Abbott and tribalism

I’ve been too busy to post much, but I’ve written a number of articles over the past month or so that might be interesting to readers here. This one, published by various Fairfax papers looks at the damp squib of the G20 finance ministers meeting, and links it to the Abbott government’s elevation of tribalism over good government, and even over market liberal ideology.

There’s a follow-up here from Charles Richardson at Crikey and something more on similar lines by Rob Burgess at the Business Spectator

163 thoughts on “Abbott and tribalism

  1. @Ikonoclast

    “However, a person like me can have all the opinions he likes. So can everyone who blogs here. Opinions are largely forceless in our system.”

    Ah, but if you really believed that Ikonoclast, why would you express that opinion publicly?

  2. @geoff

    “Opinions are largely forceless in our system” leaves matters open. “Largely” is not “entirely”. The more important implication is that opinions might not largely forceless in another system.

    We have chosen, or acquiesced to, a system which disempowers most of us. This is the system where wealth, power and ownership of the means of production belong to a tiny minority who rule our entire society by the means of these powers and privileges.

  3. Back on the tribalism theme, IMHO what Kropotkin said about the Bolsheviks can be said with at least as much justice about Abbott and his followers: “They have deluded, simple souls.” Abbott is not a stupid person. He is an entirely more dangerous personal type: a person of above-average intelligence who seems never to have applied that intelligence to a self-analysis of the foundations of his worldview, and thus has carried into his public adult life a worldview of unreconstructed adolescent crudity and brutality and devoted his intellect to rationalising and proselytising the conclusions that he derives from it.

    Part of this adolescent worldview is that the world is divided between “good people” and “bad people” and that anything goes for the goodies in pursuit of the fight against the baddies. This is also displayed by many of those on the intellectual Right in Australia. I recall an article in Quadrant by the inveterate H. G. P. Colebatch about what he saw as worthy conservative books and films. This included Star Wars and The Lord Of The Rings, basically because both stories were about The Forces of Good fighting The Forces of Evil. If Colebatch had understood either work he would realise that one of the key ideas in both is the danger for “good” people of succumbing to the temptation of power for the sake of pursuing “good” ends. If the likes of Abbott and Colebatch really knew their Christian conservative cannon they would also take on board the following quote from Solzhenitsyn:

    If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?… Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.

    Since then I have come to understand the truth of all the religions of the world: They struggle with the evil inside a human being (inside every human being). It is impossible to expel evil from the world in its entirety, but it is possible to constrict it within each person.

  4. @Fran Barlow
    ‘One might add, Megan, that if there’s one thing worse than bad people doing bad things, it’s apparently good people doing bad things …’

    I don’t see how.

    First, a logical point: if you’re describing people as ‘apparently good’, it can only mean that you don’t consider them to be good. ‘Apparently’ good people are not good people; are they then a subset of bad people? And if ‘apparently good people’ are actually bad people, doesn’t that mean that apparently good people doing bad things are in fact bad people doing bad things, and therefore can’t be worse than bad people doing bad things?

    More importantly, though, how can the badness of the same bad deed vary with the identity of the doer? If somebody I admire and respect does something vicious, I may be more surprised, more shocked, more disappointed, more distressed, than I might be when somebody I despise and detest does exactly the same thing. But if the deed itself is exactly the same, then it’s exactly as bad, neither better nor worse.

  5. if you’re describing people as ‘apparently good’, it can only mean that you don’t consider them to be good. ‘Apparently’ good people are not good people;

    Not necessarily. The qualifier, “apparently” signifies agnosticism on the question of the ethical merit of people, acknowledging that this is subjective. Here, many people regard the ALP as either “good people” or at any rate “less bad people than the other mob” or perhaps “bad but constrianed in how bad they can be by their consitituency”.

    ‘Apparently’ good people are not good people; are they then a subset of bad people?

