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What can you say?

July 14th, 2011

I don’t usually pick on Catallaxy. But I couldn’t resist pointing to this post where Rafe Champion describes Lord Monckton as a “sophisticated commentator”, and the rest of the crew pile in to defend him against the lone commenter pointing out the obvious fact that Monckton is a charlatan, conspiracy theorist, and all around crank. Not by any means the greatest of his follies, but this is someone who claims to be a member of the House of Lords after receiving zero votes(!) in the election for hereditary peers.

Being on the political left hasn’t always been comfortable, but these days I’m really glad I stuck it out. There must be some people remaining on the political right who know how far they have sunk when someone like Monckton can be a leading advocate for their views, but they are all either saying nothing (since speaking up would be politically suicidal), or hypocritically going along with the general applause.

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  1. andrewt
    July 14th, 2011 at 08:45 | #1

    Its ludicrous understatement to describe Monckton as merely a “sophisticated commentator”. He has not just revolutionized our understanding of climate & atmospheric physics. He is a Nobel laureate and a member of the house of lords who discovered a cure for diseases including AIDS, MS & influenza & diseases, ended the Falklands war and uncovered sabotage of a major NASA space mission. How can they say Leibniz was the last man to know everything.

  2. Robert in UK
    July 14th, 2011 at 09:03 | #2

    It’s just depressing. You read his work, or listen to him and his obvious zaniness, and wonder how any one could come to see him as a “sophisticated” commentator. From his other writing, Rafe seems like a lovely, interesting man.

  3. Freelander
    July 14th, 2011 at 09:27 | #3

    Re: Viscount Moncton. Maybe Rafe meant to say a sophistical commentator? Although to credit him even with skill in specious arguments seems a stretch.

  4. Fran Barlow
    July 14th, 2011 at 10:08 | #4

    @Freelander

    Indeed … the cognates for sophisticate are in the Latin for adulterate, cheat quibble

    In the late middle ages sophistication describes the mixing up of things with exotic substances, especially impurities and things unnatural. In those days, people would “sophisticate” their ale with, if you were lucky, clean water in order to increase the profit margin.

    The idea that Monckton, like those cheats passing off sophisticated ale for faudyulent gain in mediaeval taverns, adulterates public discourse with claims exotic to observable reality in order to make a profit from intellectual fraud seems like fair comment. Truly, Monckton’s a very sophisticated commentator in this sense.

  5. boconnor
    July 14th, 2011 at 10:43 | #5

    I went to the Catallaxy site to read the thread. Whoa! Just a series of personal attacks and juvenile talking points – if that’s the cream of the Australian right wing blog-sphere then they are definitely in some parallel, low rent universe.

  6. July 14th, 2011 at 10:58 | #6

    I’ll propose a debate: Lord Monckton vs Lady Gaga.

    As I said somewhere else: Lady Gaga seems humbler and makes more sense.

    At the other hand, she tries too hard to look outrageous. In this his lordship has the advantage: it comes much more naturally to him.

  7. Freelander
    July 14th, 2011 at 11:31 | #7

    @Fran Barlow

    Yes. Sophistication comes from sophistry and sophism, the practice of sophists, going back to the ancient Greeks.

    Interestingly, apparently Moncton has Graves’ ophthalmopathy which accounts for his unusual eyes. Some who have Graves’ ophthalmopathy or have Graves’ disease have mental problems. Clearly, Moncton has mental problems (in addition to simple denialism); maybe that is the cause. His behavior and carry-on are not inconsistent with the particular type of mental symptoms. Poor chap.

  8. Fran Barlow
    July 14th, 2011 at 11:47 | #8

    @Freelander

    It’s clear I’m very hostile to Monckton’s politics and public conduct, but I don’t think it apt to cast aspersions based on his illness. This side of a clear and well attested casual relationship between his conduct and his illness I believe we ought to refrain from this kind of speculation. If Monckton were simply an innocuous eccentric whose behasviour we found charming, would we accept such commentary from the right? I think not.

