Monday, April 21, 2014

In which the pond is overwhelmed by ironies, blather and true believers who seemingly don't know what to believe ...

(Above: free speech now? Relax, that's code for freedom to blather, George Brandis style)

Now where were we?

The last thing the pond dimly remembers before the coffin lid of compound chocolate slammed shut on the pond was George Brandis sounding incredibly silly.

Now as the Minister for Bigots and Bigotry, the pond is sure Brandis wouldn't mind being called a fuckwit and a cretin, though it's possibly politically incorrect to demean cretins in this way.

But as a result of the Minister mouthing off, the pond was swept, like a vortex in a whirlpool time warp, into memories of the very first science teacher who strode the pond's high school laboratory.

Now it wasn't much of a lab - some bunsen burners, some sinks, a few beakers and condensing jars - and the man himself was notoriously eccentric. He was, it seems, in love with Julie Andrews, and could routinely be sighted drooling night after night at the revival of The Sound of Music, and any other Andrews vehicle that landed in town at the local fleapit.

Worse, he fancied himself as a singer, and was addicted to appearing in the local Gilbert and Sullivan shows, which mainly featured bankers and doctors and the like.

So he was human, and in his way irrational, but in the lab he was a different man. We had to write out our aims, we had to observe our experiment, and we had to write up our findings and conclusions. Were the findings replicable? Observe and replicate.

Now all this meant for the pond was that the school case was full of iron filings for years afterwards. But something stuck, particularly the science teacher's insistence on the complete uselessness of belief. Either the iron filings would cluster around the magnetic poles in certain ways, or if they didn't, questions needed to be asked.

There was no room for the bible or any other belief in the science classroom, just as there was no room for dinosaurs in the bible.

Yet, there he was, dear old George Brandis, sounding just like a fuckwit of the first believing water.

First of all, he announced he was a true believer:

He describes the climate-change debate – or non-debate, or anti-debate, to be really pedantic but also accurate – as one of the ‘great catalysing moments’ in his views about the importance of free speech. He isn’t a climate-change denier; he says he was ‘on the side of those who believed in anthropogenic global warming and who believed something ought to be done about it’. (Here, with Brandis talking to that exceptional tosser Brendan O'Neill, and getting Spiked in the process)

But, billy goat, but, the pond learned long ago in Tamworth - lordy, lordy a hillbilly talking of science - that 'believe' and 'believed' and 'beliefs' have got nothing to do with it.

If you accept the findings, if you accept the weight of evidence, if you accept the theory, then you're not talking faith-based belief, you're also accepting why the theory of evolution holds a lot more water than creationist tosh.

The last thing you should do is try to turn science into a religion.

But that's exactly what Brandis did, invoking of all things, medieval times:

But he has nonetheless found himself ‘really shocked by the sheer authoritarianism of those who would have excluded from the debate the point of view of people who were climate-change deniers’. He describes as ‘deplorable’ the way climate change has become a gospel truth that you deny or mock at your peril, ‘where one side [has] the orthodoxy on its side and delegitimises the views of those who disagree, rather than engaging with them intellectually and showing them why they are wrong’. 
He describes how Penny Wong, the Labor Party senator for South Australia and minister for climate change in the Julia Gillard government, would ‘stand up in the Senate and say “The science is settled”. In other words, “I am not even going to engage in a debate with you”. It was ignorant, it was medieval, the approach of these true believers in climate change.’ Wong, whom Brandis tells me is ‘Australia’s high priestess of political correctness’, is far from alone in suffering from what the American journalist Joel Kotkin recently described as ‘The Debate Is Over’ Syndrome. Throughout eco-circles, and among the political and media elites more broadly, the idea that the time for debating climate change is over, and now we just need action, action, action, is widespread. And to Brandis, this speaks to a new and illiberal climate of anti-intellectualism, to the emergence of ‘a habit of mind and mode of discourse which would deny the legitimacy of an alternative point of view, where rather than winning the argument [they] exclude their antagonists from the argument’.

But, but, billy goat, but, science isn't about an alternative point of view.

It's either observable and replicable, and the atomic bomb goes off, or it isn't. If - as you say you believe - the theory is correct, then surely there's a need for action. Or so you believe ...

There's no point indulging others in a creationist point of view, not even in Tamworth in those long lost secular days when a public servant could take a secular path in the science lab - as opposed to taxpayers now funding religious fundamentalists of all stripes.

