Sunday, March 23, 2014

And so to a Sunday meditation on 18C and many other matters ...

It being a meditative Sunday, the pond got to brooding about 18C and religion.

Now it so happens that the act doesn't actually mention religion, which naturally explains why some people get upset about its implications in relation to religion:

Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin 
 (1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if: 
 (a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and 
 (b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group. 
 Note: Subsection (1) makes certain acts unlawful. Section 46P of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 allows people to make complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission about unlawful acts. However, an unlawful act is not necessarily a criminal offence. Section 26 says that this Act does not make it an offence to do an act that is unlawful because of this Part, unless Part IV expressly says that the act is an offence. 
 (2) For the purposes of subsection 
(1), an act is taken not to be done in private if it: 
 (a) causes words, sounds, images or writing to be communicated to the public; or 
 (b) is done in a public place; or 
 (c) is done in the sight or hearing of people who are in a public place. 
 (3) In this section: "public place" includes any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, whether express or implied and whether or not a charge is made for admission to the place. (the original here, with links)

Now the pond isn't too keen on the words "offend" and "insult", since it seems that one of the chief benefits of blogging is an attempt to offend and insult passing unaware readers who stumble into the pond.

There's a little more purpose to humiliate and intimidate, in the context of race, ethnicity, colour and at a pinch nationality, though it seems to the pond that the whole point of Mitchell Johnson's existence seems designed to humiliate and intimidate the Poms (ah, another word that causes trouble, though why it should be any more problematic than dingbat colonial Australian is something of a mystery to the pond).

Never mind, one of the problems in relation to the act is that some people routinely conflate race and ethnicity with religion, a tradition given a fine flowering by Adolf Hitler but in truth a routine practised by the Catholic church for centuries, and with equal fervour by Islamics when their religion came along.

So does this mean it's impossible to talk about religion in a cavalier way?

Well not really. If Richard Dawkins wants to be a doofus, there's nothing to stop him, except the weight of public reaction to his tweets.

And the way to avoid trouble is to point out generally the theological insanity rather than point out that a particular  person is theologically crazy.

For example, it's entirely possible to be astonished at and comment on, the sordid revelations at the Royal Commission that have fallen like confetti in the last week, and to look forward to Cardinal Pell's appearance in the stand tomorrow.

There it was in black and white: Royal Commission: George Pell was calling all the shots, and Royal commission: Pell instructed lawyers to fight Ellis claim 'tooth and nail'. And so on and on, sordid and disgraceful and offensive and evasive ...

On a lighter note is also possible to make satirical reference to Cardinal Pell's love of frocks. This is demonstrably true, and defensible.

Not that there's anything wrong with a man liking a frock.

And it only becomes satirical if you take the bible seriously:

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. 
Vanity of vanities, saith the Preacher, vanity of vanities; all is vanity (get your forged Ecclesiastes fix here)

Without certain knowledge, and witnesses and evidence, however, a reference to Pell's sex life would most likely be untrue and defamatory, and it would also be tricky if you mixed it with references to his race, colour and ethnicity.

It's not so easy to have fun with the Islamic religious fundamentalists when it comes to frocks.

That's more a beard and a hat thing, though the vanity of the fundamentalist is easy enough to see.

And it's still possible to talk about the immense stupidity of Saudi Arabia, which sees women not allowed to drive a car, and otherwise repressed, and it's still possible to rail against the wretched mix of religion and culture which proposes that female genital mutilation is in any way okay, and to cheer on the belated prosecutions detailed in Two men first to be charged in UK under FGM Act.

And if you want to see the insidious side of ostensibly moderate Islam, you only have to take a look at what is happening in Turkey and the Twitter nonsense.

Luckily Christopher de Bellaigue's review for the New York Review of Books, Turkey Goes Out of Control, right at the moment outside the paywall, is an impeccable guide to the feud between two cults - the cult of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the cult of US-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gülen (and while reading please note how government educational policies favouring religion have seen the Gülen cult acquire hundreds of schools, and get its hands on 135 charter schools in the United States).

As for your theocratic Jewish state, it is just as possible to criticise it for being as theocratic and dangerous as Iran if you happen to think that way. It is however advisable to avoid suggestions of a Jewish conspiracy running international banking, the House of Windsor, the UN, or Hollywood.

It turns out that the Jewish faith have their own Australian child abuse scandal, as per Haaretz Australian-Jewish community rocked and shocked by ongoing abuse scandals (paywall limited), and it has just as many silly messianic cults, from those who fixated on Menachem Mendel Schneerson to Messianic Jews to fundamentalist members of the Haredi Judaism cult, which has helped turn Israel into an increasingly fearful and fundamentalist state. And that's way before we get to all the stories about the cutlery in the garden.

