The Controversy Game

Why is Christopher Pearson promoting a book by a Derrida scholar and an academic who writes about Indigenous issues? Well… because it includes an entire chapter on him.

Niall Lucy and Steve Mickler’s new book, The War on Democracy Conservative Opinion in the Australian Press, includes chapters on Luke Slattery, Miranda Devine, Gerard Henderson, Janet Albrechtsen, Andrew Bolt, Michael Duffy, and Christopher Pearson. Here’s how they baited the hook for Pearson:

Christopher Pearson is … different. How many middle-aged, gay Catholic journalists, after all, especially ones who devote a weekly press column to espousing the virtues of conservative values and hard-line Vatican morality, can there possibly be? …Pearson shows that he is nothing more than Howard’s political gimp.

We all knew that Pearson was gay, but who ever suspected he was Catholic? If the excerpts of the book (pdf) are anything to go by, The War on Democracy is light on new information and heavy on witty name calling and moral outrage — a bit like a conservative opinion column.

So far the strategy seems to be working. How many of the other 6 will join the book’s promotion team?

Update: Andrew Norton has posted a short review of The War on Democracy. Some commenters have taken this as an invitation to discuss Latvian history.

At LP Mark Bahnisch floats the controversial idea that critics of ‘the left’ ought to follow Andrew’s lead and read a work before they evaluate it. Commenters attempt to answer Mark’s question: "Are there actually seven prominent left columnists writing for the mainstream media in Australia?"

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16 Responses to The Controversy Game

  1. Jason Soon says:

    It is a detestable piece of work judging from Pearson’s review. The Masters-Marr pseudo-Freudian ‘expose’ of Alan Jones, the outing of Ken Mehlman and now this shows how much some on the Left pay nothing but lip service to gay rights. It needs to burnt into collective memory that this is what happens when members of the Rainbow Coalition deign to abscond from the leftist reservation. They are hunted down and lynched. They treat ‘ethnic’ and black right-wingers the same way.

  2. I’ve read most of it – a not-very-good polemic, as you’d expect. I’ll blog on in later.

  3. whyisitso says:

    The phenomenon of gays as property, something many people have observed, is so accurately referred to by Pearson:

    "The Maoists and Trotskyites who'd so effectively colonised gay lib and, like the Left to this day, regard gays as a wholly owned, natural constituency..."

    Isn’t it about time the left gave gays the right to merge into the general, diverse community? Why do they continue to discriminate, even interfere, on gays.

  4. Rafe Champion says:

    Gone are the days
    When we were young and gay.

  5. Rafe Champion says:

    Gone is my memory as well.

    http://www.ingeb.org/songs/gonearet.html

    Maybe I was thinking of “40 Years on…” The Harrow Song

    http://www.harrowschool.org.uk/html/overview/tradition/song/

  6. Rob says:

    All credit to Christopher for remaining so amiable. An odd enterprise, but I look forward to reading it. Can one imagine the right writing such a book against the spokespersons of the left (it would be a lot longer).

    I’ve long been intrigued by the fact that many of the left simply cannot comprehend that there are those in the world who do not agree with them. And for revisionists they hold a particular animus. Why on earth did you decamp, they wonder aloud? After all, you were at the top the mountain, drinking from the well of enlightenment. How could you have turned your back and walked back down into the swamp? You must be sick, sick, sick.

    Twits.

  7. The book doesn’t sound flash at all, judging from what Pearson wrote, but I always think it’s a good idea to read something before you have a go at it.

    Speaking as someone who’s on the left and can easily comprehend that there are those in the world who don’t agree with me, I’m intrigued by Rob’s comment:

    Can one imagine the right writing such a book against the spokespersons of the left (it would be a lot longer).

    Would it? Might it not force “the right” to write a book that actually cites individuals’ writing rather than making sweeping generalisations like “the left thinks”, “the left says”?

    The giveaway is Rob’s attribution of putative authorship to “the right”. Who is that exactly?

    Who would you include, Rob? Who are the left wing public figures comparable to the columnists under attack in this book?

  8. Rob says:

    My reply to Mark is at his blog.

    But on the broader point — and maybe it’s because I haven’t encountered any — I can’t see the right, however we might define it, engaging in the kind of collective ganging up against aberrant opinion as we saw in Jenna Mead’s bodyjamming or Robert Manne’s Whitewash (or, in the case of individual anti-aberrants, Mark Davis’ Gangland or Cassandra Pybus’ The Devil and James McAuley).

  9. Rob says:

    There is, I think, a bit of intellectual confusion in Mark’s riposte (he is self-admittedly of the left, yet at LP he speaks of ‘a (non) debate between imaginary ideological formations’). However, a point interesting to address is ‘What is the right?’ I confess I have no idea, but I guess we get to be comfortable enough with the labels our adversaries put on us. Kim has attacked me in the past for posting about myself, yet sometimes it seems the most reliable referential when wrestling with these things. As a RWDB I should admire Andrew Bolt, yet I don’t; support the invasion of Iraq, but don’t; support unrestricted free market economics, but don’t. Oppose Aboriginal land rights, but don’t (and don’t support the Coombsian anti-solutions, either).

