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Elites

April 21st, 2008

The most amusing outcome of the 2020 summit has undoubtedly been the spectacle of Alexander Downer, grandson of Sir John Downer, son of Sir Alexander Downer, old boy of Geelong Grammar, former Director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce, former Foreign minister, now enjoying retirement on full salary at the expense of the Australian taxpayer, denouncing the participants as “elites”.

Of course, Downer has been backed up by his leading rival in the “anti-elitist” toffee-nosed snob stakes, Professor David Flint.

The full phrase was “Keating loving elites” which is indication of how thoroughly culture warriors like Downer are stuck in refighting the battles of the past*. A substantial proportion of those attending the Summit were too young to have any significant recollection of Keating, and a substantial portion of the rest were not Keating-lovers by any stretch of the imagination. The only time I heard Keating’s name mentioned was in the context of a recommendation to see Keating! The Musical which came from a friend and colleague with impeccable conservative credentials.

* Of course, Downer has done his best to traduce the memory of every Labor leader in history, most notably John Curtin.

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  1. pablo
    April 21st, 2008 at 20:12 | #1

    Even allowing for the fact that Downer was doorstopped at a monarchist function to make these comments, it will have repercussions in the Lib camp. Brendon hardly matters but I’d suggest we wait for Sen Heffernan or George Brandis to let fly if given the chance.

  2. wizofaus
    April 21st, 2008 at 20:32 | #2

    It’s somewhat surprising just how readily various politicians and pundits have jumped on the whole anti-elitism bandwagon. Even Harry Clarke, who generally writes conveys his conservative viewpoints very sensibly, couldn’t resist having a go at the summit attendees for being “elites”, despite being himself just as much a part of Australia’s public intellectuals.

  3. Steve Hamilton
    April 21st, 2008 at 21:11 | #3

    My only issue with the Summit in this regard was relevance.

    I think it’s a fair point to suggest that the Governance stream is not represntative of broader Australia when 99% of those in the room voted to support a republic. Australia hasn’t shifted that far in 10 years; I can gaurantee that if a referendum were held next week that Republicanism wouldn’t achieve 99% of the popular vote.

    I support a republic, but I think the whole process needs to be viewed with some cynicism.

    A note on PCness and the culture wars; when I was in primary school, Paul Keating was Prime Minister; I think I was in year 6 when John Howard became Prime Minister. I distinctly remember the dominance that political correctness played when I was younger. I like the fact that I haven’t really heard the words “political correctness” in the past 10 years, when before that period you’d hear them every day.

    Today people can say whatever the hell they like, without being branded backwards, bigotted, or racist. I much prefer the way things are now. Normal, everyday Australians can feel comfortable with themselves; they don’t have to feel guilty for having and expressing their natural viewpoint.

    The issue is that I have a sneaking feeling that the 2020 Summit would have been a little microcosm of PC-ness; I obviously don’t know for sure because I wasn’t there.

    And I suppose that’s the real rub. If I had applied, I would have been denied involvement; so by definition the summit was somewhat “elitest”.

  4. jquiggin
    April 21st, 2008 at 21:17 | #4

    “I like the fact that I haven’t really heard the words “political correctnessâ€? in the past 10 years,”

    This is the reverse of the truth. The term “political correctness” was only imported to Australia about 10 years ago, from the US culture wars, and was used incessantly in the Howard years. Google will produce thousands of Australian examples if you look, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find it in Downer’s own statement.

    The term “politically correct” was never used by the Australian left, even ironically (the equivalent phrase here was “ideologically sound”. It was and remains an import from the American right.

  5. Steve Hamilton
    April 21st, 2008 at 21:27 | #5

    Alrighty, lol. It’s just my apparently poor understanding of my experience of Australian society. As I stated above, my feeling is that in the Keating years, there was a certain elitism present to the extent that ordinary people weren’t free and open to display conservative viewpoints (as these were seen as “backwards” etc.); while in the last 10 years, the reverse has been the case.

    Cheers

  6. Spiros
    April 21st, 2008 at 21:29 | #6

    “The only time I heard Keating’s name mentioned was in the context of a recommendation to see Keating! The Musical”

    The send up of Downer in this show is itself worth the price of admission.

    Downer is such a dill.

  7. wmmbb
    April 21st, 2008 at 21:59 | #7

    Personally, I do not have a problem with elites. As a society we have no problem with sporting elites, for example cricket players.

    An odd feature of Australian elites is that they tend to believe in the egalitarian myth, which just goes to show how valuable myths can be.

    Still I think a useful distinction can be drawn between the overly privileged and the elite. Of course, the privileged category draws a wider circle, and that is why I was particularly taken with the suggested idea of using community service to pay off HECS debt.

  8. April 21st, 2008 at 22:01 | #8

    And I am at a loss to understand why Our ABC sent a crew to cover Downer’s non-event of a speech and led the evening news bulletin with it.

  9. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    April 21st, 2008 at 22:02 | #9

    Correct Steve Hamilton. During the Keating years, whenever an ordinary Australian expressed a conservative opinion they were carted off the to gulag. It was truly frightful; I lost many relatives that way.

  10. frankis
    April 21st, 2008 at 22:03 | #10

    So much more relaxing and comfortable in 2008! Little Lord Downer going girlishly all the way with Dirty Dick Cheney and the Whitehouse gang no longer need drag the whole country’s reputation down with him. LOL

  11. April 21st, 2008 at 22:08 | #11

    The best way to get that stupid smirk off Downer’s face would be to put him in the dock.

    He still hasn’t properly accounted for the AWB scandal, let alone his close ties to the neo-conservatives and their friends in the US military-industrial complex which (you will have notice) has been busily investing $$$ in Adelaide over the last 5 years.

    It was in somebody’s interests to have a buffoon like this serving as Foreign Minister for a record 11 years, but it certainly wasn’t in the Australian public’s interest.

  12. Steve Hamilton
    April 21st, 2008 at 22:08 | #12

    Dunno really if the sarcasm is totally necessary? I consider myself to be centre-right in most areas (but wouldn’t consider myself to be conservative re. social issues) and have viewed this blog for a while; I have contributed of late because I thought people would like to hear from a contributing and often opposing voice.