    As repulsive as his conduct is, we leftists need to avoid buying into the culture of the system to which we object. Trading in the blurry line between intellectual disability and ethical turpitude to make a point is something that should be unavailable to us.

  9. Freelander
    July 14th, 2011 at 11:52 | #9

    The charitable explanation for his behavior is his illness. I am always, if anything, charitable.

    As I note, his behavior is not inconsistent with some of the symptoms but could be quite independent of the disease.

  10. Freelander
    July 14th, 2011 at 11:52 | #10

    And I am hardly a ‘leftist’.

  11. frankis
    July 14th, 2011 at 12:34 | #11

    @Freelander
    “Significantly greater prevalence of social anxiety disorder …” in women with Graves’ Disease. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15763125

    Monckton is way beyond the pale in his bleatings about the socialist dystopia about to be forced upon him by the IPCC.

  12. Fran Barlow
    July 14th, 2011 at 12:41 | #12

    {well attested casual (causal) relationship between his conduct; behasviour (behaviour) }

    @Freelander

    I accept that you aren’t a leftist, but I note that amongst some who are, there’s a tendency to fall in with the popular usage in this area — the use of “retard” is common — and so it was less about you than a kind of general policy statement.

    Even if you aren’t a leftist, it is wrong, IMO, to riff on someone’s illness to make what is essentially, a political or cultural objection to something that person is doing.

  13. John Quiggin
    July 14th, 2011 at 12:55 | #13

    Fran and Free, please take this to the sandpit

  14. Freelander
    July 14th, 2011 at 13:06 | #14

    deleted – as I said, sandpit please

  15. John Brookes
    July 14th, 2011 at 13:34 | #15

    Monckton always impresses me. He is persuasive, and is an excellent presenter. I would be terrified of having to debate him, even if I had the affirmative in a debate of 2+2=4.

    Having said that, he is wrong about AGW, and he either recklessly or deliberately misrepresents the truth. But he is good at it…..

  16. Michael
    July 14th, 2011 at 14:06 | #16

    Monckton’s the guy sitting on an elephant with his microscope and proclaiming- ‘it’s grey….it’s a mouse!!’

    And the rest of us are standing over here going ‘WTF?”.

  17. Oliver
    July 14th, 2011 at 14:10 | #17

    Thanks to Climate Change, my right wing friends now call me left-wing (or green). My left wing friends still call me right wing. It’s hard just trying to be rational about science and economics at the best of time, but when some people are so irrational you can’t talk to them I feel fairly sad for Debate in Australia.

  18. Jeepers Creepers
    July 14th, 2011 at 15:20 | #18

    Catallaxy jumped the shark when Sinclair Davidson took over.

    How could any credible person argue the current budget is expansionary. He does!
    Davidson tried to show Garnaut’s numbers did not add up however Peter Whiteford showed Davidson could even do simple research.

    I put it down to a plethora of papers showing ‘expansionary Austerity’ only works when Keynes said it would, when the economy is going well.
    For all their bluster they continue to ignore such papers with people such as Steve Kates saying Keynesianism is dead when it is classical economics which is shown to be a complete crock.
    I did have hopes that Judith Sloan would improve things but she doesn’t even understand the Fair work act ( no it doesn’t ban pattern bargaining see section 412) and this is her area of expertise!

    Now they have Henry Ergas who believes no-one has a memory so no-one can remember his paid support for Telstra’s monopoly position in the wholesale telecommunications market or it dominant position in the retail market.

    It is no wonder they have gone bonkers

  19. July 14th, 2011 at 16:08 | #19

    An occasional visit to Catallaxy? Good for the soul (I think!?).
    My most recent visit there cheered me up no end, after an immediate salutation in greeting from Infidel Tiger, to the effect that I could rejoice- socialism is a treatable disease.

  20. July 14th, 2011 at 16:09 | #20

    “Expansionary austerity”?

  21. Jeepers Creepers
    July 14th, 2011 at 16:59 | #21

    Paul,

    They believe if austerity policies are introduced then the economy will expand.