    People are dynamic rather than existing in fixed categories. They are defined by their choices and their reasoning and their paradigms. They can, for those interested, move between categories, though of course some people take a static view, believing that in some existential sense, once bad people are always bad or that “deep down” people are good or bad. Some folk think there are bad “souls” and so forth.

    Personally, I don’t find a lot of use in chracterising people as good or bad in an existential sense. It’s more useful to characterise the relationship between their acts and ethical paradigms, and to exmaine the integrity of the paradigm and its relation to one’s own falues. When one has done that, one may, as a piece of shorthand, decide that the person is worthy of respect and the confidence of other human beings or not.

    I’m atypical however, and most people in my experience think of the goodness and badness of people as salient — hence my phrasing.

    But if the deed itself is exactly the same, then it’s exactly as bad, neither better nor worse.

    That ignores the consequences. A person regarded unworthy of the confidence and respect of their fellow humans who acts in a way that is corrosive of what one regards as human interest may well be dismissed as signifying nothing more than an example of human system failure — a teachable moment perhaps. A person regarded as having mapped worthy principles to their conduct who does something corrosive of human interest may incline others to act similarly, on the basis of precedent. perhaps troubled by his acts, the offender might adduce plausible rationales for so acting and compound the potential harm by offering others perceived as more compromised defences for the conduct.

    A demon has no place to fall, and may find it harder to drag others into the pit it inhabits, but a fallen angel may take multitudes of the worthy with it on the way down.

    To move from the sublime to the banal, the ALP has taught a genweration of people to embrace brutality both on extriunsic grounds “stopping Abbott” and intrinsic grounds — “IMAs (aka “illegals”) are frauds seeking a better life, part of criminal networks, queue jumpers, enemies of people wating patiently in camps, we’re trying to ssave them from drowning; we have popluation problems etc …”

    People who should know better and almost certainly do, are learning cognitive dissonance and accommodating cant. Those who deserve our compassion are getting much less than they need and those who insist we should give it are marginalised and taxed by the obloquy emanating from the reactionary and xenophobic consensus.

  6. OK. I’m more informed on refugee matters now. Thanks Fran et al.

    At the very least, I agree that we should take more refugees.

    One thing I would try very hard to do is punish the elites in countries that are happy to persecute minorities in their population. But maybe then the Australian elites would be punished over our treatment of refugees:-)

  7. In my opinion ABC obtained footage of tow backs will not generate sympathy
    http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-17/passengers-describe-drama-of-turning-asylum-seeker/5326978
    The Iranian couple had already been rejected for formal immigration and it was their second time in an orange boat. What I presume was their residence with the yellow pillars looked distinctly middle class and nicer than a pokey upstairs flat in western Sydney. The expletives directed at Australia by the other lifeboat passengers hardly seemed like a cry for help.

    Dare I suggest that some here are not seeing things through the eyes of Middle Australia?

  8. More importantly, though, how can the badness of the same bad deed vary with the identity of the doer?

    Because it’s not “the same bad deed”: it’s done by different people, and at different times.

    There’s no such thing as “the same”. Circumstances only occur once, ever, over the entire life of the universe: none of the choices you have faced will ever come again. The question is, “which details matter and which don’t?”.

    And if you’re going to take it as axiomatic that the identity [and therefore nature and motivations!] of the actor never come into play in judging an action, well you’ve just question-begged yourself, haven’t you.

  9. @Hermit

    Dare I suggest that some here are not seeing things through the eyes of Middle Australia?

    Um … yes … I daresay that homeless person who asks you for a dollar in Belmore Park doesn’t see himself through your eyes either.

    Maybe they need to have experienced life in “middle Australia” before they can be offended by people like them.

  10. @Fran Barlow
    I responded to your earlier comment in the same kind of terms in which it was presented, which meant without much nuance or qualification. I too don’t find a lot of use in characterising people as essentially good or bad, although, like you, I may make limited use of such characterisations as a kind of shorthand. I agree with Solzhenitsyn this far, that the line between good and bad runs through every human heart. Most people, however good or bad they may be in a rough summary, have both good deeds to their credit and bad deeds to their discredit. I referred to people as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ only by way of reference to your words, not as expressing my own judgements.