    I think this is why more people don’t contribute; there’s just such a strong ideological current running through this that pretty much sweeps everyone without the right kind of raft away. I’m not crazy intelligent, I’m not part of the “elite”, etc. But I was just giving my perspective on my experiences through life. I’m not suggesting that I have the answers, but I wouldn’t minds some respectful and considered responses.

    Cheers

  13. April 21st, 2008 at 22:39 | #13

    Flint and Downer were I think responding mainly to the decisions of the governance panel.

    The vote for a republic within the governance panel was 29 in favour and 1 abstention. The former governor-general Sir William Deane abstained from voting on the plan. It was essentially a 100% return supporting a republic.

    But divisions on the issue of the role of the monarchy in Australia remain divided – in a preceding post only 42% are were revealled to be in favour in 2007.

    If the word ‘elite’ is too emotional for the purposes of a dignified blog discussion substitute the word ‘unrepresentative’. The reps may have been the ‘best and brightest’ but their critics Flint and Downer came closest to representing the views of most Australians and were justified in criticising the obvious unrepresentativeness of the Summit Show decisions.

  14. Donald Oats
    April 21st, 2008 at 22:48 | #14

    Just on reading Steve Hamilton’s post about the term “political correctness” and John Quiggin’s response: I am fairly certain the term has been used in Australia well prior to the commencement of the Howard government. It was definitely an import as John says, but I reckon we were mocking it in or around 1990. I haven’t checked it but I suspect that “The Australian” viewspaper was the original culprit for introducing the term to the elite-lite class in Australian society <:-0

  15. wbb
    April 22nd, 2008 at 00:18 | #15

    A substantial proportion of those attending the Summit were too young to have any significant recollection of Keating.

    Hope you don’t mind me saying so, John, but aren’t you a touch aged to have attended what sounds like the Youth Summit?

    when I was in primary school, Paul Keating was Prime Minister; … my feeling is that in the Keating years, there was a certain elitism present to the extent that ordinary people weren’t free and open to display conservative viewpoints …. Dunno really if the sarcasm is totally necessary?

    This is gold.

  16. wmmbb
    April 22nd, 2008 at 01:13 | #16

    hc I would prefer to keep to the reference meaning of elite, as in sporing elite, so it is not surprising the Ideas Summit was unrepresentative gathering.

    We do not, for example, expect that the Captain of the Australian team should come from the Premier State, although obviously he should.

    But if monarchism is such a good idea, aside from the status quo and historical baggage, I wish it proponents would make the case, which if I am not mistaken assumes some notion of social elitism.

  17. April 22nd, 2008 at 02:43 | #17

    Yeh, in the Keating years conservative ideas didn’t get much of a run. Well, except for the endless discussions of Hewson’s GST and its impact on birthday cakes on A Current Affair for a few months. And Dolly’s policy launch as leader, where he wisecracked about his domestic violence policy being about “the things that batter.”

    Maybe conservative ideas didn’t get much run because the people mouthing them were such patently nitwitted nincompoops. In the end it took a relative genius from an Ipswich fish shop to show them how to do it. Yes, I thanked the Lord in heaven after her maiden speech in 1996, when I could finally throw off the yoke of PC-oppression and start talking openly and proudly about the yellow peril and those lazy natives again. Broadening the debate in that direction was just the shot in the arm Australia needed!

  18. jquiggin
    April 22nd, 2008 at 06:46 | #18

    “If the word ‘elite’ is too emotional for the purposes of a dignified blog discussion”

    It’s not too emotional. It’s too silly, at least as its being used in these criticisms.

  19. Mike
    April 22nd, 2008 at 07:27 | #19

    Steve; thanks for the contributions, and don’t let Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer (LSADD) get you down; I reckon the sarcasm is usually more a satirical poke at Downer himself than a savage attack on comments from others. Either way, I like to think of LSADD as the recurring character who pops up in conversations here in the same way a sketch show may have a particular parody sketch crop up every now and then (and that’s a compliment, LSADD!).

    Incidentally, on your view of Australia under Keating, I was also pretty young when Keating went out, and had a similar view of politics in Australia for a while. After arguing with a few people about it, I kept getting irritated by the fact that I couldn’t really define what I meant by “eliteâ€? or “politically correctâ€?, and found I kept using them as ways to finish (or escape from) and argument. When I went back and read up a bit on the Keating years, to try and work out why I thought what I did, it was hard to find much evidence much evidence to fit the story I’d kept hearing over the last decade.

    I reckon impressions like the ones you and I have/had are more about the discussion (or lack thereof) about Aussie politics in the last decade while we’ve been growing up. The way I see it, us being crazy intelligent isn’t about us knowing when and why terms like “political correctness� were first used for a specific purpose or in a given context, it’s about us being willing and or able to find out and change our minds and our opinions if the evidence we find doesn’t fit the theory or story we’re using.

    And to get back to the point of this particular blog, I also think elite is a silly label to use as a slur. The idea that we wouldn’t want the elite (in the true sense of the word) involved in the political process is ridiculous. The fact that “elite” in Australia is political slang for “liberal” (small l) has never been more clear than in Downer’s comments.

  20. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    April 22nd, 2008 at 07:27 | #20

    Steve Hamilton, when you assert that in the Keating years “ordinary people weren’t free and open to display conservative viewpoints”, you need to provide evidence or argument. Otherwise it is just so silly a statement – a feel-good statement of the sort that receives applause at a meeting of likeminded souls but means nothing – that ridicule is the only possible response.

  21. Geoff Honnor
    April 22nd, 2008 at 07:35 | #21

    “This is the reverse of the truth. The term “political correctnessâ€? was only imported to Australia about 10 years ago, from the US culture wars, and was used incessantly in the Howard years. Google will produce thousands of Australian examples if you look, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find it in Downer’s own statement.”

    I think the term actually derives from the Cultural Revolution’s Little Red Book from whence it was adapted for sardonic purposes in the late 60′s.

    I first recall hearing it used in its sardonic form in the 70′s with the rise of de-gendered terms of reference etc; it was certainly in common currency in Australia well before the Howard era.

    And it’s used by people across the political spectrum. I can recall PJK using it on occasion and I’m sure Kevin Rudd has as well.