    Problem is as I said except for when the economy is going well and when you would expect it to work ( any Keynesian would) it doesn’t work indeed as people would expect the opposite eventuates.

  22. Jeepers Creepers
  23. paul of albury
    July 14th, 2011 at 17:34 | #23

    John Brookes :
    He is persuasive…..

    He has the great advantage that he’s telling people what they want to hear. It makes people want to overlook any issues with his arguments and his credentials.

  24. Ken Miles
    July 14th, 2011 at 18:07 | #24

    I used to enjoy Catallaxy a long time ago, but gave up on it as it morphed into a boring one dimensional joke. The linked thread has convinced me that I haven’t missed anything.

  25. m0nty
    July 14th, 2011 at 21:04 | #25

    I don’t quite get why Sinclair says openly that Catallaxy is like a bareknuckle fighting ring, yet seems to think that’s okay. Doesn’t the right normally have higher standards of discourse? Is it just that he can’t control the ape troop, or that he won’t? Catallaxy is becoming a signature example of what happens when you apply laissez faire thinking to everything.

  26. Mel
    July 15th, 2011 at 00:13 | #26

    I’ll be damned. Homer has yet another new moniker.

    I like Catallaxy because it reinforces my prejudices about libertarians :)

  27. rog
    July 15th, 2011 at 07:38 | #27

    @Ken Miles The joke is wearing a little thin. The constant recycling of what can only be best described as myths borders on the psychotic.

  28. hc
    July 15th, 2011 at 08:46 | #28

    There is a fair bit of confusion at Catallaxy. The organizing principle however is libertarianism. Irrespective of logic they do not want government in the economy or people’s lives more generally. Hence no carbon taxes – indeed there is hostility to any Pigovian tax – and arguments for basing economics on Say’s Law. There are some creepy psychotics there as well who joke about torturing animals and burning religious books in faiths they disagree with. As Rog says, the same myths get repeated endlessly but I am also struck with the innovative character of the myth making. Destroy one false claim and another – typically entirely irrelevant claim – bounces back.

    I am not sure many there get their climate science from Monckton. Mostly it is recycled junk from Andrew Bolt who, of course, is a Monckton fan. There are also a few serious climate change skeptics who hang around the site who are well-read in the junk science of climate and the websites that promote this material.

  29. Damien Miller
    July 15th, 2011 at 09:36 | #29

    So, while it is fun to laugh at Monckton and the drongo denialism of his cohort the simple fact is that they are winning the debate on AGW among the general public. Worse, I can’t see any way to turn it around either – the media (that which isn’t controlled by Murdoch and thus part of the problem) is addicted to controversy – causing it to give equal time to brash denial and sober rebuttal alike, it is difficult to refute the vapid and shifting mendacity of the deniers (it takes a paragraph to refute a soundbite – which will carry futher?) and any PR infusion of magnitude that threatens to meet that of the pro-carbon camp would be pointed at and decried as trying to spin one past the public.

  30. Sinclair Davidson
    July 16th, 2011 at 07:01 | #30

    I don’t recall this

    Davidson tried to show Garnaut’s numbers did not add up however Peter Whiteford showed Davidson could even do simple research.

    or this

    I don’t quite get why Sinclair says openly that Catallaxy is like a bareknuckle fighting ring, yet seems to think that’s okay.

    Perhaps some links would remind me?

  31. John Coochey
    July 16th, 2011 at 20:45 | #31

    Yes John but if he is such a bufoon why are you too cowardly to get into the ring with him? You remind my of taekwondo practicioners who always claim they could take on a karate fighter but would never take them on. If he is such a fake why not discredit him once and for all? An easy kill and worldwide fame. somehow I do not think so!

  32. haiku
    July 16th, 2011 at 21:09 | #32

    Dawkins likes to quote Bob May on that sort of debate: “That would look great on your CV, not so good on mine.”

