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October 23rd, 2015

Former Minister Eric Abetz was in the Oz the other day, complaining that

How often, for example, have I had to put up with the tag of ‘religious Right’ or ‘far Right’, whereas you hardly ever hear it of the ‘religious Left’ or the ‘irreligious Left’ or the ‘far Left’ or the ‘extreme Left’ when talking about the Australian Greens or vast elements of the Australian Labor Party,

That reminded me that I needed to update my testimonial list with one from Michael Stutchbury, then at the Oz. It’s appropriately placed on the far right of the page.

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  1. Uncle Milton
    October 23rd, 2015 at 09:40 | #1

    Stutchbury’s testimonial is open to two interpretations. One, on the far right in theory (which he considers good) but on the far left in practice. But right wing economic theory is not really a coherent concept.

    Or two, a good theorist but on the far left in practice. I suppose he means the second, but it is a non-sequitur. What he should have said. logically, was “good on theory and on the far left in practice”, though it’s telling that Stutchbury considers an economist who favours the “mixed economy” to be “far-left”.

    The inexorable decline of Stutchbury as an economic journalist (good in his 20s and 30s, mediocre in his 40s, awful in his 50s) has been like watching a car crash in slow motion, on continuous loop.

  2. David Allen
    October 23rd, 2015 at 10:47 | #2

    Abetz was obviously dropped on his head as a baby.

  3. Uncle Milton
    October 23rd, 2015 at 10:58 | #3

    @David Allen

    In fairness to Abetz, it’s a difficult period of adjustment when you get moved from government to opposition. Feelings of abandonment, rejection, being wronged and being conspired against are very common.

  4. rog
    October 23rd, 2015 at 13:54 | #4

    Clearly Abetz is a victim of the green left conspiracy.

  5. Tim Macknay
    October 23rd, 2015 at 18:04 | #5

    @David Allen
    And in fairness to people who were dropped on their heads as babies, not all of them turn out like Abetz.

  6. October 24th, 2015 at 07:38 | #6

    Well maybe because in comparison to the current LNP positions all those other positions that Abetz mentions are actually now so close to what was once upon a time the centre that there is actually nothing extreme about them at all.

  7. Jim Birch
    October 24th, 2015 at 08:27 | #7

    Are you getting the message, Senator?

  8. James Wimberley
    October 24th, 2015 at 08:32 | #8

    Supposing Stutchbury’s accusation were true. What is the word for somebody who is more radical in deeds than in words, the opposite of the usual dissonance? It’s professional behaviour in spies, of course.

  9. rog
    October 24th, 2015 at 15:40 | #9

    I suppose that Abetz must feel that he is part of a minority (Christian) and is being targeted/persecuted for his beliefs by the majority comprising greens/lefties/Muslims. Unfortunately for Abetz he is unable to identify exactly who these people are; Ed Husic being the only Muslim MP and the ALP also having a strong representation of Christians.

    Be that as it may, he has been relentless in verbaling his opponents with unsuitable labels to the point where he has now imploded.

  10. paul walter
    October 24th, 2015 at 15:57 | #10


    Abetz Macht Frei, James Wimberley.

  11. J-D
    October 25th, 2015 at 15:35 | #11

    If Abetz is religious, what possible objection could he have to being described as religious?

  12. Collin Street
    October 25th, 2015 at 20:07 | #12

    Because the act of describing someone as religious is inherently the act of asserting that their religiousity is important: if the context you’re describing them as religious is also negative, then you’re describing their specific religiousity as a bad thing.

    Normally this is unfair.

    [it’s complicated, of course, by the fact that we aren’t talking abstractedly but about Eric Abetz’s religion specifically, and Eric Abetz’s personal religious beliefs are, bluntly, pretty vile, and certainly something that a person should be negative about.]

  13. Nevil Kingston-Brown
    October 26th, 2015 at 09:09 | #13


  14. J-D
    October 26th, 2015 at 10:09 | #14

    @Collin Street

    You seem to have two separate points there, although possibly I’ve misunderstood.

    I grasp that it might be unfair to describe somebody as religious in a context in which that’s not important, but it’s not clear that Abetz is asserting that his being religious is unimportant. I’m not prepared to concede the merit of his objection without a specification of the context in which his religion is supposed to be unimportant. For example, if Abetz were to affirm that his religion does not affect his politics, I would accept that it was unfair to mention his religion in political contexts; but so far as I can tell he has not affirmed that his religion does not affect his politics.

    On the other hand, if somebody’s religiosity is associated with negative behaviour, then referring to their religiosity in that context does constitute a negative reflection on their religiosity, but not an unfair one. If your religion prompts you to behave badly, then any discredit to your religion is merited. If you don’t want to reflect discredit on your religion, don’t let it prompt you to behave badly.

  15. Collin Street
    October 26th, 2015 at 15:12 | #15

    On the other hand, if somebody’s religiosity is associated with negative behaviour, then referring to their religiosity in that context does constitute a negative reflection on their religiosity, but not an unfair one.

    People take the actions they think are best given the circumstances they believe they find themselves in: all negative reflections are, thus, unfair.

    Unless you’ve been trained out of it, which Eric Abetz clearly hasn’t. He thinks it’s his religion, but probably that’s just ’cause his religion is important to him and so he thinks it’s important to us.

  16. J-D
    October 26th, 2015 at 18:13 | #16

    @Collin Street

    To say that it is unfair to reflect negatively on somebody’s actions is itself a negative reflection. It is sometimes unfair to say that somebody has been unfair, but not always.

  17. Ikonoclast
    October 26th, 2015 at 18:43 | #17


    Define “behave badly”.

  18. Collin Street
    October 26th, 2015 at 21:32 | #18

    I’m sorry, J-D: the word “unfair” represents Abetz’s perspective, not objective reality, and thus “should” be in scare quotes.