  22. Spiros
    April 22nd, 2008 at 08:01 | #22

    Rudd used it once or twice last year when he was trying to impress on the suburban/Murdoch tabloid/Today Tonight demographic how conservative he was. He most certainly did not use the term in the 1970s self parodying Left way, “ideologically sound.”

  23. April 22nd, 2008 at 08:13 | #23

    Wikipedia:

    “Some commentators have argued that the term “political correctness” is a straw man invented by conservatives in the 1990s in order to challenge progressive social change, especially with respect to issues of race, religion and gender. Ruth Perry traces the term back to Mao’s Little Red Book. According to Perry, the term was later adopted by the radical left in the 1960s, initially seriously and later ironically, as a self-criticism of dogmatic attitudes. In the 1990s, because of the term’s association with radical politics and communist censorship, it was used by the political right in the United States to discredit the Old and New Left…

    The earliest citation is not politically correct, in the U.S. Supreme Court decision Chisholm v. Georgia (1793), denoting the statement to which it refers is literally incorrect, owing to the U.S.’s political status as then understood”

  24. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    April 22nd, 2008 at 08:22 | #24

    My understanding is that it originates in Russia after the Bolshie revolution. Its popular, widespread “sardonic” use here came from the US in the early ’90s I reckon.

    It was a way for fat old men who hadn’t had an original thought for 25 years (like Paddy McGuinness, Frank Devine etc) to proclaim their independence, bravery and courage etc, by daring to “speak the truth”. They were on 6 figure salaries, but compared themselves with the victims of McCarthyism.

    In reality they could not accept that there might be differing points of view about things. ‘Tis still the case.

    Gerard Henderson, bless him, was one who ridiculed it in the early ’90s. He is consisent at least: he made fun of people who said they were “being silenced” under Keating, and he did the same under Howard.

  25. Nana Levu
    April 22nd, 2008 at 08:35 | #25

    Ken, you said:
    “And I am at a loss to understand why Our ABC sent a crew to cover Downer’s non-event of a speech and led the evening news bulletin with it.”
    I was wondering the same thing. I thought it was because of the demand for ‘balance’ where the ABC has to give equal time to both ‘sides’. So even though the Coalition lost government and all the action is with the new government and the opposition is in total disarray the ABC is forced to cover their irrelevant rantings.

    In the interest of ‘balance’ where could we not have more from left of the centrist Labor? Why cannot the ABC cover more Green Left actions?

  26. Hal9000
    April 22nd, 2008 at 08:45 | #26

    Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Political_correctness notes the Bolshevik etymology but also its re-importation into the US in the 1970s as ‘satirical self-criticism’, offering the following example:

    “In typical left-wing usage, Ellen Willis says: “in the early ’80s, when feminists used the term political correctness it was used to refer sarcastically to the anti-pornography movement’s efforts to define a ‘feminist sexuality’”

    It then gets reappropriated by US conservatives to attack ‘progressive’ teaching methods in US schools. And thence to Australia, via Dolly and the op-ed team at Murdoch media.

  27. PeterRickwood
    April 22nd, 2008 at 08:51 | #27

    My experience is counter to Steve Hamilton’s: I dont recall the term “political correctness” popping up much prior to the “backlash” against it. Which makes me of the opinion that the whole thing was conveniently constructed to make it easier to defend/promote certain policies — anyone who criticised them could just be labelled as being a PC drone stifling free debate.

    Still, Steve, I was interested to hear that your experience was counter to mine. I started to be of an age where I noticed what was happening politically around the early 90′s, so its possible that my view is just an artefact of that. I’d be interested to hear other peoples experiences.

  28. April 22nd, 2008 at 09:06 | #28

    The 2020 summit was top heavy with actors & academics. Both professions which are not underpinned by reality.

    Throw in the legal profession & there’d be a full set of “ideas” without any experience of having to pay for “ideas”.

  29. Andrew
    April 22nd, 2008 at 09:06 | #29

    ‘Elite’ is a poor choice for an insult – which is clearly what Downer is intending. It’s strange how the word ‘elite’ has been turned into a derogatory word in a social context. In sporting or military contexts ‘elite’ is the highest praise – ‘elite athlete’ or ‘elite marksman’ clearly being positive uses of the word.

    So why in a social context does ‘elite’ have negative connotations? Surely we want ‘elite politicians’, ‘elite bureacrats’, ‘elite academics’s? Shouldn’t we celebrate success?

    Having said that – I have some sympathy with the concept Downer is trying to portray. Maybe I’m too old and cynical but there’s not much I can see coming out of the 2020 summit. The write up in the media yesterday of the key ideas is depressingly thin and shows depressingly little originality.

    The one idea that I hope blossoms into a meaningful change is the idea to completely reform Federalism. Hopefully even abolishing State Government. The Feds can take over national services (eductaion, health etc) and we can have beefed up Local Councils dealing with local issues. Having State governments is an anachronism.

  30. John Greenfield
    April 22nd, 2008 at 09:35 | #30

    I must say I was gobasmacked and alarmed at the recrudescence of Keating’s Culture Warriors over the weekend. Still that demographic – white bourgeois baby-boomers – is now in its 50s and 60s.

    While they are large in number and rich, they would do well not to suffer the same delusions they suffered during the last referendum campaign. The enemy is not “The Monarchists” David Flynns/Downers of this world.

    The Luvvies’ enemy are those who love democracy and want to elect our President. These are The Luvvies’ betes noir; THE PEOPLE.

  31. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    April 22nd, 2008 at 10:31 | #31

    Sadly, John Greenfield, THE PEOPLE tossed out John Howard, declaring he and his mob to be the out of touch elitists. You’re soooo yesterday.

  32. Mapik
    April 22nd, 2008 at 10:41 | #32

    Andrew, here is a youtube clip of a funny (yet quite scary) monologue on taking back the term “elite”… http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NBzYSUI5_GM

  33. John Greenfield
    April 22nd, 2008 at 10:48 | #33

    Lord Dolly

    I am aware of that as I was one of the ones who so tossed! But that is not relevant here.

  34. April 22nd, 2008 at 10:52 | #34

    “Chattering Class” is a so much more apt term than “luvvie”

    And will be similarly deleted. JG has wasted enough of my time, without ever, in my recollection making a useful contribution. He can take his luvvies elsewhere since he won’t be published here again. SATP, please try and avoid snark. -JQ

  35. Steve Hamilton
    April 22nd, 2008 at 11:08 | #35

    Mike; Thanks a lot for the support and understanding.

