31 July 2015

Bored with bullying

I've had a bee in my bonnet for some time over intellectual honesty, especially in the context of climate change. I can imagine no way anyone could deny climate change if they opened their minds to the messages of science and alternatively the sources of the denial messages. People may not spend the time to investigate, but citizens should, for this most important of topics, and pollies are obliged to. So bullsh like Maurice Newman's comments on the science even to the conspiratorial "new world order under the control of the UN" really require intellectual honesty on his part. In this context, I attended a talk by our local Labor member, Gai Brodtmann, for the Australia Institute and Politics in the Pub, where she spoke of Uncivil discourse. It's related. All this bluster and emotions is a denial of the chance of testing your own ideas and ultimately improving them. It's a responsibility for rational people, but what's the status in politics today? Sadly, missing in (political) action. Gai described an early doorstop that went poorly leading to shock jocks, talkbackers and tweeters having a field day of malevolence, sexism and loathing. We saw it with Ditch the Bitch and the chaff bag and Ju-liar and the rest. We see some degree in both parties, perhaps, but the current government and supporters have made a profession of it. She talked of the Dark Period (so called in the Press Gallery, it seems) of slogans and bile and the resultant Mysogyny speech; of "filthy prejudices given permission"; of politicians setting possibilities/tone; of the rise of fear from outsiders (terrorism, refugees), and through insiders from the 2014 budget. Little has changed since those dark ages. She mentioned recent Lowey polls (recently in the papers) about societal perceptions of democracy: worryingly only 49% of youth saw democracy as best and 26% thought our style of government was of no matter. And another survey about women and their desire for a political career. And a mention of a recent meeting with constituents in Kingston (Megan and I were at this one) where attendees were "fed up" with the political discourse, and this theme as common in various other encounters. Australians are increasingly disengaged and disenfranchised despite the Net which should promote connectedness. Gai argued we are all responsible to display respect and rationality; that the gene pool of Parliament must be broadened (I had heard of Fed Labor's vote for 50% women by 2025 but not of 5% Indigenous by then) and this should include older people; that the combative culture of Parliament must change. She spoke of friends who vote Lib and how they can discuss and agree to disagree because (I found this interesting) politics is a battle of ideas and people will have different ideas. In this context, she expects to talk with Sharman Stone about her recent comments on Parliamentary culture. She noted that she hasn't been ejected from Parliament despite some Labor prompting. (Bronwyn Bishop is a political infighter and this is totally inappropriate in the role of Speaker but it seems Labor is also doing some goading to achieve that ~400/8 of Parliamentary ejections). She argued for a more family-friendly Parliament; for a more restrained media (she respects the work of the Press Gallery who she considers go about their tasks professionally, but is concerned with the shock jocks and commentators and dabblers); for a more considered social media conversation. She quoted Viktor Frankl ("Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way ") and the dictionary definition of civil (polite, obliging, not rude, relating to citizens). There were questions about the partisanship of Bronwyn Bishop as Speaker; about the current commotion over the Upper House in UK (Gai argued that the individual must have a "strong moral compass"); a question on the TPP was rejected as out of field; of Question time (Gai was concerned with QT but more broadly argued that the role of a politician is "wonderful ... nothing better" and approximately quoted Gough Whitlam as saying it's the only way to shape and influence public policy). Other questions covered sacrificing self to work within a party; the effectiveness of uncivil actions (sadly, they often work); the press, esp. Murdoch; Australia as a culture of media lemmings (Gai denied this); abuse of women in politics; the quality of question times outside Australia (comparisons were not too well known, although Australia's are recognised as "brutal"); bipartisanship and the conflict of ideas; later-life political careers; what is means to be a citizen and group think and social media; politics as bloodsport and who drives the crowd, crossing over to Adam Goodes. We had to leave then, so missed just a few questions and the wrap-up. Gai's presentation was surprisingly well prepared and it's an obvious concern of hers (she's not alone) and her response to the problem of uncivility is a satisfyingly ethical civility. Let's hope it works. I hope it can't get worse. But then, the future is harder to predict than the past, and we've seen some very nasty oputcomes from uncivility in history.

Gai Brodtmann spoke on Uncivil discourse for the Australia Institute at Politics in the Pub.

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