Vox pop journalism as a system of domination: Peter Dutton edition

One does not go about identifying the weaknesses of what another person says in order to prove that one is always right …. 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.

In the clip above Dutton shows every sign of trying to illuminate his own position for the audience. But the journalist has already decided that explanation or illumination isn’t the point. As I wrote in “Journalism as a system of domination” the first time I ever saw Yanis Varoufakis on Tele:

It’s Greece versus the Troika. Varoufakis verses Merkel. It’s ultimatums, struggle. Someone wins. Someone loses. It’s responsibility and fiscal conservatism versus naïve utopianism etc etc. Never imagine that some new kind of meaning might be forged in an exchange of views – the only task is that of fitting the interviewee – however reluctantly, however invidiously, into one of numerous pre-ordained pigeonholes.

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Should Liz Cheney be your hero?

Like me, Leslie Cannold is deeply grateful for Liz Chaney right now — you know, the way she’s speaking truth to fruitcakery.

Liz Cheney is my hero. On positions of policy, I disagree with her almost 100% of the time, but I see her as one of the first moral heroes of this millennia. A highly principled woman willing and able to set aside every one of her personal interests to do what’s right for her country.

She contrasts this with Democrat sympathisers who claim to see through Cheney’s apparently principled stand — those whose arguments amount to the assertion that “Cheney’s stance has nothing to do with principle, but rather vengeance (against Trump) served cold”.

However being asked to choose between light and dark seems a bit stark to me. Having observed politics from nearer and further for quite a few decades now, I’d never assume anyone had 100% pure motives. Ted Cruz stood up for principle — the principle of not lying every time you open your mouth in politics. Why? Because he was opposing Donald Trump who couldn’t open his mouth without lying. But Ted came to Jesus and it turned out he wasn’t a person of principle any more.

My operating assumption is that Liz Cheney has got herself into a situation in which Trump is an enemy and, having made her bed, she’s lying in it. That’s not me saying that all politicians are ‘cynical’. Rather the opposite. It’s saying that politics is a profession in which one is endlessly trading off ends and means, endlessly trying to promote one’s own career and do something worthwhile. And in that world, a great deal of the time the ends justify the means. And the art of politics is ultimately understanding where the ends don’t justify the means.

In all the democratic cultures I know, people tend to chat about politics as if it’s pretty clear who’s a goodie and who’s a baddie. They criticise those politicians they don’t like as if all politicians should be candid and strictly principled in all they say and do. Then of course when those on their own side do the same, they immediately make excuses — of course they have to cut corners given how ruthless their opponents are etc etc.

By this means almost everyone’s political chit-chat participates in a kind of moral panto. It’s one of the many ways in which political culture gets engulfed in wishful thinking. Indeed, as I’ve said before, I think we need a whole new ‘alt-political discourse’ to rise above the moral panto of wishful thinking into which the current political discourse has descended.

I don’t want to get too high on my horse about Cannold here as short pieces must compress what is said, but it really did stick in my craw to be told that her analysis was that of “an ethicist”. If that’s what ethicists have to tell us — that we have to choose between naivete and everyone’s-in-it-for-themselves-cynicism — then so much the worse for ethicism. I prefer ethics which is all about that land bounded by the two extremes of panto. It’s all about how we try to feel good about our own conduct in a murky world — a world in which vice always comes disguised as virtue.

Still, Liz Cheney got into politics to trade off ends and means and then got herself into the situation she’s in, and she’s digging in and fighting. She’s fighting for us all. That’s good enough for hero status for me.

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Elections are all about competition right? (They weren’t way back when)

As part of my recent fascination with competitive and ‘de-competitive’ merit selection, I’ve been looking at the origins of both parliamentary and presidential elections. Intriguingly though we now associate elections with competition between candidates, in both the British parliamentary system and the American presidency, elections were not competitive. Indeed, contemporaries regarded the idea of competition for such an office with alarm for its tendency to encourage ‘faction’.

But isn’t an ‘election’ competitive by definition? Isn’t that the meaning of the word? Well no! That’s what the word implies today, but its root in Latin simply means “to pick” or “to choose”. The word ‘elect’ retains this sense in Christian theology when speaking of ‘the elect’ — those chosen, not in competition with each other but by God. One can circle back from this reference to observe that the electorate is the sovereign body when it comes to its being represented, and in this sense an ‘election’ is the choosing by the sovereign body — if you’re dealing with God, I’m reliably informed that He’s sovereign and so he elects the elect. And if you’re dealing with the electorate, it chooses who is the elect.

Early seventeenth-century English parliamentary election.

In early modern England, political choice was subsumed within a wide system of social relations. Complex notions of honor, standing, and deference, shared but not always articulated, helped to regulate and absorb conflict between and within loosely defined status groups. The selection of members of Parliament, an intermittent event for county property holders and members of designated boroughs, was but one part of a continuing process of social distinction. Despite the uniqueness of Parliament in the political history of the nation, in the ongoing life of the communities that chose its members, parliamentary selection existed in a broader context. For peers of the realm, a summons to the House of Lords was a prescriptive right, another attribute of their nobility. For members of the small group of dominant gentry families within the county communities, it was both a responsibility of service and a privilege conferred on them by kin and neighbors. For rich merchants of large boroughs, it followed as part of the cursus honorum of civic office; while for gentlemen and lawyers, who obtained the majority of borough seats parceled out to patrons, it was an occasion to follow their own busi- nesses, advance their careers, or simply partake of the delights of the capital.

