An essay prompted by a friend recommending James’ essay I think largely for its defence of Menzies as worthy of more respect he’s been given by the left – which is a fair point. Cross posted from The Mandarin, which, to my surprise was interested in picking it up.
In my view … the intellectual life of Australia since the Whitlam years has been increasingly weakened by the reluctance of almost the entire educated population to deal with past events whose implications might undermine their heartfelt views.
[O]ne does not go about identifying the weaknesses of what another person says in order to prove that one is always right, but one seeks instead as far as possible to strengthen the other’s viewpoint so that what the other person has to say becomes illuminating. Such an attitude seems essential to me for any understanding at all to come about. This is nothing more than an observation. It has nothing to do with an ‘appeal’ and nothing at all to do with ethics. Even immoral beings try to understand one another.
Hans Georg Gadamer
One of my earliest posts on this august blog was a description of my political credo as a conservative liberal social democrat. In any event, when I wrote those words, I was thinking of a political position as a combination of asserted propositions. But I’ve increasingly come to understand the power of the negative. The way I see the world, the three fine political traditions I outlined also exist in crude, dumbed down forms in which left-wing thinking is driven by moralistic sentimentalism and right-wing thinking represents nothing more than the indifference of the privileged against the disadvantaged. Now in principle, you might have a highly sophisticated appreciation of your own position as embodying the finer points of life, but when you’re doing battle with those of different sympathies, it’s always tempting to take the short-cut and do battle with them by just quoting their shadow dumbed-down selves. These are the weapons of choice where ignorant armies clash by night.
If that is a central problem of our time – and I think it is – then political debate needs to pay heed to it in some way. If it doesn’t you’re not really turning up. Of course, if you’re a political operative you can just dip into your side’s demonisation of your opponents and go for your life. After all, university tests have proved these techniques to work, and politics is, in any event, an endless negotiation between ends and means. More pressingly your opponents are going after you using the same methods, so it’s fair enough. This turns me off almost all party political discussion because it’s so drenched in inauthenticity. If I know each contributor to the debate would reverse their position if circumstances were a little different (if they were in Government rather than Opposition for instance or vice versa), I could program a robot or a journalist on auto-pilot to generate the debate.
What we have is a ritual of sense-making without any sense actually being made or even intended to be made. Here we have a simulacrum of an argument in which the disputants disagree but they don’t disagree about anything other than the spin they will arbitrarily impose on the facts – according to the side of the debate their side is committed to at the time. However much respect I have for the individuals involved in party political combat, and without any disapproval towards them for playing by what has become the rules, it’s simply a waste of time. I try to apply what I call my ‘Mandy Rice Davies veto’ to choosing how to direct my attention and I long for the day that newsrooms applied it: If your reaction is “they would say that, wouldn’t they?” it’s clearly not news so why waste your time reading or reporting it. Pope decides not to become a Protestant. Dog eats dogfood – SHOCK. Continue reading