  33. John Quiggin
    July 16th, 2011 at 21:24 | #33

    Hey John C, I accepted your offer of $500 if I’d debate him, but you couldn’t/wouldn’t bring him up to scratch.

    http://johnquiggin.com/2011/06/14/families-slugged-by-newscorp-innumeracy-newscorpfail/comment-page-1/#comment-152356

    And Brisbane Institute withdrew their invitation last time around.

    You can donate to the box above for Queensland Cancer Council, since I imagine ACF (my original suggestion) might be a bit rich for you. I’ll post a public reminder shortly.

  34. July 17th, 2011 at 14:33 | #34

    Pr Q said:


    Being on the political left hasn’t always been comfortable, but these days I’m really glad I stuck it out. There must be some people remaining on the political right who know how far they have sunk when someone like Monckton can be a leading advocate for their views, but they are all either saying nothing (since speaking up would be politically suicidal), or hypocritically going along with the general applause.

    I have totally lost respect for the Anglo Right, which seems unwilling or unable to speak the plain truth or hold fast to traditional values. It wont admit error and rectify where it is scientifically incorrect, preferring the comforts of the partisan echo chamber. And when challenged to defend traditional cultural identity it generally retreats into a posture of abject apologetics.

    If you think the path of a long-time Leftie is sometimes arduous, then spare a thought for someone walking in my odd shoes, whose weltanschauung encompasses aspects of both Old & New Left and Old & New Right. Depending on perspective I am always both ahead or behind the curve of political fashion. To add to my woes, the “shameless ideological opportunist” can never seek the solace of like-minded fellows, since there are none to be found.

    I take some cold comfort from Oakeshott’s ageless wisdom:

    In political activity men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbor for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting point nor appointed destination. The enterprise is to keep afloat on an even keel; the sea is both friend and enemy; and the seamanship consists in using the resources of a traditional manner of behaviour in order to make a friend of every hostile occasion.

  35. rog
    July 17th, 2011 at 15:16 | #35

    You are being a tad disingenuous Sinclair, in your intro “blogging as a fine art” you give authority to “rudeness, sarcasm and indecency” and “being particularly nasty” saying that “to reject the legitimacy of conversation on the basis of tone is to place form above substance.”

    These are your fleas so scratch away.

  36. Sinclair Davidson
    July 17th, 2011 at 16:47 | #36

    So why you scratching?

  37. July 17th, 2011 at 19:44 | #37

    Very early in the thread the contributor Andrew T made the point that many people had failed to investigate Mockton himsef; his talents, foibles etc.
    Fran Barlow shrewdly reiterated the point later, warning us not to the easy way out and just lampoon Monckton, without knowing where he comes from and what he’s about.
    Istill see him as some what the same sort of person as Cameron, Murdoch and Brooks with their funny, elitist little latter -day Cliveden Set- one of the Born to Rule.
    But yes, he is a funny mixture of talent and utter daftness and am not convinced that his antics help any, anymore than a Murdoch press editorial. He may be the Last of the Brit Aristo Eccentrics, but he’s a straw that breaks the camels back for me.
    Enough with the obstructionism.

  38. July 18th, 2011 at 16:35 | #38

    Interestingly, here’s a broadcast purporting to provide Lord Monckton’s background:

    Background Briefing: The Lord Monckton roadshow.
    http://www.abc.net.au/rn/backgroundbriefing/stories/2011/3268730.htm

    If you give credence to it, this is a deeply disturbing and even scary case.

  39. Robert (not from UK)
    July 18th, 2011 at 18:38 | #39

    @Jack Strocchi

    I wouldn’t say, Mr Strocchi, that there were absolutely no “like-minded fellows” to be found. The fact that you’ve been published in America indicates that your writing and outlook have adherents. For what it’s worth, I sympathise with your attitude towards Anglo “conservatives” (what the hell are they actually conserving?) and your respect for Oakeshott, whose writings will, I’d like to think, become more popular as the bankruptcy of New Right sloganeering becomes ever more plain.

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