    Now you write that ‘many people regard the ALP as either “good people” or at any rate “less bad people than the other mob”’. True, many people do, but that doesn’t indicate any difference or asymmetry between the ALP and the Coalition: many people regard the Coalition as either “good people” or at any rate “less bad people than the other mob”. I see no basis there for differential evaluation.

    You go on to write that ‘the ALP has taught a generation of people to embrace brutality’. But I don’t see on what basis you attribute more responsibility to the ALP than to the Coalition for the teaching of this lesson (if that’s what it is). I acknowledge that the actions of the ALP influence the attitudes of people who feel some sense of identification with the ALP, but equally the actions of the Coalition influence the attitudes of people who feel some sense of identification with the Coalition. Again I don’t see the basis for a differential evaluation.

    ‘People who should know better and almost certainly do’, you write, ‘are learning cognitive dissonance and accommodating cant.’ On the face of it, the use of the description ‘people who should know better and almost certainly do’ looks as if it distinguishes those people from others who don’t know any better and who couldn’t even be tagged with the description ‘should know better’. Putting it another way, your words create the suggestion that there are some people who don’t know any better and never will. I’m not sure that is what you mean, but if it is, it would at least explain the differential evaluation I questioned above. If you think of those people who identify with the Coalition as being (on the whole) more inclined to embrace brutality anyway even if the Coalition doesn’t teach them that, then from that premise I can see how you would get to the conclusion that it’s worse for the ALP to teach the embrace of brutality than it is for the Coalition to do so, but is that your premise, and if not, what is?

  11. @Collin Street
    It’s sometimes important to discuss issues in terms which abstract away details, in order to clarify the basis of a line of argument or the essence of a disagreement. But it’s also difficult and potentially confusing to abstract away details, which means it’s also sometimes important to specify and particularise. If I borrow part of Fran Barlow’s description to make my question more concrete, it becomes this: if brutal treatment of refugees is bad, how would it be worse when inflicted by an ALP government than when inflicted by a Coalition government?

  12. @Hermit
    Subject to any requirements imposed by our generous host, you can suggest whatever you like. No particular daring is required.

    Personally I give higher priority to the goal of perceiving things accurately than I do to the goal of perceiving them the way Middle Australia does, but perhaps that’s just me. (Of course, if the two coincide, so much the better.)

  13. @John Brookes

    One thing I would try very hard to do is punish the elites in countries that are happy to persecute minorities in their population.

    It sounds intuitively reasonable, but in practice, the game is rarely worth the candle. How, exactly, would one distinguish malfeasants from non-malfeasants, and how would one selectively punish them, without harming their victims? What we almost always have in such circumstances is a variant of a hostage situation. How would one “punish” the elite of North Korea, or Uzbekistan or Russia for that matter? At what threshold is punishment even entailed? What if sections of our own elites are complicit, as they almost always are? What if the elites we might want to punish are our allies in punishing other malfeasant elites? The US “justice” system is certainly dealing brutally with its non-white plebeians and youth more generally.

    It’s far better, most of the time, after identifying a problem, to work to mitigate it by direct aid to the persecuted. That might well take the form of resettlement in some circumstances, and this can have the consequence of lending the malfeasant elite pariah status and make it easier and less costly to the harmed to effect sanctions of one kind or another.

  14. @J-D

    if brutal treatment of refugees is bad, how would it be worse when inflicted by an ALP government than when inflicted by a Coalition government?

    Because, in short, the pool of people supporting the ALp and acting as their apologists not so very long ago saw themselves as humane and compassionate people supporting a humane and compassionate party against one that was less humane and compassionate. Now they find themselves nitpicking not about even about relative inhumanity but about second order issues “secrecy” “cost” effectiveness and so forth.