Back then there was no way that DNA could be used to track the amount of Neanderthal in George Brandis's make-up, but these days it's easy peasy.

The pond's poor old science teacher would have been rolling in his grave, because there was George Brandis berating others for being true believers, while at the same time explaining how he was on the side of true believers, who believed something ought to be done about climate change.

Now the pond has no problem with free speech, even when said free speech reveals the Minister of Bigots and Bigotry to be a very confused possum, perhaps, it might be said, a cretin and a fuckwit.

But then it occurred to the pond that Brandis was in fact a lawyer, with a handsome library financed by the Australian taxpayer (don't forget the bookcases), and casuistry was his stock in trade.

Relativism is very handy for a politician, though it has little to do with the theory of relativity:

While a principle-based approach might claim that lying is always morally wrong, the casuist would argue that, depending upon the details of the case, lying might or might not be illegal or unethical. The casuist might conclude that a person is wrong to lie in legal testimony under oath, but might argue that lying actually is the best moral choice if the lie saves a life.

Indeed, indeed. If you move on from a case-based approach and morality, it might well be that, depending on the details of the science, you might just make up whatever suits you.

You see, Brandis seems to think that science involves a habit of mind and everybody's opinion is valid and must be heard:

The great irony to this new ‘habit of mind’, he says, is that the eco-correct think of themselves as enlightened and their critics as ‘throwbacks’, when actually ‘they themselves are the throwbacks, because they adopt this almost theological view, this cosmology that eliminates from consideration the possibility of an alternative opinion’. The moral straitjacketing of anyone who raises a critical peep about eco-orthodoxies is part of a growing ‘new secular public morality’, he says, ‘which seeks to impose its views on others, even at the cost of political censorship’. 

Now if Brandis had said that the cosmology eliminates from consideration the possibility of an alternative scientific theory, backed by replicable observations, he might have had a leg to stand on.

But instead he had to talk of an alternative opinion.

Now the pond is aware that as science gets to the end game, there is much talk about how the quark is a form of Zen, and the Higgs Boson a koan.

But even the Zen Buddhists wouldn't stand for this sort of nonsense:

Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku. Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena is emptiness. There is no realization, no delusion, no sage, no mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received." Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry. "If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come from?" (more here)

Opinion is all very well, but in the pond's book, the square root of fuckwittery is three, or one plus one rarely amounts to five.

By the way, let's not talk of the square root of three as a proof of irrationality.

The square root of 3 is the positive real number that, when multiplied by itself, gives the number 3. It is more precisely called the principal square root of 3, to distinguish it from the negative number with the same property... The square root of 3 is an irrational number. It is also known as Theodorus' constant, named after Theodorus of Cyrene. (Do your Greg Hunt here)

We could be here all day pondering what it means, and the pond is no Lewis Carroll ...

You see, the actual science has got nothing to do with eco-orthodoxies or new secular public moralities or political censorship or whatever. Either the theory is credible, with thousands of scientists beavering away on it, to detect flaws, weaknesses, and failing in the task, or it isn't, and we can believe that George Bell and the Bolter are internationally renowned climate scientists.

Uh huh. If you get hit on the head with an apple, consider the immediate implications of Newton.

There's way more in the interview, as Brandis gets himself well and truly spiked, and much blather about the Bolter and freedom of speech, and the left, and the state, but the clue came to the pond right at the end of the piece:

Brandis isn’t defending racists, as his illiberal critics claim; he’s defending the Enlightenment-era principle that the state shouldn’t get to determine what people can think and say. As another bottle of wine arrives, he returns to Mill ...

Surely that should have read, as he returns to Mill, he keeps getting more and more pissed ...

It is of course a nonsense, and Brandis has already displayed various sorts of illiberalism with anyone who disagrees with him.

And it's the only way to explain how a true believer could berate others for being true believers, and to hell with the science ...

A few cared to notice - a few days ago the ABC seemed to be reporting something other than the forelock tugging, the kowtowing, the bowing and scraping and simpering involved in the Royal Tour, and Adam Bandt got to throw back the charge of feudalism, here:

...if Senator Brandis really believed in free speech in this country and freedom of choice, he wouldn't be threatening to cut funding to artists who express their political views, as he did in the Sydney Biennale. He would be saying that individuals are able to marry the person they love, instead, this government is keeping discrimination in place. This isn't a government that's motivated by liberalism. It's not a government that's even motivated by conservatism, because they are failing to do what Ronald Reagan said was the fundamental duty of every conservative government, which is to protect a country's people. 
It's not liberalism, it's not conservatism, it's straight out feudalism. As we've seen with the resurrection of knights and dames, that fundamentally is what's driving Tony Abbott and George Brandis.