    LSADD; I made the comments I did, as a reflection of my own experiences. How the hell am I going to get PROOF of my feelings? I didn’t represent my claims as fact, but merely as my perceptions as a young person of society at the time.

    My reference of PC-ness comes from the fact that I was in primary school when Keating was PM, and my recollection of that time is associated with much “oppression” of free and open discussion; by this I mean if anyone ever said anything “outrageous”, it seemed to have been heavily looked down upon. My experience post- this era seemed to be very different; I never heard anyone really ever say “don’t say that, it’s not PC” etc.

    Obviously by “elite” I think he means “elitest”, which seems to be an all together different thing. I think the summit was very clearly and very openly supposed to be a gathering of “the best and brightest”, which by definition means the most “elite” members of society. I think Downer’s issue came from the fact that he felt that many of the people attending were sort of culturally “elitest”, in that they live well above everybody else, but purport to know what’s best for the rest of us (and it may be argued, as JQ said that this is a tad hypocritical of Downer). The idea of 1002 of these people deciding what’s best for the rest of us just ties in with this idea. I’m not really sure whether I sympathise with this view or not.

    Having said that, I think if you want to come up with the “best ideas”, then you’ve got a better chance succeeding if you ask the people with the “best minds”. I certainly think that pretty much all of the people (with the exception of Bob Katter of course :p) in the Economics stream have vastly more experience, talent and intelligence to brainstorm ideas for the future of the Australian economy than me. And as Kevin Rudd said; to get 1002 people to be representative of the Australian people is “very hard”.

    On a sidenote, the revelations that Glyn Davis actually cut previously-accepted men out of the list to make absolutely certain that there was 50/50 gender equality smacks of the sort of “elitest” behaviour that is being talking about. Women aren’t a minority, and in today’s society I’m not sure that they need affirmative action. But just a thought anyhoo.

    Cheers

  36. April 22nd, 2008 at 11:26 | #36

    The anti-PC group puzzle me. If Bob says something and John criticizes him how is John’s critique a violation of Bob’s right to freedom of speech? Liberalism 101. Howard and his devotees specialised in self-pity (like Mugabe).

  37. wizofaus
    April 22nd, 2008 at 11:30 | #37

    On the affirmative action front, it would really depend how this was done. If it was an case of, “well we’ve filled 900 spots, with 60% men, we have 300 people left, all pretty much of equal ability, so we might as well try to balance it back towards a 50/50 gender-split by ensuring the last 100 spots are mostly females”, then there’s no real issue surely. If females were picked despite being obviously less capable than male alternatives, that’s a different matter.

    What does seem hard to justify is making an effort to ensure an even gender balance, but making an effort to ensure, e.g., a cultural/ethnic-background balance. E.g. were at least 60 of the attendees of (relatively recent) Asian background? And at least 20 of them self-identified aboriginals?

  38. James Haughton
    April 22nd, 2008 at 11:32 | #38

    The PC thing is a bit of a stalking horse to distract attention from the actual issue. Is the “right” of someone to call a black person a “nigger” or to demand that female employees wear short skirts worth defending, or even defensible? Not on its merits, but you can defend it by proxy by talking about PC, freedom of speech, elitism, etc, and thus turn an argument about oppression into an argument about language. I wish people who claim to oppose “PC” language would be clear about what they actually support.

  39. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    April 22nd, 2008 at 11:32 | #39

    HC (13) reckons: “The reps may have been the ‘best and brightest’ but their critics Flint and Downer came closest to representing the views of most Australians”

    Flint and Downer are 100% against a republic. That is actually more out of step with majority Australian opinion than the people who support a republic. What HC means is that they are more in step with his views.

    As I explained to Steve Greenfield, the days when you could just pretend that anything “progressive” is out of step with real etc Australians – simply because we happened to have a Rodent as PM – are over.

    You cannot play that card no more. That particular Rodent has departed. “You’re out of touch” doesn’t work no more.

    Time to start employing fair dinkum debating devices, such as quality of argument.

  40. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    April 22nd, 2008 at 11:37 | #40

    I mean John Greenfield, of course. Apologies.

  41. Gaby
    April 22nd, 2008 at 11:48 | #41

    See Keating the Musical, not the least reason being for the “Freak Me” number featuring a Dolly Downer character resplendent in lace, corset, suspenders and fish nets.

    I saw it a couple of weeks ago. A fun night at the theatre.

  42. Bert
    April 22nd, 2008 at 12:27 | #42

    I must say I like political correctness in so far as it deters people from publicly airing offensive views. Ah but “offensive to whom?” you ask. Well in my case the Tampa incident and people overboard offended me. Hearing people talk disparagingly about aboriginal people or disabled people offends me. I don’t like an environment where people can openly express racist views. In my experience (and I saw Bradman play so you can guess how old I am) people who do are not broadly informed because they take little interest in current affairs or politics. My friends who fall into this category seem to form their opinions on the basis of what they hear on commercial radio and TV. They do not watch ABC, SBS or pay-TV news or opinion programs such as Agenda nor do they read newspapers which aim at carrying a wide spectrum of opinion. In these circumstances I think it very important that political correctness does hold sway in so far as it might help remove biased opinion and substitute more factual information.

  43. rabee
    April 22nd, 2008 at 12:34 | #43

    My understanding is that people applied to attend. Few were invited.

    There is some danger of a selection bias but in way that is perhaps independent of political preferences. Though people tend to want to talk to people that agree with them:
    Linked by Dkos
    I’m not sure how one can solve this type of problem.

    Downer isn’t being original didn’t H(R)C call Obama a l33t Haxor?

  44. wizofaus
    April 22nd, 2008 at 12:34 | #44

    James, on the other hand, do we really want a world where people refrain from calling black people “niggers” purely because it’s considered to be “un-PC”? Personally, I couldn’t care less if people use the word “nigger” – unless of course you are clearly attempting to incite racial hatred in others. What “offends” me is having to listen to music that’s full of so many “bleeps” and silent gaps that it becomes unlistenable. The music in question is fairly usually sung by the people that are supposedly likely to be offended by the term, with little evidence that anyone has bothered to check with them their opinion on the matter.

