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What I’m reading and more

December 18th, 2005

Civil Passions by Martin Krygier. An interesting set of essays on a wide range of subjects. I was particularly struck by his observation on Keith Windschuttle’s claim to be a fearless seeker after truth, as opposed to the ideologically-driven history of his opponents. Writing in 2003, Krygier observed that Windschuttle had not yet done the research for his promised volumes on Queensland, and asked ‘Who can even conceive Windschuttle saying after a few more years in the archives “Whoops. Got it all wrong. Hats off to Henry.” Unless of course he has yet another across the board ideological conversion’. This, I think, says everything that needs to be said about Windschuttle*. Krygier (a second generation Cold Warrior) also has some fascinating things to say about the collapse of communism

I also went to see Red Dust, a film about the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, from a novel by Gillian Slovo, which I found compelling. I saw it at the Schonell theatre, a Uni of Queensland institution that is under threat of closure as a result of voluntary student unionism. If you live in Brisbane and have been vaguely thinking about going, do so now while you still have the chance.

* As my last sentence implies, I don’t feel like engaging in another long debate about Windschuttle. I’m going to delete (or, at my discretion, disemvowel) any comments defending him, or criticising his opponents, unless the author is willing to state that they think it reasonably likely that Windschuttle might reach, and publish, the conclusion that Henry Reynolds and others were broadly correct in their assessment of the situation in Queensland. The same will apply to any meta-discussion about my position on this. I’d ask those who agree with me not to feed the trolls by piling on.

Update Since readers have been unwilling to abide by my requests, I’m closing comments on this thread.

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  1. December 18th, 2005 at 18:31 | #1

    A striking comment indeed coming from the son of the fellow whose brainchild was Quadrant.

  2. Andrew Reynolds
    December 18th, 2005 at 19:37 | #2

    One day I am going to have to read something by him – I feel totally uniformed at the moment, not having read anything by him. Any reading tips?

  3. Terje Petersen
    December 18th, 2005 at 20:24 | #3

    I’m going to delete (or, at my discretion, disemvowel) any comments defending him, or criticising his opponents,

    Last week I knew enough about Windschuttle to maintain a discussion for about 60 seconds. I read an article by Windschuttle in the Australian newspaper earlier this week which was probably the first thing by him that I have ever read. So with that under my belt I could now probably maintain a discussion for 2 or 3 minutes about the man.

    Perhaps it would be reasonable to ban a discussion about Windschuttle. However John didn’t do that. He raised the topic and then only bans comments that defend Windschuttle (not those that criticise him).

    I don’t know much at all about Windschuttle, but I feel that I now know a little more about Professor Quiggin.

    Terje, this comment is a violation of my request, and therefore an abuse of my hospitality here. I set up this blog, pay for it and write it, and I have the right to set whatever ground rules I like for the discussion. If you don’t like the way I run it, feel free to set up your own or go elsewhere. Since you’ve been polite in the past I haven’t deleted it, but I am recording my displeasure.

    As should have been obvious from the post, I’ve debated Windschuttle at length on this blog, and you might at least have read those debates before making your comments.

  4. Rob
    December 18th, 2005 at 21:33 | #4

    John, at the risk of being deleted, you could have mentioned that Krygier is one of Windschuttle’s principal opponents, who co-contributed one of the essays in Robert Manne’s compendium of rebuttals (‘Whitewash’). Not a stellar contribution, either, but that’s only my opinion. He’s gone a couple of rounds with KW in the letters pages of Quadrant, too, and not emerged with credit (again in my opinion).

    Andrew – he is a lucid but not an inspired prosodist. He can be dour, but seldom fails to be interesting. I’d avoid ‘The Killing of History’, in which he dismisses virtually all interesting approaches to history since von Ranke. ‘Fabrication’ is probably the most representative his books. It’s not without methodological and evidentiary weaknesses, but it’s an interesting and challenging read.

    You can check out his website here.

  5. December 18th, 2005 at 22:33 | #5

    Biting the hand that feeds, Mr Terje? Or perhaps you believe this one Quiggin remark fits a wider pattern?

  6. December 19th, 2005 at 08:42 | #6

    JQ, your position on Windschuttle would be more sound if you did not, by implication, indicate a willingness to accept comments attacking him. Why not simply state your own views and suggest that immediate commenting on Windschuttle, of any sort, would not be accepted?

  7. December 19th, 2005 at 08:52 | #7

    well, this is turning into a meta thread after all, and now I’m doing a meta-meta

  8. Crispin Bennett
    December 19th, 2005 at 09:05 | #8

    John, no defense of Windschuttle from me. But is a fundamental shift of stance conceivable for a mature thinker in any field where ethics and ideology is involved? There don’t seem to be that many examples of it having happened. Wittgenstein is notable, but precisely because his case was so exceptional. Could you imagine moving to the far right?

    Following where the data leads is a noble idea in its way, and clearly an important public touchstone for research communities. But is it actually a useable ideal in itself for a well-rounded individual? Isn’t a person’s thinking and research always in service to a wider ethic?

  9. jquiggin
    December 19th, 2005 at 09:15 | #9

    PML, I explicitly discouraged comments that amplified my criticism Windschuttle and there haven’t in fact been any. I invited a specific kind of defence of him, namely one that asserts that he is, as he claims, a disinterested seeker after truth. None has been forthcoming so far.

    Crispin, we discussed radical conversions a while back. I agree that in practice, data is going to be interpreted in the light of the researchers methodological framework, views on related issues and ethical commitments. But Windschuttle doesn’t accept that this is legitimate, and accuses others of fraud (‘fabrication’) for doing so.

  10. Crispin Bennett
    December 19th, 2005 at 09:36 | #10

    John, yes, fair point about Windschuttle, and one that encapsulates a distrust I always feel towards people, and particularly ‘experts’, who strongly portray the ‘truth’ on complex issues as following straight and easy as an arrow from a set of clearly-descried facts.

    On this point, non-experts (ie. all of us, regarding most things) are in a troubling position, because we really aren’t generally in command of enough relatively neutral data to even strongly challenge our general ethic (or habits, etc). This is how most ordinary folk (like me) relate to economics. We kind of know what we’d like it to do, but can’t really tell how what we want relates to reality. And we can’t rely on experts for obvious reasons. I’m hoping Philip Tetlock’s Expert Political Judgment : How Good is It? How Can We Know? will be an interesting read on this subject.

  11. Troll
    December 19th, 2005 at 10:11 | #11

    “I’d ask those who agree with me not to feed the trolls by piling on.”

    In Internet terminology, a troll is a person who posts inflammatory messages on the internet, such as on online discussion forums, to disrupt discussion or to upset its participants.

    Nothing at all here about “troll” being applicable to someone who simply disagrees with the original poster. Deliberately inflammatory is the test here.

    So why the word troll? This might be a clue:

    The term is often used to discredit an opposing position, or its proponent, by argument ad hominem.

    Sounds about right. Quiggin can’t bear to argue in good faith, so he abuses anyone who would even think about dissenting, and also pre-emptively bans their comments.

    What a brave man. Just as well you work in academia, where non-leftist opinions are already banned. Otherwise you’d probably spend all day sobbing when the mean-spirited right wingers ganged up on you by taking a differing position.

    Coward.

    I was going to disemvowel this fine example of self-referential trolling, but I decided it needed to be preserved for posterity.

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