    Prior to 1992, the divisions were clear. After Gerry Hand, they became less clear. Post Tampa they became increasingly blurred and by 2007 who could tell? Things shifted into an absolute cesspit during the 43rd parliament and I was reminded of those famous lines in Animal Farm in which the animals looked from man to pig and pig to man and found it impossible to tell the difference. Now, the only insistent, organised friends in the national parliament of vulnerable humanity are The Greens — who are supported by a mere 1 in 10 of electors.

    In my teaching, I regularly encounter people who came on boats. I am comforted that I can tell them honestly that I played no part in demonising them or their choices, and that this government has nothing to do with my wishes, but I still find it hard to be candid with them on why Australia’s people stay so silent when both the government and its alternative justifies such brutal treatment. I can think of no answer that would give them consolation.

    I tell them to stay strong and embrace hope for a better world, and to know that while many are ignorant and fearful and hateful, some of us are scandalised at the behaviour of our fellows. I invite them to look around the school and ask if there is anyone here who fears them and to keep in mind that the fear they hear in public space is of an imaginary existential threat dreamed up by self-serving political criminals, not entirely unlike those in the countries from which they fled. That often draws a smile.

  15. @Fran Barlow
    If it’s bad for a party to behave in a way that influences its supporters to be less humane and compassionate, how is it worse when done by the ALP than when done by the Coalition parties?

  16. @J-D

    It’s far worse to defecate in a place where people expect hygiene than in a place assumed to be unsanitary. In a household, for example, one normally seeks to keep toileting and food preparation separate. There was even a Seinfeld episode in which urinating in the gym shower was seen as shameful. Context counts.

    Given that the ethical baseline for LNP supporters is typically far lower than that of ALP supporters, the harm to the polity is greater. One anticipates misanthropy, ignorance, indolence and cant of all kinds from them, but one is always far more saddened when it comes from those suggesting they vote in the hope of a better world.

    During the Craig Thomson saga, some in the ALP tried deflecting, saying that big business was an organised bilking of the public. They were right of course, but irrelevant. For mine, what Craig Thomson did was far worse, because his first duty was to working people. I expect business folk to be scoundrels but a person who claims to be a servant of the disempowered but who instead bilks them taints all of us who make the claim, and gives a pretext to the elites for burdening the disempowered with even more constraints.

    Equally, given that the LNP did the initial heavy lifting in the “beating up on asylum seekers” racket, and own the issue, the collapse of the main opposition to the policy converts controversy to consensus, which makes a bigger negative difference to the situation. Effectively, a species of politics concerned with practical humanitarianism has become critically endangered.

    So it is different and worse, IMO. We ought to hold those purporting to speak for progress to a much higher standard.

  17. It’s pretty straightforward to explain.

    It’s just that the bulk of the explanation involves showing that you’ve misinterpreted what other people are trying to communicate, and that once this is unpicked your question becomes a non-sequitur.

    [the “bad” is a moral judgement, the “worse” is how much harder it reveals the situation to be to fix than it was previously believed. Slot those into the thing and you get something like:
    “if treating refugees cruelly is morally wrong, then why does the ALP’s treating refugees badly reveal a harder-to-fix problem than having the coalition do so would”.
    … which doesn’t really reward further inspection. But because people used the same words to describe “morally wrong” and “harder to fix” you got confused, apparently.

    Words are symbolic, they stand for things. Often for different things at the same time. It’s easy to get confused if you treat words as invariant tokens that you can manipulate, like algebra variables, but they don’t actually work like that.

  18. @Fran Barlow

    How would one “punish” the elite of North Korea, or Uzbekistan or Russia for that matter?