  45. PeterRickwood
    April 22nd, 2008 at 13:08 | #45

    wizofaus: do we really want a world where people refrain from calling black people “niggers� purely because it’s considered to be “un-PC�

    I think its a little more complex than that. Public expression/condemnation of “un-PC” remarks help to shape social norms, and determine what is acceptable. Much of people’s behaviour is guided by a general feeling what is broadly acceptable. Jumping up and down on people who criticise racists, under the banner of defending free speech is a bit strange. Both have a legal right to express their views, but it seems strange when the emphasis is on condeming those who speak out against (perceived) racists/sexist/whatever comments — dont they have as much right to express their view?

  46. jimbirch
    April 22nd, 2008 at 13:20 | #46

    “I think it’s a fair point to suggest that the Governance stream is not representative of broader Australia when 99% of those in the room voted to support a republic”.

    (?)

    I think you might find the same group would also be less likely to watch Australian Idol. Maybe they are more likely than average to take an active interest in things like their kids’ education. Maybe they are brighter and better informed than average. Maybe they know more about governance. Maybe there’s a pattern here.

  47. wizofaus
    April 22nd, 2008 at 13:32 | #47

    Sure, Peter, but why is there a need for the word “nigger” to be unacceptable? Surely the world we’re aiming for one where race just isn’t an issue at all – where calling someone “nigger” is no more derogatory or offensive than calling them “baldy”. Obviously we don’t live in that world yet, but it’s not clear to me that blacklisting words is the way to achieve it.
    After all, the problem with a statement like “niggers are always stirring up trouble” is *not* the use of the word “nigger”. Attempting to be sound P.C. – “Afro-Americans are responsible for social unrest” – is just as racist.

  48. Half Educated
    April 22nd, 2008 at 13:38 | #48

    Methinks ‘political correctness’ was already mocked by intelligent left-leaning people themselves. This is because we can all detect when received wisdom has come into play – there is no substitute for original thinking, and any set of good values can be warped when adopted as mere fashion or reflex. But the term became overused and employed constantly by certain commentators, even when people were expressing genuinely thoughtful views. I found this offensive, because there were times when people’s real distress about the plight of other human beings was lampooned as ‘PC’. The tendency to call others PC became itself, PC.

  49. April 22nd, 2008 at 13:57 | #49

    wizofaus: do we really want a world where people refrain from calling black people “niggers� purely because it’s considered to be “un-PC�

    Yes.

    This has been another edition of simple answers to stupid questions.

  50. PeterRickwood
    April 22nd, 2008 at 14:06 | #50

    wizofaus: Sure, Peter, but why is there a need for the word “nigger” to be unacceptable? Surely the world we’re aiming for one where race just isn’t an issue at all – where calling someone “nigger” is no more derogatory or offensive than calling them “baldy”.

    There is no need for the word nigger, say, to be unacceptable. But it is pretty clear that it is currently (mostly) used to be deliberately derogatory. I might prefer that the word ‘c**t’ was purely an anatomical term, but it’s not. Until such time as it is, I’d rather my children didn’t use it….

    Similarly, when the word nigger ceases to be pejorative, then people will cease to object to its use….

  51. wizofaus
    April 22nd, 2008 at 14:23 | #51

    Actually I’d suggest that it’s hardly ever used in a derogatory sense anymore – it’s pretty much restricted to various black subcultures in the U.S., where they freely call each other niggers, with no intention of being derogatory.
    But whities aren’t allowed to use it, or apparently, even hear it.

    A question though, what sounds more offensive – “We don’t a f*ckwit like Barack Obama running the country?” or “We don’t want an African-American like Barack Obama running the country?”.

  52. Ian Gould
    April 22nd, 2008 at 14:53 | #52

    “Correct Steve Hamilton. During the Keating years, whenever an ordinary Australian expressed a conservative opinion they were carted off the to gulag. It was truly frightful; I lost many relatives that way.”

    But you fail to understand that conservatives are dainty feeble creatures who at the first word of disagreement or critcism run screaming for their mummies.

    That’s why Pauline Hanson and One Nation were so unsuccessful in the Keating period and such a success under Howard.

  53. derrida derider
    April 22nd, 2008 at 14:58 | #53

    Well sure, people should have a right to call black people “niggers” – but then we all have a right to treat them with contempt when they do. If someone used such language in my presence I hope I’d respond with a lot stronger language than “politically incorrect”.

    The whole “PC” thing was overwhelmingly a beatup by the right to avoid substantive argument.

  54. jquiggin
    April 22nd, 2008 at 15:13 | #54

    I’ll just restate the point that, whenever rightwingers want to criticise other people’s language they start going on about “civility”. Typically, the more vicious the attack dog, the keener they are to promote civility in their opponents.

  55. wizofaus
    April 22nd, 2008 at 15:42 | #55

    John, my last comment still seems to be sitting in the moderation queue, presumably due to “strong language” – but seeing as you’ve posted since, wouldn’t you have seen it by now?

  56. wilful
    April 22nd, 2008 at 15:57 | #56

    I would like to take up this idea of ‘non-PC’ views being verboten during the Keating Dictatorship. What views were not allowed? Racist ones? Sexist ones?

  57. Ian Gould
    April 22nd, 2008 at 16:07 | #57

    “The PC thing is a bit of a stalking horse to distract attention from the actual issue. Is the “rightâ€? of someone to call a black person a “niggerâ€? or to demand that female employees wear short skirts worth defending, or even defensible? Not on its merits, but you can defend it by proxy by talking about PC, freedom of speech, elitism, etc, and thus turn an argument about oppression into an argument about language.”

    Exactly, I’m reminded of the countless instances when the One Nation crowd and their fellow-travellers would demand a “debate” on immigration.

    Then as soon as they were losing the debate they’d claim they were being “attacked” and their freedom of speech was being suppressed.

    The only “debate” they were interested in was a public platform to shove their views down others’ throats while refusing to answer any counterarguments.

  58. jquiggin
    April 22nd, 2008 at 16:37 | #58

    wizofaus, responding to published comments and checking the moderation queue are separate activities. I’ll take a look.