And while we're doing a tour, who would want to leave out the angry Sydney Anglicans, with their strange attitude to the rights of women and gays?

Where would we be without a Jensenist rant about the evils of society, such as Phillip Jensen's Why Holidays Are More Christian Than Holy Days:

... as the society is in the grip of materialists - both philosophical materialists and their children, the economic materialists - both Holy Days and holidays are under persistent attack.

The funny thing here? Well you see the angry Anglicans are bunging on a big do at the Cathedral. Let's give them a good plug:

Don’t miss our Cathedral Good Friday Celebrations this year (10am Lord’s Supper, 2pm Convention, 7pm Handel’s Messiah). If we didn’t have such a day, our lives would be poorer but our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ’s death would be undiminished.

Hmm, parking in the city is a real bitch, and expensive too, though given the penalty rates, it's understandable that parking charges are savage, what with all the people needing to work on a Good Friday

What to do, what to do? Yep, go by train, or bus, or ferry, and let's hope the poor buggers driving the things are on triple time.

What's that? The Transport Industry (State) Award only offers double time for Good Friday and Easter Monday?

Outrageous, but no doubt the Anglicans wending their way to the city will tip the driver generously. Perhaps the pond will stay home and teach those bloody materialists a lesson by hacking into a nice Easter egg.

You see, if you want to, you can point out all kinds of absurdities involving all kinds of religions and not for a moment do you put yourself in peril via 18C.

You might put yourself in peril from a mad angry Mullah, but that's another story.

It's always better to play nice and veer away from the personal.

It's far too much information to hand for the pond to know that Michael Jensen likes cricket - it's enough to know that he has very strange ideas and belief systems revolving around Adam and Eve as a guide to the way men and women should behave.

And it's always fun to see him dance on the head of a theological pin when asked about fairy stories:

Indeed and Santa Claus and the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny may be poetically described, but actually historical.

And a lot more evasive disingenuous nonsense here, and fundamentalist young earth creationist angry Sydney Anglicans insisting that Adam was a real historical figure, here.

And while you're at it, if you want to argue, Warren Mundine style, Indigenous culture in maths nonsense (behind the paywall because debate should never be free), off you go:

What is indigenous physics? Physics is physics. If we are to compete in the job market we must learn technology and engineering, we need to be taught subjects properly. 
 "I agree that we need to reassess the curriculum because we need real units that teach the subjects without this ridiculous insertion of culture, the idea that you have to have an indigenous or Asian perspective, to be frank, is silly. The sciences and maths should be taught properly."

What has the discourse on ideas got to do with 18C?

Actually sweet bugger all.

Where the Bolter went wrong and got tangled up was that he performed some sloppy journalism, and got some facts wrong, and made some wretched personal, offensive, assertions about fair-skinned Aboriginal people, their motivations and resulting personal benefits, as if everyone knew that being black was a boondoggle in the lucky country.

The pond isn't going to repeat those assertions here, because they are indeed offensive and as it turned out in part, wrong, and that's why the leery Bolter also won't repeat them.

But if you want the details of the judgment by Bromberg in the matter of Eatock v Bolt, including all the shabby Bolter commentary, you can find it at the Federal Court of Australia here.

Which brings the pond to 18D:

Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith: 
(a) in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or 
(b) in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest; or 
(c) in making or publishing: 
(i) a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or 
(ii) a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.

Now the pond being very artistic, we could of course claim under 18D(a) all the time, but truth to tell, it can be a lot easier and a lot simpler.

It's very easy to point out that the various religious emperors doing the rounds frequently wear no clothes, or they do don garments, they're soiled and torn and worn at the edges from all the appalling institutional ways they behave.

But if you make it personal, and you direct abuse at someone in particular, make sure you have your facts and your defence in place, even when it's a public figure in the thick of a storm.

It is likely, as Bromberg noted, that Eatock might have been able to succeed in a defamation action, but of course defamation involves deep pockets and uncertain results, and there would have been no need for it if the Bolter hadn't been so deeply personal in his allegations.