  19. J-D
    October 27th, 2015 at 06:51 | #19
  20. Ikonoclast
    October 27th, 2015 at 09:13 | #20


    Because your whole argument in that post hinges on the concept of “behave badly” yet you never define it. If you don’t define “behave badly” with rigor and precision then your entire argument is pointless hand-waving. You always demand hair-splitting accuracy from others and then you are happy to advance an argument based on a completely nebulous concept such as “behave badly”. “Behave badly” in whose judgement? “Behave badly” according to what norms? “Behave badly” according to which ethical system, which metaphysical system, which ideological system, which theological system? Alternatively, “behave badly” according to what universal moral philosophy? Can you develop it, define it and support it?

  21. Troy Prideaux
    October 27th, 2015 at 12:32 | #21

    [quiet chuckle]… the only creatures to survive when someone nuke’s an argument like that are the crickets. You’ll make an impressive barrister with responses like that Iko.

  22. J-D
    October 27th, 2015 at 13:18 | #22


    Is it that you don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘behave’ or is it that you don’t understand the meaning of the word ‘badly’?

  23. Donald Oats
    October 27th, 2015 at 23:41 | #23

    Being a Christian and an elected member of government is no sin.

    Using the power and influence of being in government to advance the interests of people of one religious affinity over the interests of others not of that affinity is likely to attract the preface of “religious-”. Since there is little doubt that Eric Abetz is of the right wing affliction, the epithet of religious-right is entirely in keeping with the evidence near to hand.

    I am not going to make an itemised list of all the times he has acted out in a manner which would fairly attract the moniker of religious-right; it would be an exercise in tedium and self-flagellation of the dullest kind.

  24. Julie Thomas
    October 28th, 2015 at 08:02 | #24


    I don’t understand why you want to insist that these words or any words can have “a” meaning or that there is such a thing as “the meaning” like a default meaning that is there to be understood by everyone, without any negotiation.

  25. J-D
    October 28th, 2015 at 16:33 | #25

    @Julie Thomas

    I’m not insisting on anything and I don’t understand why you might suppose otherwise. Ikonoclast asked me for definitions. Words that have no meanings have no definitions. Do you think that the word ‘behave’ has no meaning, or that the word ‘badly’ has no meaning?

  26. Ikonoclast
    October 28th, 2015 at 17:42 | #26


    When words are combined into phrases and then placed in context in a larger piece of text, the full imports, assumptions and associations surrounding those words are augmented well beyond their narrow, isolated dictionary meanings. You were making a larger, implied argument using poorly framed and un-examined assumptions.

    Are you unaware that judgements about “behaving badly” are value judgements relative to the value system applied? Alternatively, if you want to advance a universal moral system, or at least your own preferred system, you will need to develop that out before you can blithely advance the phrase “behaving badly” as if its content is obvious to all.

  27. Nick
    October 28th, 2015 at 23:53 | #27


    Is it something to do with “embarking on a rock n’ roll journey”?

  28. J-D
    October 29th, 2015 at 12:04 | #28


    You assert that ‘judgements about “behaving badly” are value judgements relative to the value system applied’; but it is only possible for you to assert this meaningfully (let alone correctly) if you understand the meaning (in context) of the term ‘behaving badly’; if you don’t have in mind some definition for the term ‘behaving badly’ then your assertion is meaningless.

  29. Ikonoclast
    October 29th, 2015 at 14:42 | #29


    I understand the general import of the phrase “behaving badly” in isolation from context. Clearly, it means behaving badly relative to some implied standard of good behaviour. Your argument relied on some implied but unstated standard of good behaviour. You needed to explicitly state that standard to make your argument logically supportable or at least persuasive. The reason that you needed to explicitly state that standard is that you were arguing in the field of religious ethics and religiously motivated behaviors. This is a field notorious for disagreements about what constitutes good behavior and bad behavior.

    You seem to want to reduce this to a semantic argument which you win by showing I understand in general terms what one might call the “non-contextual” meaning of the phrase “behaving badly”. Clearly I do but that isn’t the issue. The issue is its use in the context of an ordered argument of yours. In that ordered argument the phrase “behaving badly” needed a contextual definition via a statement of what constitutes good behaviour in your view or according to some universal moral standard if you could demonstrate such in the argument. Without this statement your argument lacked a specific definition to condition the meaning of “behaving badly”. “Behaving badly” became an “empty operator” in the argument. (I use the term “empty operator” here in a logic sense not in a linguistic or semantic sense.) This rendered your argument logically (and rhetorically) empty even though it has a clear first level semantic meaning.

  30. J-D
    October 29th, 2015 at 14:53 | #30


    My argument does not rely on any implied but unstated standard of good behaviour. You can choose any standard of good behaviour you like — or anybody else can choose one — and the force of the argument remains the same.

  31. Ikonoclast
    October 29th, 2015 at 21:37 | #31


    Professor X was an eccentric anthropologist. He liked to place his students singly on a remote island to study the native inhabitants. He ensured that each student knew nothing at all about the islanders or their laws, customs and beliefs before the study. From a supply ship, Professor X would land his next student on the island by launch. Professor X always shouted his final advice to the student before he departed.

    “These islanders are very quick to take offence and they are very violent. They also have many strange beliefs and customs which it is death to offend against. Remember, whatever you do, DON’T BEHAVE BADLY!”

  32. J-D
    October 30th, 2015 at 06:19 | #32


    The warning ‘don’t behave badly’ given by Professor X, in its context, depends for any value it may have on what behaviour is considered to be bad.

    My argument stated earlier, in its context, does not depend for any force it may have on what behaviour is considered to be bad.

    The two contexts are different.

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