  59. Mug Punter
    April 22nd, 2008 at 17:31 | #59

    Howard and co’s use of the term ‘PC’ was to deride anyone who stood up for the minorities that he scapegoated in his attempt to gain/maintain power by his ‘us good/them bad’ electoral strategy. Howard used Hansen and One Nation to further this strategy.

  60. rog
    April 22nd, 2008 at 17:38 | #60

    Political correctness has its roots in Marxist-Lenist policies, workers had to be “re-educated” to the evils of capitalism

  61. another rog
    April 22nd, 2008 at 18:00 | #61

    but rog,

    nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition

  62. another rog
    April 22nd, 2008 at 18:15 | #62

    Yesterday, Dolly said this:

    ALEXANDER DOWNER: Let me tell you, I think this campaign will start and I think it’s very important that people who believe in stability and the continuity of our existing constitution have the courage to stand up and try to protect and support it.

    And I say courage very advisedly, because I warn you, people who support the present arrangements will be ridiculed and that will be tool of choice. The tool of choice will be ridicule and personal abuse.

    Alexander Downer is my tool of choice

  63. rog
    April 22nd, 2008 at 19:31 | #63

    Bang goes the troll policy

  64. jquiggin
    April 22nd, 2008 at 20:13 | #64

    Rog, the troll policy is going great. One of the trolls I banned turned out to be a sockpuppet for a previously banned troll, which confirms me in my new zero/epsilon tolerance policy. And I’m confident in saying the most recently banned troll will be no loss.

    In case you feel like taking this line of commentary further, please read the comments policy first.

  65. P
    April 22nd, 2008 at 21:35 | #65

    Going back to the topic of “elites”.

    I always found my being classed as elite because of my political views ironic. Actually sad, as a single parent on a reasonable, but not high income, I was regularly attacked by Alexander Downer, who I have met, John Howard, et al as a member of the latte drinking elite seemed to miss the point.

    Like most men born in the 50s I am more a mug of flat white person anyway.

  66. rog
    April 22nd, 2008 at 22:10 | #66

    You are lucky to be an elite P, most ordinary people struggle to be noticed.

  67. James Haughton
    April 22nd, 2008 at 23:37 | #67

    Too right Rog, I always wanted to be an elite. It’d be nice if someone actually listened to me letting off steam while I swilled my latte.

  68. wbb
    April 23rd, 2008 at 00:23 | #68

    I wouldn’t mind so much, being called part of the latte sipping elite, if I didn’t regard latte as the drink of a particularly common type of chap.

    And I bet Downer drinks white coffee, too.

  69. Ian Gould
    April 23rd, 2008 at 03:08 | #69

    I suspect Alexander drinks tea.

    Coffee is SO dreadfully American.

  70. Paul G. Brown
    April 23rd, 2008 at 06:39 | #70

    I’m,
    too elite for this convention,
    too elite for this convention,
    it don’t rate a mention.

    I’m
    too elite for university,
    too elite for university,
    way too much diversity.

    I’m a graduate, you know what I mean?
    I wrote my own cheque on graduation, yeah.

    I’m now post-graduate, you know what I mean?
    I sip $6 latte’s at the cafe, yeah.

    I’m,
    too elite for this blog.

  71. rog
    April 23rd, 2008 at 08:41 | #71

    Political correctness is something that we should all guard against, warns European Commission President José Manuel Barroso

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/03/22/weu22.xml

  72. April 23rd, 2008 at 08:59 | #72

    Half Educated has pretty well nailed it.

    Here’s probably the best article on the “PC” strawman I have ever seen – Kaz Cooke did a good one but it’s not available on the net.

    http://www.kaichang.net/2006/11/the_sloppy_prop.html

  73. jquiggin
    April 23rd, 2008 at 09:43 | #73

    Thanks for pointing this out, rog. Barroso is a fool, as your link suggests.

  74. Spiros
    April 23rd, 2008 at 10:13 | #74

    The money quote from Barroso:

    “People should be able to choose what clothes they wear – as long as they don’t go naked of course.”

    I’m glad he cleared that up.

  75. Alan Kennedy
    April 23rd, 2008 at 10:44 | #75

    What’s wrong with elites having a say? The reason they are elites is because they have been successful in their chosen field. It’s why we want people with qualifications doing brain surgery on us not some s dumb arse full of their own pumped up self esteem saying they should do it “cos its not fair that the elites get to do all the operations”. The alternative to elites are party boys like Corey and gel-haired swimmers whose parents have never felt the need to instill some self discipline into him but rather gone round cleaning up after him.
    And I agree with the Quiggs; Howard made a career out of political correctness. He adopted Pauline Hanson’s hate filled policies and allowed every racist red neck and bigot to give voice to the sewerage that sloshed around in the space normally reserved for the brain. Whenever you said maybe “that is not right or it’s a hateful thing to say” you were accused of being politically correct.
    Bring on more elites I say

  76. April 23rd, 2008 at 11:05 | #76

    My favourite thing, when Alexander talks of “elites”, is to remember his family (grandfather) has a suburb named after him in Canberra! For heaven’s sake.

  77. Jill Rush
    April 23rd, 2008 at 11:21 | #77

    I always found the use of the terms “elites”, “chattering class”, “Latte set” by the Howard government and supporters as particularly strange.

    I have also found the above comments about PC comments by people who were in primary school particularly interesting. Recollections from childhood are inevitably distorted because there is no context for the child. Something that is shown clearly in the remarks above by a couple of commentators.

    PC has been around a while but it was a weapon of choice used by Howard to dismiss others’ views. It was of particular interest because it was a weapon of choice of the Howard Ministers who made sure that unpopular views were suppressed. Public Servants were fired or disciplined for making statements outside the government line.

    The use of elites was a pejorative to dismiss others withour engaging in argument. It was one of the least attractive parts of the Howard years. It was a feature of those who were elite to deny their own elite status as Alexander Downer has done and try and pretend to be something that they aren’t.

    Keating the Musical did show this particular aspect up well – although it was unkind to Alexander Downer and Frankenfurter (but very funny). The quick changes of wardrobe for John Howard, battle flak jacket, rural dress etc to show him appealing to the ordinary non elite showed the cynicism of doing so.

