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July 20th, 2004

Don Arthur and Ken Parish have been discussing values and civility, with links to other bloggers. Both posts are well worth reading. I don’t have anything new to say on this at present, but civility is the kind of thing that’s better shown by example than described in the abstract. With some exceptions, and with occasional lapses by nearly everyone, I think Ozplogistan sets a pretty good example. I rarely agree with, for example, Andrew Norton or John Humphries Humphreys, and frequently disagree with Ken Parish, but we manage to have productive discussions despite this.

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  1. Don
    July 20th, 2004 at 23:48 | #1

    “…civility is the kind of thing that’s better shown by example than described in the abstract.”

    I think this comment gets close to the center of the issue. I’m far more optimistic about our being able to agree on WHAT to do than I am about our agreeing on WHY to do it.

    It seems to me that politics is about being able to agree on practices when we can’t agree on principles.

  2. Mark Bahnisch
    July 21st, 2004 at 00:49 | #2

    John, on the empirical question of what values are most commonly held in different societies and how they are changing across time, there is a very large research project coordinated at the University of Michigan looking at cross-cultural data across a very large population of nation states. You can read about it and the findings here. This also has the benefit of being a time-series data set, with surveys ranging from 1990 to 2001. Unfortunately, I don’t have time to read and summarise the findings, but my recollection is that it’s exceptionally interesting. As far as I know, this is one of the largest social science research projects conducted to date. The coordinator, Ron Inglehardt, is the person who came up with the notion of “post-materialist” values.

  3. July 21st, 2004 at 10:58 | #3

    We disagree again Q – this time on the spelling of my surname. đŸ™‚

  4. John Quiggin
    July 21st, 2004 at 11:15 | #4

    Having suffered the same fate many times, I empathise! Fixed, now. If only all errors were so easily conceded and corrected.

  5. Homer Paxton
    July 21st, 2004 at 11:30 | #5

    I do believe your blog sets the standard ( I refuse to say benchmark) for civility in the land of Blog.

    It enhances the credibility here and encourages a standard of debate I have rarely seen which of course decends to the depths when I enter.

    It matters not whether one agrees or disagrees with your original comment because one will usually find something in the acccompanying comments which will either confirm or refute the comment.

    I would like to think a person like Tim Blair would try to emulate this.

  6. Biro
    July 21st, 2004 at 14:11 | #6

    The lack of civility at Tim Blair’s blog does have its uses: when they resort to crude abuse you can be pretty sure that you’ve won the argument.

  7. Michael Burgess
    July 21st, 2004 at 14:47 | #7

    On civility, I would argue that labelling someone a conservative or neocon or whatever to win a debate is far more ill-mannered than calling someone a fuckwit or similar as it is essentially a form of libel. It also prevents debate on important issues. For example, the survey evidence available clearly indicates that the main reason women now earn less than men is not discrimination against females (as many feminists argue) but the simple fact that generally women are less career orientated than men. Current affirmative action policies for women are essentially driven by career orientated middle class females who seem to think that in areas such as the public sector and academia they have a right to get promoted faster than their male colleagues (much to the annoyance of their female spouses). However, anyone pointing this out tends to be labelled sexist or conservative.

    Similarly, anyone who is currently more critical of the behaviour of Islamic governments and Islamic movements than they are of Western governments tends to be labelled a racist. Before Noel Pearson came along it was not possible to discuss the issue of welfare dependency and corruption within the Aboriginal community without be called a racist. This has had disastrous consequences for welfare of Australia’s indigenous community.

    Consequently, I am less concerned about civility in the contex of bad language etc and more concerned about cowardly individuals who resort to labelling rather than test their ideologically rigid ideas. The outcome is that self-serving and simple minded individuals such as Michael Moore, David Suzuki and Susan George have far more influence than they other wise would. Now, that I think is far more of a tragedy than the occasional swear word.

  8. John Quiggin
    July 21st, 2004 at 15:01 | #8

    “Before Noel Pearson came along it was not possible to discuss the issue of welfare dependency and corruption within the Aboriginal community without be called a racist. This has had disastrous consequences for welfare of Australia’s indigenous community.”

    As regards welfare dependency, this claim is clearly incorrect. Here, for example, is a paper from ATSIC in 1994

    “The administration of Aboriginal affairs presents a paradox. On the one hand there are constant reminders of Aboriginal achievement, of how indigenous people are freeing themselves from their welfare dependency and misery through initiative and innovation. Many have achieved great success in a wide range of fields. Aboriginal people would wish this to continue. On the other hand there is the reality of indigenous poverty and despair, of alcoholism and violence that defies description. There is the hopelessness of people who have no employment prospects in a society imbued with the protestant work ethic. Clearly there are those among the indigenous population who have lost direction. Indigenous Australians are still almost entirely dependent on the patronage and goodwill of government and on legislation that can be diluted or changed at any time. Almost 75 per cent of the economy of Aboriginal society consists of government transfer payments.”

  9. July 21st, 2004 at 16:04 | #9

    Michael does raise an interesting point… it is more important to look nice or be nice? Take the example of being polite to somebody and then abusing them behind their back and compare it to a person who has something negative to say about somebody and says it to their face. The former person would be regarded more civil… but do they really deserve to be considered more moral?