    Why is support for Israel a left-or-right issue? Why is Iraq? Why is childcare? Abortion? Welfare? Torture? Climate change? The list is endless. All of these things are subject to moral and/or empirical tests: why do we regard them as responding only to ideological imperatives? Perhaps it’s just the habit of generations that compels us to see them so, for we have few if any intellectual alternatives.

  10. david tiley says:

    You wouldn’t.. um .. notice certain commentators attached to a particular newspaper tending to articulate a common position about the ABC? About education, or the history wars, or on global warming?

    Do you think these stalwart individualists all sit alone in their garrets, writing for the nation’s good?

  11. Ophelia says:

    In reference to the above posts:
    “It is a detestable piece of work judging from Pearson’s review. The Masters-Marr pseudo-Freudian ‘expose’ of Alan Jones, the outing of Ken Mehlman and now this shows how much some on the Left pay nothing but lip service to gay rights. It needs to burnt into collective memory that this is what happens when members of the Rainbow Coalition deign to abscond from the leftist reservation. They are hunted down and lynched. They treat ‘ethnic’ and black right-wingers the same way.”

    And:
    “The phenomenon of gays as property, something many people have observed, is so accurately referred to by Pearson:

    “The Maoists and Trotskyites who’d so effectively colonised gay lib and, like the Left to this day, regard gays as a wholly owned, natural constituency…”

    Isn’t it about time the left gave gays the right to merge into the general, diverse community? Why do they continue to discriminate, even interfere, on gays.”

    As someone who has read the book, can I say that Pearson has deliberately promoted a misreading of the book in regards to the issues of gay rights. He has probably done this as a way of discouraging the Left to buy it (he also deliberately refers to it as an academic text book, which it is not, for the same reason). The authors do not attack Pearson because of his homosexuality. They attack him for his conservatism, and especially for his refusal to acknowledge that his ability to be a gay man in this country, and in this day, is not the result of conservatism but of the social forces of liberalism and the ongoing project of democracy. This makes him a hypocrite. As they point out, Pearson attacked Aust Democrats candidate Jess Healy for, amongst other things, being a lesbian (even though she is actually bisexual), but he seems to have forgotten to mention that in his column. I would recommending taking the time to read the book before you take Pearson’s word for it.

  12. I’ve bought the book, and read it, since this thread originated. I’d agree witb a lot of what Ophelia says – Pearson (probably unsurprisingly) didn’t address the points made that told most against him.

    It’s a polemic – but deliberately so – aren’t all the targets of the book polemicists above all else?

    While I disagree with the way the book theoretically frames debates on democracy, some very important points are made about the total lack of responsibility to the truth and a reasonable debate with one’s opponents. The attack on Henderson is weak, but the attack on Albrechtsen, Devine and Bolt in particular is telling.

    Anyone who just argues that it’s “predictable” should read the book where their columns are examined chapter and verse.

    It’s typically pathetic of right wing commenters that they would reflexively take Pearson’s word for what it’s about.

    One message the book sends – which stays with you – is how all these pundits narrow and marginalise any opposition to their line as “leftist”.

    See particularly the discussion of how Henderson portrays Margeret Pomerantz and David Stratton as “radical lefties”.

    It’s a very good wake up call – the main point of the book is that the media voices out of step with some absurd conformist line that all these columnists try to claim is “common sense” and to oppose is to be a Stalinist – are very mild liberal expressions of opinion.

    The book deserves a response to the points it makes – many of which are arguable and contestible – not just a moronic dismissal of it as “left wing” or “postmodernist”.

    It was a great read for me in that it crystallised what all these pundits have iin common. And it did so by citing, and refuting them, chapter and verse.

  13. Ophelia says:

    Well said, Mark. I think someone over at LP has noted that it offers close readings of these columns and I think that’s what makes it a good book as there really hasn’t been a lot of that done before. These people have massive power in terms of dominating the public sphere and promoting (or not) particular ideas, and they are never held to account for outside of the odd blog site.

    For me the most telling part of Pearson’s response is that despite recognising that Mickler & Lucy are being critical of the fact that Pearson has never written anything condemning the Catholic church in regards to its embedded paedophilia, he still does not come out and say in his response ‘well, of course I don’t condone it!’ – even though that would be the most damning way of silencing their argument. He dances around the issue, trying to say that child abuse is more prevalent amongst male relatives (which no one is denying) which somehow makes the church’s sins comparatively less important, and implying that it’s a tired issue that the Left like to run with – “Molestation is a terrible betrayal of trust… whoever perpetrates it. The question is: how often would one have to say so before this local chapter of the Committee of Public Safety were satisfied?” He tries to collapse the church’s wide-spread, institutional child sex abuse and *systematic cover up* into the order of abuse committed by ordinary people without power – of course anyone that perpetuates these crimes should be condemned, but there is a marked difference here which he is not only ignoring, but still not being critical of. Why?

  14. Thx Ophelia and Mark,

    A close reading is what it’s all about. Robert Manne does a good job of this. Gerard Henderson also does it quite well on occasion. Much more telling than slagging off.

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