Indeed. Bandt also had a few words about the science, but the reality is that the mainstream media isn't set up to deal with scientific matters, so much as short grabs of abuse and charges of feudalism, and in that sense Brandis, with his charge of medievalism, has won, because he's shifted the debate on the science into other feudal areas.

And, as a pond correspondent noted, that shift allowed Brandis to sound even sillier. So:

...there were two recent, specific things that made him realise just what a mortal threat freedom of speech faces in the modern era and that he would have to dust down his Mill, reread his Voltaire, and up the ante in his war of words against, as he puts it, the transformation of the state into ‘the arbiter of what might be thought’...

And thus:

... He’s receiving colossal flak from what we might call Australia’s chattering classes. They accuse him of standing up for bigots. He didn’t help himself when he said in the Senate a couple of weeks ago that people do have the right to be bigots. That unleashed a tsunami of ridicule, even from some of his supporters. But he tells me he has no regrets. ‘I don’t regret saying that because in this debate, sooner or later – and better sooner than later – somebody had to make the Voltaire point; somebody had to make the point [about] defending the right to free speech of people with whom you profoundly disagree.’

Re-read his Voltaire? What a fuckwit and a cretin.

What a pity he didn't do a Greg Hunt and dust off his wiki, but then that's not funded by the taxpayers like his expensive book collection (don't forget a decent set of bookcases)

The most oft-cited Voltaire quotation is apocryphal. He is incorrectly credited with writing, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." These were not his words, but rather those of Evelyn Beatrice Hall, written under the pseudonym S. G. Tallentyre in her 1906 biographical book The Friends of Voltaire. Hall intended to summarize in her own words Voltaire's attitude towards Claude Adrien Helvétius and his controversial book De l'esprit, but her first-person expression was mistaken for an actual quotation from Voltaire. Her interpretation does capture the spirit of Voltaire's attitude towards Helvetius; it had been said Hall's summary was inspired by a quotation found in a 1770 Voltaire letter to an Abbot le Riche, in which he was reported to have said, "I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write." Nevertheless, scholars believe there must have again been misinterpretation, as the letter does not seem to contain any such quote. (here, with footnotes and a link to Hall's wiki)

You see, the clever casuist would say, I know it's not exactly what Voltaire said, but it does conjure up what Voltaire stood for, before delivering the quote, and moving on, but sadly Brandis is about as much a historian as he is a scientist.

And that's the real problem. Everybody has the right to personal opinions, but unless you want to be branded a fuckwit and a cretin - and so defame cretins in a most politically incorrect way - sometimes it's best to keep your personal opinions and your feudalism to yourself ...

Of course it all happened just before Easter, and so it was swept away by all the subsequent blather, but attention should be paid, because you see George quite ruined Easter for the pond.

What with memories of compound chocolate, Julie Andrews, the dreaded double period in the science lab, and libraries of books and shelving at taxpayers' expense to produce the blather of an illiberal ignoramus hoeing into the wine with Spiked like a member of the chattering classes sipping a decent sav blanc, while sending up the chattering classes ... and not having a first clue about the pigs and the farmers and the ironies, oh the ironies ...

It's going to be a long winter of discontent ...

(Below: okay, it's time for some T-shirt philosophy, right up there with George's insights)


  1. Good to see you back DP.

    I watched Anchorman 2 and must admit it was bloddy funny.

    Here's the fight scene (spot the celebrities)

  2. Dokuon of Shokoku as Dr Johnson? And Brandis QC not dusted down his decorative Joycean assets nor is he koan to.

  3. DP - you might find this interesting.

    Where you will find this -

    "Gertrude: Your bedded haire, like life in excrements, Start up, and stand an end."

  4. Well it's Bill's 450th birthday so let's have a Shakespeare day. My first experience of the bard was Googie Withers and Keith Michell in Perth in 1963. Great!

    1. The pond will be in that. Remember to consult your Shakespeare insult generator and deploy at work or with a loved one for jolly good fun:


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