    Or the difference between a person who doesn’t say “please” or “thank you” but quietly gives an unnoticed helping hand to people who really need it.

  10. ChrisV
    July 21st, 2004 at 18:09 | #10

    The two are simply different things. Their relative importance depends on the context. For example, in political discourse it is more important to be civil than to actually be well disposed towards your debating partner. In everyday life however, this kind of two-facedness is frowned upon. The difference is whether you are trying to achieve a workable discourse or a workable relationship.

  11. Jill Rush
    July 21st, 2004 at 21:23 | #11

    Having observed the ridicule and incivility of a male elder of the community ridiculing the ideas put forward by women by labelling them as the “No brigade who all wear skirts” and thus labelling any men supporting the position of the women as women, it was pleasing to see that he lost the arguments.

    However in other circles or times or places his ridicule of the person rather than the ideas they raised may well have won the argument.

    Above, we have an argument that women are not in positions of power as they are not as career oriented. This is another form of labelling where the evidence is ignored or attributed to reasons other than prejudice.

    I have recently watched a selection exercise in the public service labelled as “fair” as it contained a member of the Merit Protection Agency and another male from outside the organisation plus the obligatory female. The result of that exercise resulted in not one woman over the age of 40 gaining a position, and a greater percentage of males gaining positions although there were more female applicants. There were talented and experienced females in that group but they were overlooked for males and a few younger females.

    The overall impression of the successful group is that they are civil and compliant – the older women have opinions which they are able to express. No wonder they are overlooked – everyone knows that only men are allowed to be uncivil.

    Overall we will have a better society if politeness is not confused with good behaviour. Current trends do not make me hopeful as community is made subservient to ego.

  12. July 22nd, 2004 at 07:47 | #12

    There may be two civilised bloggers somewhere who agree with one another, but I am not one of them.
    David Friedman misquoted…

  13. Michael Burgess
    July 22nd, 2004 at 14:22 | #13

    re the argument that women are not in positions of power as they are not as career oriented. You argue that this is another form of labelling where the evidence is ignored or attributed to reasons other than prejudice. This is simply not true surveys clearly indicate that women are not as career oriented as men. Women who are career oriented generally get promoted quicker than men.

    On the view that women over 40 are discriminated against – well yes but so are men over 40. In a period of two years before I was forced to move away from my Wife to Canberra I applied for numerous 3/4 and 5/6 policy and research jobs in the NSW Public service and equivalent low jobs in the Commonwealth. Despite having a PhD and bags of work experience I rarely obtained an interview. Because I appealed in some cases and for other reasons, I know that some of the positions a failed to get were obtained by very young women who had just completed an arts degree. If you are really interested in Female oppression I suggest you concentrate your efforts on the Middle East and developing world where discrimination is real and not invented by middle class women from the North Shore of Sydney and elsewhere as a means to gain an unfair advantage.

  14. Jill Rush
    July 22nd, 2004 at 22:10 | #14

    There are indeed many worse cases of discrimination than I have mentioned. Those women who are murdered by thier nearest and dearest for “misbehaviour” is heinous. Definitely uncivil behaviour.

    Islamic women who are so keen to oppress others through dictating dress codes and thus limiting movement and opportunities are most distressing to me. Then again if we visit a range of other countries we see incivility in murder and oppression and that civility is tied to a desperate need to survive. I am reminded of a time many years ago in Nepal when a poor man sought advice on a letter he had written to offifialdom which was full of sycophancy.

    I am unable to do much about those situations as my sphere of influence is limited. What I can see and influence is the small incivilities which pass as a “joke” or the name calling which rarely enlightens an argument although does show the ignorance of the teller.

    At the same time there are those in power who deserve a level of incivility as this is the only way that they understand that their ideas, suggestions, policies stink as they lack understanding of the subtleties of language.

    To argue that men over 40 suffer discrimination in the workforce is beyond question. However in the exercise I describe 2 of the successful candidates were men over the age of 40. None were women.

    Whilst women may have less ambition than men there is no doubt that for many it relates directly back to their sanity and the lack of support they receive from the workplace and partners and the needs of children for time and attention from a parent. They are too busy trying to be a civilising influence to get ahead through putting their own needs first.

  15. Michael Burgess
    July 23rd, 2004 at 09:50 | #15

    I have not found that in either the public service or academia women are any more human or compassionate than men.

    To give one example, when I started working for customs I had to do a training course and pass an exam. Now, I was busy completing my PhD and had no time to study and was not really that interested in working for customs anyway. But, I did intend to cram in the last week or so. However, the last week came and within three days of each other my mother was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour and my brother with leukaemia. Not surprisingly, given that I was on anti-depressants, I did not study and I did not pass one aspect of the exam which was memorizing the title of customs forms.

    Despite my explanation, the two yougish women who interviewed me said they were sorry and all that but they could not make an exception. I have no doubt that if I was a woman and had burst into tears there would have been no question of dismissing me.

    My view that I was discriminated against for being a white Anglo-Saxon male, was further reinforced when on returning from the UK, I noticed an African guy at the counter I did the customs course with. He was the other person to fail as he had been completing an MA at the time and, not surprisingly, was more concerned with this than memorising the name and number of customs forms.

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