    The Americans and the EU are trying to “punish” the Russian elite for the Crimean situation by selectively applying economic sanctions against powerful Russian individuals (freezing their overseas bank accounts, denying them visas and so forth). However, given that the Russian annexation of Crimea is hugely popular in Russia, and at least some of the Russian politicians being targeted are treating it as a badge of pride, I think it’s reasonable to be dubious that the approach will have any effect.

  19. In any event Tim, it’s hard to situate the Crimean intervention within the rubric that John Brookes adumbrated.

  20. @Fran Barlow
    No, they’re leaving Putin out of it. But I agree that the Crimean situation is not the sort of situation under discussion on this thread – I was merely noting that a particular method of “punishing elites” for their policies is being tried in that context.

    The method might be more effective in contexts where the elite in question has more of a stake in maintaining the approval of the government(s) applying the sanctions. I imagine that the members of the Australian Government, for example, would be more likely to be influenced by targeted sanctions from the US and the UK than would members of the Russian government (not that I think there is any likelihood of such sanctions being applied to Australia).

  21. @Fran Barlow
    Fran, I have a comment with a link stuck in automod. In summary

    1. No, they are not targeting Putin.
    2. I agree the Crimean situation isn’t much of analogy for what is under discussion on this thread. I just thought it was interesting that a method of targeting a country’s elites for sanctions (rather than the country’s economy in general) is being tried in that instance. I think that kind of method would be more likely to work if the elite in question had more of a stake in maintaining the approval of whoever is imposing the sanctions.

  22. @Fran Barlow
    Your statement that the ethical baseline for Coalition supporters is typically far lower than the ethical baseline of ALP supporters is equivalent to saying that Coalition supporters are typically far worse people than ALP supporters, isn’t it? Anyway, even if you don’t accept that way of putting it, I’d like to see some evidence for your claim. Yes, ALP voters (at any rate, many of them) suggest they vote in hopes of a better world, but then Coalition voters (at any rate, many of them) also suggest they vote in hopes of a better world. Yes, the ALP purports to speak for progress, but then the Coalition also purports to speak for progress. You expect business folk to be scoundrels, and so do many people, but then there are also many people who expect union leaders to be scoundrels. You (and many others) expect, metaphorically speaking, the Coalition to be ‘unsanitary’ and expect or at least hope for greater hygiene from the ALP, but there are also many people who have exactly the converse attitudes.

    I agree with the chain of reasoning that degrading to a low standard people who had previously behaved well is more harmful than degrading to that same low standard people who had never been much above it, but missing from the argument is the basis for thinking that ALP supporters were at some earlier point behaving to a significantly higher standard than Coalition supporters. You’re not entitled just to assume that.

  23. Well, after seeing the Libs still get close to government in SA after six months of Abbott, you do ponder at this “ethical baseline”, don’t you?

  24. @Fran Barlow
    It is possible to punish members of a country’s elite without harming the population at large, or at least, to be more precise, it is possible to punish members of a former elite, once they have been ousted from power. Whether it is worthwhile or justifiable to punish them after they have been ousted is another question.

  25. J-D

    but missing from the argument is the basis for thinking that ALP supporters were at some earlier point behaving to a significantly higher standard than Coalition supporters. You’re not entitled just to assume that.

    Unarguably, such judgements are subjective, but that has been my consistent experience over the perhaps 45 years during which I’ve been actively engaged with politics. FTR there have been very few occasions, and certainly none in recent memory when I’ve heard LNP figures or supporters self describe as progressive or described their politics as the struggle for a better world. In almost every conversation, the warrant speaks to the impossibility of a better world and the need to accept the flaws of this one as the best of all possible worlds, save that might contemplate unwinding some of the progress towards equity achieved, and give more incentives to the privileged and more of the figurative lash to everyone else.

    So in the unlikely event I hear some Coalitionista speaking as you hypothesise, I’m going to raise an eyebrow and ask whether that’s from the philosopher Cant, with a C. 🙂

  26. @J-D

    Most of the rationale evaporates when they are ousted. I never favour revenge, but if someone can show scope either for restitution, protection or a teachable moment, then my interest in action is enlivened.

