Making an idiot of himself

Robert Corr blogs a post about yesterday’s demo near federal Immigration Minister Phillip Ruddock’s house. Rob effectively unpicks (I won’t say “unpacks” because of its pomo denotations) the somewhat hysterical media coverage of the event, uncovering the usual mix of exaggeration and emotive prejudicial characterisation.

Sadly, Rob brings his good work undone by including what I regard as an irresponsible and immature incitement to the Indymedia types to demonstrate outside Alexander Downer’s house. He even lists Alexander’s home address.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m a strong supporter of the right to protest; it’s rightly constitutionally protected anyway. However, such rights may often conflict with other civil rights. The Indymedia mob’s right to exercise their free speech by demonstrating may infringe the right to privacy of Ruddock’s family (remembering that his daughter at least avowedly doesn’t support his policies) or the neighbours in his street. Whose “right” should take precedence? Is it really necessary to demonstrate outside someone’s private house? Couldn’t the point be made equally effectively by demonstrating in some more public CBD space where private homes and families wouldn’t be disrupted?

“Rights” are purely social constructs; there’s no such thing as a “natural” right, even if you can demonstrate by a thought game (like John Rawls’ “veil of ignorance”, for example) that some rights have a clear utilitarian value. In the long term, a civil right will only continue to exist and be honoured by any given society if most of the people exercising that right do so in a vaguely responsible manner that recognises that others have civil rights too.

Indymedia types making a nuisance of themselves unnecessarily in quiet suburban streets on a Sunday doesn’t strike me as even vaguely responsible, nor does Rob Corr’s incitement to do likewise to Downer. This sort of stupidity simply undermines the public consensus supporting the right to demonstrate, and provides grist to the mill of Alan Jones and demagogues of his ilk.

On the other hand, the reason why Indymedia et al dream up stunts of this sort is that widespread media coverage is only generated these days by doing something new, different and somewhat outrageous. It’s the reason why Greenpeace pulls increasingly risky stunts like chaining demonstrators to the bow of a warship in motion. Anything less radical is ignored by the media, and consequently the desired political message doesn’t get conveyed. In that sense, “pushing the envelope” might be seen as integral to effective political communication. It’s not necessarily a straightforward issue, but even if you allow the legitimacy of some such tactics Rob’s gratuitous smartarse Alexander Downer remark is still a pointless squandering of political capital and democratic legitimacy.

About Ken Parish

Ken Parish is a legal academic, with research areas in public law (constitutional and administrative law), civil procedure and teaching & learning theory and practice. He has been a legal academic for almost 20 years. Before that he ran a legal practice in Darwin for 15 years and was a Member of the NT Legislative Assembly for almost 4 years in the early 1990s.
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mark
2022 years ago

Well said…

James
James
2022 years ago

“…widespread media coverage is only generated these days by doing something new, different and somewhat outrageous.”

Like wimmin taking off their clothes, a protest tactic which I enthusiastically support!

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

It depends on the wimmin, James. If Margo Kingston was involved in a nude demo I think I’d regard that as a serious breach of my fundamental civil right not to be made violently nauseous in public. Of course, it’s terribly sexist, but I’ve given up aspiring to PC perfection.

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

Funny that you should mention Alexander Downer’s home address, Ken. I had read (skim-read, actually, as is generally my want) Rob’s post earlier today, without noticing that part of it.

In case you didn’t notice yourself, Rob has simply cut’n’pasted Downer’s address from the Indymedia page he links to. If this is a case of “incitement”, then you seem guilty of rewriting the laws of cyberspace.

Merely providing a link/URL doesn’t make one liable for the content, and, while Rob has gone further than this by linking AND “republishing” (continuing the defamation law analogy) Downer’s address, my strong feeling is that the Venn combination of (i) Rob’s readership, who (ii) wouldn’t click through on the Indymedia links, but who (iii) will be racing to the Adelaide Hills right now to set up a picket outside Chez Downer, would be tiny.

In contrast, Ken, the rather more prominent way in which you drew attention to Downer’s home address, combined with the more A/B demographics of your readership (I’m assuming), seems to me to be a rather more assured way of taking the issue, and therefore the address, “wide”, even without your directly republishing it.

Case in point – moi.

immature incitement to the Indymedia types to demonstrate outside Alexander Downer’s house. He even lists Alexander’s home address.

Continue reading “Making an idiot of himself”

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Paul,

I’m sure even you recognise this as a silly argument.

Paul Watson
2022 years ago

Ken,

I just read my post, as published, and realised that there were a couple of redundant lines (pasted in from you main post) at the end (the lines after “moi”).

Otherwise, I’m not sure what you find so silly about my argument. Even you.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Paul,

Your argument would mean (for example) that one couldn’t write about (say) Hitler’s Mein Kampf, for whatever purpose and in however condemnatory a tone, without being oneself condemned for inciting Nazism, because some impressionable person might be directed to it by reading your condemnation and as a result be seduced into Nazism. That’s why it’s a silly argument. There is a rather basic qualitative difference between an article that positively urges people to demonstrate outside a politician’s house (and gives the address), and one which condemns both that article and the practice it advocates.

However, I withdraw the words “even you”. They were gratuitous and unnecessary.

Dan
Dan
2022 years ago

Didn’t Ruddock’s daughter move overseas to get away? Not that it’s relevant, just wondering if I dreamed it.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
2022 years ago

She did. And The Ruddocks weren’t at home – as was announced well beforehand – on the day in question. The demo was effectively – or even ineffectively – a McLuhanesque self-promotional moment. Jacques Derrida could probably explain it perfectly but fortunately he doesn’t comment on ‘Dillo d’Amour.

mark
2022 years ago

Gratuitous *and* unnecessary? What a combination! ;-)

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Yes OK smarty, it probably is marginally tautological, but it had a certain ring.

mark
2022 years ago

It did, didn’t it?

(Have you checked your email yet?)

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Mark,

Yes, I’ve checked my email and I’m not sure what you’re getting at. Did you send me something about the comment box sizing issue? If so, it didn’t arrive. Maybe you could re-send it.

mark
2022 years ago

I did indeed (looking at your address, I see I sent it to a Bigpond addy instead of a Telstra Broadband one, which your address seems to be). I didn’t get a bounce message, so I must’ve sent it off to some nonplussed kparish who is no doubt about to embark on a career as a Web developer (makes you proud, eh?).

Whoops. I’ll re-send.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Thanks Mark. I’ll put up a short post to draw readers’ attention to the innovation.

Robert
2022 years ago

Hmph. A good post, but I think the headline’s a bit unfair.

trackback
2022 years ago

My bad…

Ken Parish rightly criticises me for bringing my “good work undone by including what I regard as an irresponsible and…