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Economic Ideas and Policy Outcomes: Ross Garnaut’s Gruen Lecture

Austro-Hungarian Economists

Below is Ross Garnaut’s lecture in honour of my Dad.

Economic Ideas and Policy Outcomes: Applications to Climate and Energy

Fred Gruen signed up as Professor of Economics in the ANU’s Research School of Social Sciences in 1972, at the same time that I joined the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies as a Research Fellow. Fred spent the next few years as a Consultant to Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. My work was initially based at the ANU’s New Guinea Research Unit in Port Moresby. Two years or so later, I was seconded from the ANU by Papua New Guinea’s first national Secretary for Treasury and Finance, Mekere Morauta, to help him build the economic policies and institutions for Independence.

From Port Moresby I kept close contact with the economists in the Institute at the ANU, presenting a number of seminars on issues I was thinking through in Port Moresby. I recall John Crawford chairing one public seminar adapting the Swan model of internal and external balance to an economy with a predominant subsistence or non-market sector, and another presenting Anthony Clunies Ross’ and my paper on the Resource Rent Tax. Fred was present and engaged on these occasions.

So was Ann Gruen. She had a strong interest in Papua New Guinea development. I learned much later that Fred’s first visit to Papua New Guinea provided his first scholarly contact with Austro-Hungarian economics and also with the top echelons of wartime (and subsequently postwar) Australian social democratic economic thought, while igniting a long, happy and fruitful marriage.

I’ll retell the New Guinea story because it is Fred’s first point of contact with the two intellectual traditions that I discuss in this lecture. Fred joined the Australian Army after his detention on the Hay Plains as a refugee from an enemy country. He was passing north through Brisbane and sought a copy of Frederick Hayek’s “Road to Serfdom”. The helpful librarian said that she did not have it; but her cousin was reading it and she would see what she could arrange. So Fred was introduced to Ann and Austro-Hungarian economics at the same time. Travelling on to Lae, now occupied by inactive Australian forces, Fred provided lectures to servicemen. Nugget Coombs, visiting as Secretary of the Department of Postwar Reconstruction was at the back of one. Continue reading

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An Alt-left?


What is it with James Burnham? I associate him — via Curtis Yarvin — with the alt-right. And Burnham is the founding text of what I call the Alt-centre (of which I am the founder and which I’m hoping to parlay into world domination if only I can get some time away from the keyboard). And here is Burnham and the Marxist left. Well, Burnham was a Marxist, but his big contribution was the two books he wrote as he emerged as Trotsky’s best American mate and headed rightwards —  The Managerial Revolution and The Machiavellians. And they’re the texts discussed in the video.

Anyway, I can recommend the first presentation. It addresses Burnham’s concerns well. The only telltale sign that it’s from the Marxist left is the occasional creepy reference to where Burnham fails to be ‘dialectical’ in his thinking. I recall the phrase from Czesław Miłosz’s descriptions of the Stalinist intelligentsia in The Captive Mind. I hadn’t realised before then the imperative that Marxist regimes felt to ensure that all serious thinking to be done by the intelligentsia be ‘dialectical’.

Apart from that, the talk seems very thoughtful and unflinching about the current state of the Marxian left (it’s in roughly the same state as the star of the parrot sketch). Following the links I discover The platypus Initiative no less — it’s a good name for putting reality ahead of thought (fancy that!) via this story.  And here’s its premise:

Platypus contends that the ruin of the Marxist Left as it stands today is of a tradition whose defeat was largely self-inflicted, hence at present the Marxist Left is historical, and in such a grave state of decomposition that it has become exceedingly difficult to draft coherently programmatic social-political demands. In the face of the catastrophic past and present, the first task for the reconstitution of a Marxian Left as an emancipatory force is to recognize the reasons for the historical failure of Marxism and to clarify the necessity of a Marxian Left for the present and future. — If the Left is to change the world, it must first transform itself!

The improbable — but not impossible — reconstitution of an emancipatory Left is an urgent task ….. To abdicate this or to obscure the gravity of past defeats and failures by looking to “resistance” from “outside” the dynamics of modern society is to affirm its present and guarantee its future destructive reality.

That seems an excellent platform for developing an alt-left, one not weighed down by historical commitments and the sentimentalism that has so marred the left and its politics in the past.


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Universal basic income: notes of an agnostic

I got this list from Google Images. It’s a good checklist though some may quibble with some of it.

Michael Haines, who has previously posted on Troppo, is campaigning for universal income funded from the adoption of sovereign money — which would yield a large amount of seigniorage like revenue to government. Geoff Croker is campaigning for something similar from the UK. I responded to this by email which I reproduce here.

As far as I understand it, you’re both arguing that you generate all this free money with sovereign money and then you spend it on UBI.  They’re two separate policies that need to stand or fall on their own merits. 

Thus for instance, I’m in favour of green taxes and wealth taxes and some move towards greater sovereign money (I don’t think I’m so clever that I know what would happen with full sovereign money so I’d like to take some substantial steps in that direction and then reassess). But the case for each is a product of their cost-effectiveness, distributional impacts considered in the context of the political economy of each measure. (If you’re not sure what I mean, the last two dot points of this post relate to political economy questions). 

The case for UBI likewise needs to be made on the merits. 

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Gruen: detox democracy through representation by random selection

I use Troppo to make various notes for file as it were for reference in future. And on wanting to record something I found that I hadn’t reproduced this post — which was originally at The Mandarin — here. So here it is, with some notes to file below.

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Posted in Cultural Critique, Democracy, Political theory, Politics - international, Politics - national, Sortition and citizens’ juries | 4 Comments