    It is a classic case of a leader who reflected his own predilections through decrying others – a case of projection writ large.

  78. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    April 23rd, 2008 at 14:24 | #78

    My namesake, and David “call me Professor” Flint, both: thought and continue to think the Iraq War was a good idea; don’t believe in global warming; are against a republic; love Workchoices; voted for John Howard last November ….

    Who is it who’s out of touch with ‘real’ etc Australians again?

  79. Alphonse
    April 23rd, 2008 at 17:27 | #79

    Demonising elites sides you with the common man. It’s also advisable if you can’t compete at elite level.

    However nothing prevents the uncompetitive from belonging to politico-socio-economic elites by way of patronage and nepotism, as to which John’s instancing of Downer & Flint is entirely to the point.

    Projection is political technique employed by local and US elites (using the term in its Downer/Flint/Bush sense)

  80. rog
    April 23rd, 2008 at 17:31 | #80

    Apparently Keating turned up 3 times to see “his” musical, even the cast thought it was a bit weird.

  81. Donald Oats
    April 23rd, 2008 at 18:41 | #81

    Just for the record, JQ, Lordy Downer is a member of the elite-lite Adelaide Club in Adelaide. If anyone else has mentioned this, I apologise.

  82. Andrew
    April 23rd, 2008 at 18:42 | #82

    “Barroso is a fool, as your link suggests”

    I admit that I haven’t done any further research on Barroso than reading Rog’s link – but you must have some other knowledge of Barosso to call him a fool. Whilst I’d probably have phrased things differently – I didn’t see much in this link that was foolish. All he was saying is that individual choice and freedom to express yourself is important. Anything wrong with that?

    I think one of the defining differences between the centre-right and centre-left is that the centre-left usually claim to hold some moral high ground and that their world paradigm is the correct one and should be imposed on everyone. The centre-right are generally happy to disagree without imposing their view on the centre-left.

    This is probably why the term elite became used in a perjorative sense for left leaning thought leaders – the ‘I know what’s good for you’ syndrome.

    Examples
    CL view – SUVs are bad in the city – therefore ban them
    CR view – SUVs might be bad, so if you think so don’t drive one
    CL view – MacDonalds is the ugly face of American consumerism and globalisation, let’s stop it spreading.
    CR view – If you don’t like Maccas, don’t eat there
    CL view – The country is floundering in rampant consumerism, do you really need a 50″ plasma? Let’s increase taxes on it.
    CR view – probably not, but I like it so I’ll buy one.

    The reality is that the centre-left and centre-right are really not that much different in Australia on actually policy (try explaining the differences between Howard’s Coalition and Rudd’s ALP to foreigners, or a hypothetical Australian visitor from 1900 or 2100). What is a little different is the way the left and right want to impose their world views on the mass population. The right tends to be more pro-choice.

  83. SJ
    April 23rd, 2008 at 20:18 | #83

    CL view – SUVs are bad in the city – therefore ban them
    CR view – SUVs might be bad, so if you think so don’t drive one
    CL view – MacDonalds is the ugly face of American consumerism and globalisation, let’s stop it spreading.
    CR view – If you don’t like Maccas, don’t eat there
    CL view – The country is floundering in rampant consumerism, do you really need a 50″ plasma? Let’s increase taxes on it.
    CR view – probably not, but I like it so I’ll buy one.

    This sounds like fun.

    CL view – impose minimum wages and conditions
    CR view – just find a boss who won’t try to screw you over.
    CL view – have a safety net
    CR view – you’re free to move to France.

    Or to take it up a notch:

    CL view – it’s OK to be queer
    CR view – no it’s not
    CL view – Iraqi’s are people, and it’s not OK to kill them
    CR view – no they’re not, and yes it is

  84. Alan
    April 23rd, 2008 at 21:00 | #84

    I couldn’t care less about the history of the term “politically correct”.

    The thick but rich Mr. Downer only knows that to his audience the term “elite” is a catch-all term of abuse.

    The Howard battlers (remember them – they saw through the con job in the end) would nod angrily whenever the mendacious little rat would dog-whistle “elites”. They would then switch over and cheer some pampered, publically-funded elite oaf from the Australian Institute of Sport (more properly called the “Australian Institute of Stalinist Training Methods and Cereal Advertising”). But, but, but, wait, they’re not “elite”, they’re “heroes”.

  85. Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer
    April 23rd, 2008 at 21:01 | #85

    As Lord Downer so eloquently put it many times, opponents of the war in Iraq are/were appeasers and supporters of Saddam Hussein. That’s CR behaviour for you.

    (We still call them 4WD in this country, last time I checked.)

  86. rog
    April 23rd, 2008 at 21:22 | #86

    #82, as Andrew notes, JQ’s simple response speaks volumes

  87. rog
    April 23rd, 2008 at 21:28 | #87

    The poster known as Lord Sir Alexander “Dolly” Downer could be reminded of the “Trolls” policy;

    “I am interested in serious discussion from all reasonable points of view, from classical liberal to radical socialist in economic terms, all kinds of different positions regarding environmentalism, and so on. However, I no longer have the patience to deal with recirculated talking points from the rightwing parallel universe on the Iraq war, climate change and so on.”

  88. April 23rd, 2008 at 21:47 | #88

    There seems to be some mistaken belief by commenters above that “elite” in the context of this thread is a compliment.

    When referring to those sometimes known as the “chattering class” “luveez” “latte set” etc etc, the word “elite” is a lampooning of how those fellers see themselves, haha, not as a recognition of any superiority by an awestuck oik.

    There is no suggestion that the “elites” are anything but trumped up poppinjays, shirkers who are “up themself”.

  89. Steve Hamilton
    April 23rd, 2008 at 21:57 | #89

    Go Andrew, fight back son.

    I am also of the centre-right persuasion.

    What was it that Ronald Reagan once said; I’m paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of;

    “Governments have a legitimate role in protecting us from each other; where they have overreached is in trying to protect us from ourselves”.

    Speaks volumes, and pretty much explains my perspective on life.

    Cheers

  90. Tony G
    April 23rd, 2008 at 22:11 | #90

    First and final troll warning. As I said, I’m not interested in debating with trolls – JQ

  91. SJ
    April 23rd, 2008 at 22:16 | #91

    There is no suggestion that the “elites� are anything but trumped up poppinjays, shirkers who are “up themself�.