  27. @Fran Barlow
    I’ve just finished watching the film The One Percent, which somebody posted a link to here recently. At one point Milton Friedman, being interviewed by Jamie Johnson, argues that during the period in which inequality has increased, the poor have become better off, and that more redistributive policies, which Jamie Johnson implies support for, produce worse results for the poor. I’m not suggesting this is true, but the fact that Milton Friedman argues it implies that he does consider his side of politics ethically superior. US Republicans, UK Conservatives, Australian Coalition supporters, et hoc genus omne may not use the precise same ethical language as their political rivals/opponents, but they do lay claim to ethical superiority. They may not use the term ‘progressive’, for example, but when they associate themselves with ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom’ they are making ethical claims, and so they are when they attack the record of ALP corruption as if the Coalition is free of the same taint. I don’t think you can demonstrate your claim that they operate at a lower ethical level from the way they portray themselves in words. When you say that they favour giving more of the figurative lash to everybody except the privileged, I bet that’s your way of describing it, not theirs.

    Saying that Coalition supporters lay no claim to ethical superiority over the ALP doesn’t tally with the record, so a claim that the standards of their behaviour are (or in the past have been) lower than those of the ALP would need some other kind of evidence to support it. It looks to me like a very hard claim to test.

  28. J-D

    There’s an obvious problem with your line of argument.

    Contrary to an oft-repeated claims by some self-styled left of centre types, it’s unlikely that many more than a tiny minority of LNP supporters are consistent Friedmanites. So whatever Friedman believed about the paradigm behind his advocacy, your average LNP supporter or even MP isn’t going to be able to give a persuasive account of his views. Even those who might aren’t going to consistently support them because that would disrupt their ability to trade on the other constituencies they need.

    The LNP is a coalition of rightwing populists (rural and urban), neoconservatives, social conservatives, reactionary xenophobes, conspiracy nuts and opportunistic hucksters trawling for support wherever it comes. When Tony Abbott self-described as “no purist” he simply put a positive spin on the reality that he was a blank slate onto which anything that would keep his heterogenous coalition together could be written.

    When one sees a group of people and tries to evaluate their culture and politics, one looks first to the most commonly repeated and congruent themes, privileging those that sit most easily with their appeals for support and that do least damage to each other. The others can be deemed void to the extent of their inconsistency.

    If there is a common theme, it lies in the defence of privilege and property, and the need to resist claims against it by those without it. From this flows their insistent iteration of ancient hatreds and bigotry, because these most easily serve to bond the marginalised to the service of the elite. Their view that humanity is incapable of bettering itself through equitable collaboration likewise reflects their desire to protect private wealth against the commons, as does their love of brutal repression in the criminal justice system, their moral panics and fear of youth. Those not privileged must be othered.

    Yet Friedman too was ultimately the author of repression. His acolytes were at the centre of the subversion and overthrow of Allende and the brutality that followed, which for him was mere chum change in the business of err … business.

    So no, they don’t really believe in a better world, other than of course, for themselves, which is why they suspect that even the present world may be a touch too inclusive and want to relieve the privileged of its constraints, and in league with the boss classes of the world, apply the figurative lash to everyone else, lest they get the wrong idea about their options.

  29. @Fran Barlow
    ‘One might add, Megan, that if there’s one thing worse than bad people doing bad things, it’s apparently good people doing bad things …’

    No Fran, the worst thing is when good people do nothing. (Edmund Burke or John Stuart Mill: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”).

    Perhaps the March in March was a good first step.

  30. @J-D

    When someone on the right argues that policies favourable to the rich actually benefit the poor, I have trouble listening. There is only so much bull**** one can stand.

  31. @JKUU

    You’re arguing against my claim by resort to an aphorism? Good grief.