A little bit of mutual tolerance and respect would have gone a long way, as Bromberg noted:

255. It seems to be that in the context of provisions which seek to promote racial tolerance and proscribe intolerance, the purposes of the RDA are to be served by objectively attributing to the “ordinary” or “reasonable” representative of the group, characteristics consistent with what might be expected of a member of a free and tolerant society. Whilst the following observations made by Nettle JA in Catch the Fire at [96] were made in relation to provisions dealing with religious vilification and in a context more akin to s 18D than s 18C, I think that the observations made are helpful in relation to identifying the characteristics attributable to the ordinary or reasonable representative in the application of the test required by s 18C(1)(a). Nettle JA said: 
In my view one is entitled to assume that a fair and just multicultural society is a moderately intelligent society. Its members allow for the possibility that others may be right. Equally, I think, one is entitled to assume that it is a tolerant society. Its members acknowledge that what appears to some as ignorant, misguided or bigoted may sometimes appear to others as inspired. Above all, however, one is entitled to assume that it is a free society and so, therefore, one which insists upon the right of each of its members to seek to persuade others to his or her point of view, even if it is anathema to them. But of course there are limits. Tolerance cuts both ways. Members of a tolerant society are as much entitled to expect tolerance as they are bound to extend it to each other. And, in the scheme of human affairs, tolerance can extend each way only so far. When something goes beyond that boundary an open and just multicultural society will perceive it to be intolerable despite its apparent purpose, and so judge it to be unreasonable for the purpose for which it was said.

Which if we may be so bold means in generality the pond may find adherents of religion to be barking mad, and adherents of religion may consign the pond to a (fictitious) hell of their choosing, provided the pond doesn't get to send them off to an asylum, and the adherents don't get to send the pond off to an early grave.

But it does raise another issue, the flawed Victorian act, the the Catch the Fire Ministries matter, which saw two sets of fundamentalists try to use the law to their advantage, while hapless secularists stood by and marvelled. It's covered much more sensibly than the pond could ever manage by Skepticlawyer here:

We supporters of free speech can thank our lucky stars that the drafters of Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 were appallingly bad at their craft. In cobbling together the criminal law conception of ‘incitement’ with the law of defamation’s ‘ordinary reasonable reader’, they have produced a statute so incapable of interpretation that Pastors Scot and Nalliah have been saved – at least in the Court of Appeal – from adverse findings under it.

And she thoughtfully provides a link to the findings in the Supreme Court of Victoria, Court of Appeal here, so we might all contemplate the matter of religious vilification.

It takes a long time to cut to the chase, along with the news that the appeal was allowed, but finally you get to:

98 Of necessity, the standards of an open and just multicultural society allow for differences in views about religions. They acknowledge that there will be differences in views about other peoples’ religions. To a very considerable extent, therefore, they tolerate criticism by the adherents of one religion of the tenets of another religion; even though to some and perhaps to most in society such criticisms may appear ill-informed or misconceived or ignorant or otherwise hurtful to adherents of the latter faith. It is only when what is said is so ill-informed or misconceived or ignorant and so hurtful as to go beyond the bounds of what tolerance should accommodate that it may be regarded as unreasonable.

Put it another way. If you prefer to incite comedy to inciting hate, you might have a better chance than a fundies going toe to toe and slugging it out.

Which doesn't stop the pond from doing a little jig at the news that Westboro Baptist church founder Fred Phelps died last Wednesday (here).

Few have managed to build such a shrine of hate out of a book ostensibly all about love.

Is there any downside? Well of course the incredibly silly Brendan O'Neill finds a way here.

After reading it, the pond had no trouble imagining O'Neill writing about the death of Hitler:

So Adolf Hitler, head of the wacko Nazi Party, is dead. I feel bad for his family. I also feel bad for the international right-on community. How will they get their moral kicks now? For years, Hitler was their Emmanuel Goldstein, a largely bogey figure that they hollered at and tweeted about and were ostentatiously outraged by, mainly as a way of advertising their own inner decency. What cartoon God, Jew and Gay-botherer will they define themselves against now? Times are tough for liberal moral poseurs.
The level of international fame achieved by Hitler was extraordinary. And it was entirely down to his legion of haters in the media and on the internet. That is the great and horrible irony of the anti-Hitler fury of the last decade – it made Hitler, turning his flock from a minuscule and bizarre bunch of Mein Kampf Arbeit Macht Frei Jew and Gay-haters into a globally recognised goose-stepping brown and blackshirt brand. Indeed, in recent years the Nazi weirdos and their massive army of haters were locked in a strange, mutually beneficial embrace – the Gestapo provided right-minded people with things to be outraged by, the right-minded people dutifully expressed outrage, and this in turn fuelled the publicity-hungry Adolf to do yet more outrageous things. And so it would start all over again, a perfect biosphere of empty bile and equally empty outrage. In today's global economy of offence, the relationship between the wrong'uns of the Nazi party and the right-on of the Western world was a very model of sustainable supply and demand.

Oh okay, here's a buck for the Godwin's Law swear jar, but is there a bigger wanker in the world than O'Neil? Seems hard to imagine ... and it's a fair bet that 18C won't mind the pond saying that.

Enough already. We haven't got to Scientology, Hillsong, Hindus and many more of the gang, but there's plenty of time ..

And there's also time for a maudlin cartoon for a closer. If only it worked out this way in the real world:

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