    You seem to have no understanding whatsoever of what’s being talked about here (surprise, surprise). Look at John’s first paragraph:

    The most amusing outcome of the 2020 summit has undoubtedly been the spectacle of Alexander Downer, grandson of Sir John Downer, son of Sir Alexander Downer, old boy of Geelong Grammar, former Director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce, former Foreign minister, now enjoying retirement on full salary at the expense of the Australian taxpayer, denouncing the participants as “elites�.

    Get it? Downer is the textbook example of “trumped up poppinjay”.

    I’ve edited out a personal criticism of a commenter here – JQ

  92. Alan
    April 23rd, 2008 at 22:54 | #92

    Thank you Steve at the Pub.

    Up to now, I have always referred to Downer as a nincompoop. Henceforth, I’ll call him “that trumped-up popinjay” as it is not only pin-point accurate but also more entertaining.

    Do you have another one for Flint? There is nothing elite about him. Toadying to the elite isn’t elite.

  93. April 23rd, 2008 at 23:18 | #93

    What was it that Ronald Reagan once said; I’m paraphrasing, but it was something along the lines of;

    “Governments have a legitimate role in protecting us from each other; where they have overreached is in trying to protect us from ourselves�.

    Speaks volumes, and pretty much explains my perspective on life.

    Didn’t RR say that whilst prosecuting the cold war at home and abroad, and kicking of a ‘war on drugs’?

  94. Steve Hamilton
    April 24th, 2008 at 00:46 | #94

    Didn’t RR say that whilst prosecuting the cold war at home and abroad, and kicking of a ‘war on drugs’?

    Who cares why he said it; it’s a neat summation of my thoughts to now. The longer you spoon-feed people, the longer it takes them to learn how to feed themselves. But that’s a whole nother can of worms for another day.

    Cheers

  95. April 24th, 2008 at 03:12 | #95

    What I meant was the fact that RR obviously didn’t believe a word of his own rhetoric, which isn’t exactly an enjoinment for us to believe it either.

  96. wizofaus
    April 24th, 2008 at 07:15 | #96

    Steve H, the day a government of whatever label comes along and actually implements its policy more or less the lines of Reagan’s sentiment, I’ll happily vote for it. That means legalising of recreational drugs, of euthanasia, allowing adults to marry whoever they want, etc. etc.

    Having said that, it’s also pretty obviously inethical to stand by do nothing when it’s clear that somebody is busy ruining their own life. If nothing else, there is always a cost to somebody else (and society as a whole) when this occurs.

    Much of my personal philosophy is more closely aligned to a classical-liberal view-point than that of the sort of left-winger that thinks the solution to every problem they perceive is to ban or heavily tax certain behaviours. The problem is Australia has never had a party that’s actually shown any real interest in implementing policy according to a genuinely small-l liberal philosophy: for instance, I thought the basic thrust behind WorkChoices was reasonable enough – giving more freedom to employees and employers to work out more flexible work arrangements, but it quickly became clear that it was just badly written policy with a barely hidden agenda of trying to undermine unions.

  97. Andrew
    April 24th, 2008 at 08:54 | #97

    SJ at 83,

    No you’ve missed the point – the ‘take it up a notch’ examples you used we’d be in furious agreement on.

    CL view – it’s OK to be queer
    CR view – yes it is
    CL view – Iraqi’s are people, and it’s not OK to kill them
    CR view – yes they are, and no it’s not

    I’m not talking about extreme left (Brownism) v’s extreme right (Hansonism), I’m talking about the mainstream Australian centre. My point is that a core part of the centre-left DNA is more control over the individual, more and bigger government, more of ‘my view is right so let’s impose it on everyone’. The centre-right tends to be more libertarian – ‘my view is right, but feel free to disagree, and make your own choices’.

    I was putting that forward as a potential explanation of why the word ‘elite’ has been turned into a perjorative term for the thought leades of the centre-left.

  98. April 24th, 2008 at 09:43 | #98

    SJ @#91, Your point is not clear. I was actually responding to assorted comments in the thread, where it was suggested that those referred to as elites actually were elite, in reality they ain’t.

    Downer is indeed a textbook example of a trumped up poppinjay. Glad you get the point.

    Please, how is it that I missed my own point? (if this is indeed possible?)

  99. Alphonse
    April 24th, 2008 at 09:56 | #99

    Steve Hamilton:
    April 24th, 2008 at 12:46 am

    The longer you spoon-feed people, the longer it takes them to learn how to feed themselves. But that’s a whole nother can of worms for another day.

    Nor really. We could conjecture about whether the elites to which Downer and Bush belong should have stopped spoon-feeding them.

  100. wizofaus
    April 24th, 2008 at 11:18 | #100

    Andrew, if that’s how you define centre-right and centre-left then I’m far close to centre-right than centre-left, yet I’ve always considered myself a committed “leftie”, who believes in lefty-type causes.

    However, the fact that there *are* lefties who take the “my view is right, let’s it impose it upon everyone” line is, to me, no more representative of left-wing ideology than “I reckon most people who are poor are just lazy and deserve to stay poor” line is represenative of right-wing ideology.

    My “left-wing” take on it is that because left-wingers feel that government is generally the most sensible mechanism to use to prevent harmful outcomes, then when we believe there is good evidence that business-as-usual is producing a harmful outcome, government action/policy is required to avert that outcome. OTOH, the “right-wing” position often comes across as “government intervention is nearly always bad, and must be avoided at all costs”. And of course the fact that many right-wing positions happen to be ones that make it easier for large corporations to keep making large profits tends to make left-wingers skeptical of the real motives between the stated objectives.

    As far as worrying about “bigger” government, if that’s your worry, then look no further than the last 20 years: between 1985 and 1995, under the ALP, government spending as a percentage of GDP decreased several points to about 22%, whereas since then under Howard, it has increased to over 30%. Right-wing parties might claim to believe in smaller government, but they have a lousy track record of achieving it.

    Further, I don’t why anyone would claim to “want” bigger government, seeing as the increase in spending over the last 11 years hasn’t brought the sort of improvements in government services that the Left have generally been looking for.

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