    FTR I don’t entirely reject the Burkean aphorism (qualifying the term “triumph of evil” as shorthand for “the advent of harm to the legitimate interests of human beings caused by the acts of commission or omission of human beings” rather than some retrograde quasi-religious non-material entity bearing upon assumed non-corporeal parts of humans). Yet even if I do accept this in its minimalist interpretation — that it would suffice for (ostensibly) good people to become constructively indifferent to harm to the legitimate interests of human beings for that harm to continue or become more profound or approach ubiquity this says nothing useful about the relative scale or quality of the harm caused by the defection of apparently worthy folk to the side of those who are part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

  32. @Fran Barlow
    In order to make an accurate comparison of the typical attitudes of the bulk of ALP supporters with the typical attitudes of the bulk of Coalition supporters, it is first necessary to have good evidence of what the typical attitudes of the bulk of each group are. That also looks to me to be much harder to check than you suggest.

  33. How would bad treatment of refugees by the ALP be a harder problem to fix than bad treatment of refugees by the Coalition?

    Look, I made a mistake in phrasing and said something that wasn’t true, owing to the fact that I took fifteen minutes to write that post rather than the half-hour it needed.

    Walking back that error will take probably a half-hour of work, and that’ll only get us back to where we started. And then I’ll have to go forward, and the whole time you’ll be left with the muddle I accidentally left you by making the errors I did, so it’ll take longer to write, literally maybe an hour.

    … it’s just not worth it, for you or for me. You’ll almost certainly make [what I see as] the same error again, it’ll be more effective for both of us if we deal with it that time rather than on this one.

    [I’m finding it quite hard, labour-intensive/time-consuming, to write posts to communicate with you. You’ve got a habit of catching on little details, which means that you’re prone to miss big-picture errors you’re making unless _every_ little detail lines up… and lining up every little detail takes significant amounts of time. Most other people can see big-picture critiques even in messages that contain detail-errors, so communicating with them is much easier and less time-consuming.

    What’s the error I made? Doesn’t matter. In fact, even _with_ the error I made it should still be possible to see your own error [what was a non-sequitur remains a non-sequitur, even though the conclusion remains correct] which kind of proves what I wrote above.]

  34. @J-D

    As I’ve acknowledged, the evaluation is subjective, the product of nothing more robust than my personal experience of Coalition supporters in public and private space and my reading of the opinion pages of major newspapers and engagement with talk radio over about 45 years. It’s certainly possible that my data collection method inadvertently over-selected those who were ignorant, intellectually indolent, bigoted, malign, misanthropic, beset by angst and anomie, egregiously self-serving, maladaptive, incoherent, pre-occupied by banality, lacking in self-awareness, cognitively undistinguished and likely to impute all of this to their fellow human beings, with the consequence that I formed the view that the cohort was a figurative cesspool of all that was unworthy of humanity within which no person hoping for better could long dwell.

    I could be mistaken. That’s a risk I regard as well worth taking however.

  35. @Collin Street
    In my experience, accuracy is hard work, but it’s generally worth the effort. In my experience, most people do indeed find it easy to see a big picture without focussing on details, but when they don’t pay attention to the details it significantly increases their error rate in perceiving the big picture. I include myself, by the way, as I’ve also made that kind of error.

    In this particular case, for example, I made a response to Fran Barlow and you responded to me on the basis of what you presumably thought was an accurate interpretation of Fran Barlow’s stated position, but her own subsequent comments strongly suggest that it wasn’t.

  36. @Fran Barlow
    People encountered personally by a single individual are unlikely in the extreme to constitute a representative sample. I have no idea whether newspaper opinion pages and/or talk radio provide any more representative a sample.

    Nevertheless, I admit to some curiosity about your assessment based on your personal experience. You describe Coalition supporters you have observed as being, in the main, ‘ignorant, intellectually indolent, bigoted, malign, misanthropic, beset by angst and anomie, egregiously self-serving, maladaptive, incoherent, pre-occupied by banality, lacking in self-awareness, cognitively undistinguished and likely to impute all of this to their fellow human beings’; but have you found ALP supporters you have observed to be, in the main, significantly less so? And if you have, have you found that there has been a significant change in that respect as ALP policies have altered?

