh at Dawkin's responses, as a way of putting him down. In the end Dawkins had to ask the moderator what was so funny. Dawkins must think Australians are stupid after debating Pell. The Hon Michael Kirby would have done a far better job than Pell... Kirby might be gay but at least he's intelligent! I can't believe how much these right wing journalists rely on people's ignorance to manipulate public consciousness.


Comments older than two days are moderated and there will be a delay in publishing them.