Gladys’ “unerring, Dunning-Kruger infused, self-belief and self-regard”

Here’s a (lightly edited) exchange between me and a friend who, I’m going to assume would prefer to remain nameless. If they want to change this, they will let me know and I will change it.

The exchange should be read downwards — with the first email you encounter below being the first email I received.

them@email.com

This is your regular update from clown world

me@email.com

Yeah

Hard an interesting exchange on Twitter with Stephen Mayne on the same subject

them@email.com

The question it raises: What does Gladys represent that the political class has intuited it needs to defend ?

me@email.com

niceness. [reflecting my own view that a kind of unflappable pleasantness is the most prized possession in Australian public life, considered to be far more important than domain knowledge, ability, charm. Unflappable niceness is a very secure route to steady promotion as a ‘good operator’ and blended with a little apparent savviness, let alone the capacity to be ‘strategic’ and pretty soon you’re on your way to an AC. By the same token the greatest liability is being particular about things. It just slows you down , makes you difficult to deal with, and on things that people just can’t fathom — and for what?]

them@email.com

More than that…

For some reason this venal, rudely partisan and somewhat incompetent person has been elevated as the standard bearer of the Australian political class (“the woman who saved Australia”, “Australia’s most powerful person” etc).

I think it’s because her key power was her unerring, Dunning-Kruger infused, self-belief and self-regard – she just kept going.

So I think the message she sent to the Australian political class was: “don’t dwell on the fact you do not measure up to the moment! Instead just treat the world as if it is no more complex than you can handle. Just keep going and you will not be judged. Our power may be fading, but I have shown you how a kind of political perpetual motion can defeat electoral gravity”.

Yet here she is felled by a reflex motion of our dying accountability culture.

And like the children they have become, the political class cannot integrate at an emotional level what it means to be subject to an adult system of accountability. Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Critique, Political theory, Politics - national | 10 Comments

Weapons: A guest post by John Burnheim

Australia is doing its bit to ensure that there will be a third world war and that it will be a nuclear war. The claim that the U-boats are merely nuclear propelled, not nuclear armed, is a gross deception. One of the key features of nuclear subs is that they can launch and control rockets capable of carrying nuclear bombs. In a war nobody is going to believe that those rockets will not be used to do what they were built to do.

The United States has always refused to claim that it won’t be the first to use nuclear bombs. If the US believes it can shoot down China’s rockets, it will be strongly tempted to strike first to assure the freedom of Taiwan. Is it credible that Australia is not going to do the bidding of the US in a war situation?

It is inconceivable that China and the US could invade the other or bring the other down by conventional warfare. The only effective tactics in their war will be to destroy the other’s communications, probably by nuclear means.

Posted in Politics - international | 6 Comments

Where are the Chinese reforms going?

Harmony' Poster by Christian Strang | Displate in 2021 | Chinese calligraphy, Harmony art, Chinese symbol tattoosLet us look at the extraordinary non-covid changes now happening in China. The country has been reforming rapidly the last 20 months and I want to muse about the trajectory these reforms are setting China upon. Many commentators see in them the start of another Cultural Revolution in China that will end up with millions dead and huge disruption. The upshot of my post is that I don’t see that happening quite yet, but I do see a further power-concentration that is not sustainable.

Let us first list the quite amazing non-covid policy changes that have happened the last 20 months, using no more than what is debated within the state news.

  1. School children are now given lessons in Xi Jinping thought. So the leader of the China, the first one since Mao that is leader-for-life, now has his ideas about the country codified in school curricula taught to the nation’s young children.
  2. There is a social points system in which those who engage in behaviour thought badly by the authorities (which includes saying the wrong things) are restricted in their movements and job opportunities, with even their children’s opportunities reduced. This is being enforced via the most advanced system of surveillance, AI, facial recognition, and data-bundling ever constructed. Big Brother has an office in Beijing.
  3. The government has cracked down on the emerging super-rich and the most powerful home-grown tech companies. This has included forcing top-executives to hand over billions in tax arrears, the break-up of some of the biggest companies, and the regulation of the entire tech sector, effectively making them subservient to the Chinese government. They reportedly locked up Jack Ma, who runs the huge Alibaba firm (rival to Amazon), for month and got him to neuter his own company and cough up billions.
  4. They have encouraged the emergence of unions within large companies that effectively bargain for more training, higher incomes, and more labour rights, particularly for the least well paid.
  5. They have put in a huge drive against the most visible forms of showing off wealth. This includes the tax-evasion of media celebrities, open speculation in the housing market, over-investment in private education for children, regulation against too-expensive medical equipment catering for the super-rich, regulation against over-medication, and a health investment drive towards diseases had by the poor.
  6. A drive towards a positive Chinese self-image wherein wealthy families donate to the poor. So a kind of early Victorian ‘noblesse oblige’ ethos for the rich to emulate. This has included a crackdown on ‘anti-Chinese identity politics’ and an ethos of ‘common prosperity’ wherein the rich get praised for their works for the poor.
  7. [I find this one the most interesting one] A move against the distraction-based business model of the internet, with a decree that children under 18 can only play online games for less than three hours a week.