  37. @John Brookes
    For what it’s worth, I also experienced acute distaste during the parts of that film where Milton Friedman was talking. I repeat that I wasn’t suggesting that his case had any merit.

  38. but have you found ALP supporters you have observed to be, in the main, significantly less so? And if you have, have you found that there has been a significant change in that respect as ALP policies have altered?

    Yes (both in numbers and the magnitude of the departure from what one would take to be more or less “liberal and humanitarian” norms) and yes, the frequency with which ALP defend the substance of Coalition attitudes without embarrassment has increased, in my experience, especially since 2004. In relation to the IMA isue, “we’ve lost this one” or “should have done PNG earlier” is now commonly heard.

  39. Marvellous comment from Paul Norton again. Peter Kropotkin would have loved it.

    Two further things: Abbott botoxes intensely?

    And Murdoch is whizzing about the stratosphere like an airborn Randell McMurphy, in his citation jet, fantasising about Muslim attacks on ma 370.
    His nurse obviously missed his meds, or was it allergic discomfort from the petrol bath?

  40. @J-D

    Not a problem, and for what it’s worth, I agree that in practice it would be impossible to prove, since the criteria one would need to specify, being subjective or connected only arbitrarily with a broader notion of ethics would themselves neither admit quantification nor be capable of returning reliable and reproducible evaluations. I also can’t imagine how one would decide which data would suffice for the sample, or how one could collect it.

    Even a notionally far simpler task — examing texts for “partisanship” or “ideology” is probably beyond formal proof.

    That said, IMO, the aphorism that “all models are wrong, but some are useful” applies here. While I cannot claim with falsifiable rectitude that the LNP cohort is measurably less worthy than its ALP counterpart, treating that as a rule of thumb rarely recommends sub-optimal conduct.

  41. @Fran Barlow

    “all models are wrong, but some are useful”

    At a guess that sounds like something the intellectual fraudster Milton Friedman would say although Wikipedia fingers George E. P. Box. Fair enough it’s just an aphorisim and I get Box’s point. But in terms of the philosophy of science it’s not a useful statement at all. It conflates “wildly wrong”and “egregiously inaccurate” with “reasonable approximation” or even “close approximation”. Useful models differ from wrong models in at least one key respect. The useful models contain good approximations of empirical truth, at least within stated limiting conditions, and can be used to make dependable calculations and predictions.

  42. @Ikonoclast

    Well yes, but no.

    What it does is show that the mere fact that someone can say that a given model has some flaws doesn’t refute it. It’s anti-nihilist in its epistemic claims, raising the bar for refutation from frivolous doubt to serious doubt, and showing that models that may be good at predicting some things but not other things can still have value.

    So for example, the fact that a climate model can’t predict the weather on any given day is not a refutation of a climate model. That cloud feedbacks or regional impacts provide a more complex picture of likely climate effects in regions doesn’t refute the model either.

    In short, it doesn’t really blur the boundaries between impressionistic nonsense and robust science, but set the standard at epistemic utility — a scaleable and qualitative thing rather than a boolean perfect or not.

  43. @Fran Barlow

    I am sure we are on the same page on this. It’s just that I saw (on Youtube) an interview where Milton Friedman had mis-used this aphorism. In typical fashion, he used it to help him mangle logic and lie about models in economics. It gave me a prejudiced and jaundiced view of the aphorism, that’s all. Particularly as I thought he was the originator of it.

  44. @Ikonoclast
    Personally I’ve always thought of that aphorism as a useful corrective to the common tendency (which I suffer from myself) of treating scientific claims as being incontrovertible facts. However, from what you’ve said I can understand your dislike for it.

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