These moves are truly extraordinary in how much they impinge on social and private life in China. They include directions I am very much in favour of, such as bringing Big Tech into line, celebrating a ‘noblesse oblige’ ethos among the rich, an empowered labour movement that champions the poorest, and moving against the excesses of internet distraction and of conspicuous consumption. Yet, it also includes methods that go towards a degree of top-down social control that asks the impossible of people (total monitoring of one’s every move) and hence will make the social system dysfunctional and pre-revolutionary. And there are signs that the youth is being indoctrinated towards a personality cult that involves a radical departure from the past 35 years, wherein China saw the celebration of individual economic success. Continue reading

Posted in Cultural Critique, Politics - international, Social Policy, Society | 12 Comments

Detox democracy through representation by random selection: Reprint

As Troppodillians may know, I occasionally use the comments section of Troppo to minute notes to myself — often references — to which I may wish to return some day. So I can use this thread in that way, I’m reproducing something I first published a while back on the Mandarin. It was an attempt to enumerate all the ways in which selection by lot could complement our ailing electoral system.  By all means ignore it if you’ve seen it, but if you haven’t, if you’ll pardon the fact that it’s quite long, I hope you find it of interest. Of course contemporary comments on it are also welcome. (Apologies that footnotes take you to actual footnotes, but on the Mandarin version of the essay if you click on them — or below if you want to just scroll down manually.)

Part one. Part two is here.

As Western democracy degrades before our eyes, (President Donald Trump wasn’t really imaginable even a few years or so ago and is still hard to fully comprehend) we need to remember the choices that were made as modern democracy was founded, at the time of the American and French Revolutions. Democracy was a dirty word!  Montesquieu’s Spirit of the Laws repeated Aristotle’s claim that “Voting by lot is in the nature of democracy; voting by choice is in the nature of aristocracy”.1

Continue reading

Posted in Democracy, Sortition and citizens’ juries | 11 Comments

The COVID-Induced Experiment on Interest Rates and House Prices: Is Cameron Murray As Right As You Can Be?

We’ve just had an economic experiment of epic proportions and there’s really only one conclusion: on house prices, Cameron Murray is as correct as anybody can be about a contested economic issue.

Cameron Murray is an all-round interesting thinker whose views at least on some topics you almost definitely will have some provocative issues with. One such claim, which he’s made in a variety of places, is that by far the biggest factor on house prices is interest rates. Of course, you have to discount massive government policy change or an economic depression producing widespread unemployment. But barring that, it’s interest rates all the way.

In this COVID period, we’ve had:

  • a massive narrative change (the story told ad nauseam during 2020 was that house prices would crash)
  • a massive government-backed building boom increasing supply
  • a massive drop in immigration, as well as depopulation in certain areas, reducing demand
  • a large drop in rents
  • great economic uncertainty with a concomitant rise in unemployment during 2020

And yet, the drop in interest rates swamped all those factors above to push house prices to further highs. Even credit flow dropped without much of an impact on the massive upswing in house prices.

Granted, people can argue with Murray’s position on the margin, but I put it to you that one of the silver linings of this whole COVID debacle is that we can put to rest one of the great Australian economic debates and definitively conclude: house prices are all about interest rates.

Posted in bubble, Economics and public policy | 15 Comments

Fatalism and counterfactuals in times of lockdowns

One of the more curious phenomena of the last 18 months has been the fatalism on display on both sides of the lockdown divide. In the anti-lockdown brigade fatalism props up in the guise of “this was the inevitable outcome of decades of planning”, a view of humanity  wherein only ‘evil’ has agency and the rest is a passive victim of fate, though usually the adherents of such a story line make an exception for themselves and everyone who follows them (because only they can stop evil). In the pro-lockdown camp, fatalistic thinking is of the form “it had to be this way and there was nothing we could have realistically done otherwise”, which sometimes is followed by its somewhat revealing corollary “and there is nothing I am going to do about it because it is all inevitable”.

In both versions of fatalism, there is a negation of human agency, either as individuals or as a collective. It is pre-enlightenment thinking. Let me here expand on the fatalism I see in the pro-lockdown camp because I regard it as a mental prison I hope some in the pro-lockdown camp can escape from once they recognise it.

That is not a counterfactual!

The fatalism I have often seen in this pandemic by those going along with the lockdowns is of the form ‘we had no choice’. There are many variants of the ‘we had no choice’ meme, including the kiddy version (‘the virus forced us’), the political version (‘the political reality was that we had to do this’), and the intellectual version (‘I have not heard a realistic counterfactual’).

To understand how these variants are but branches of the same fatalism, we need a reminder of what the whole notion of ‘choice’ actually is in scientific, legal, and democratic thought. To understand fatalism we need to ask the perhaps strange question of whether choice really exists or is but a convenient invention. Continue reading

Posted in Coronavirus crisis, Cultural Critique, Dance, Death and taxes, Life, Philosophy | 16 Comments

On Faust, Lord of the Rings, and lockdowns

A major theme in our book “the Great Covid Panic” (now also on Kindle!) is how a whole layer of politicians, medical advisers, and opportunistic business people grabbed the opportunity for more power and money during the lockdowns of 2020-2021. We detail how they did it and what the effects were on their society. The tilt towards authoritarianism happened nearly all over the world to varying degrees, but nowhere more obviously than in Australia. Just last week, for instance, parliament passed a bill allowing the police to access and change any online communication (email, facebook, Troppo) that Australians engage in. That bill is symptomatic of a grab for power under the cloak of fear, which of course will mean a transfer of resources from poor to powerful. In Victoria one can think of Brett Sutton as an exemplar of someone seduced by power, whilst people like Fauci and Witty come to mind in the US and the UK, both sitting on top of rapidly expanding empires like the CDC in the US that even tried to grab power over housing (curtailed by the Supreme Court).

In this post I want to talk about something not in the book: the tragedy of these power-grabbers themselves. What do our greatest pieces of art say about what is in stall for those seduced by power? The Tragedy of Faust of course is exactly on the topic of how seductive power is and what it costs those who succumb to it. The Game of Thrones story-arc of Daenerys was also on that theme of how someone good became someone bad as fame went to her head.

Continue reading

Posted in Coronavirus crisis, Dance, Death and taxes, Health, History, Life, Philosophy, Social | 4 Comments