Friday, June 19, 2015

Battling Moral, ethical constructs

The moral/ethical argument is frequently used in social and political debates. I would posit that those words
lack any universal meaning, rather simply being lazy emotive justification, falsely negating need for more substantial reasoning.

The rise of failed seminarian, Tone Abbott, to Prime Minister of Australia bout the ‘morality’ augment firmly into Australia’s political discourse, though like other countries it has long been present.  The frequency the concept is used by or against Abbott, in national debate, makes it an ideal candidate for a drinking game, but does it really explain anything?

Moral and ethical are, to a great degree, interchangeable words, the former preferred by the religiously inclined the latter by the academic mind. But both words represent constructs of good and bad in the mind of the user and indeed the minds of the receiver. If I have definitions of morals, and being ad hoc constructs I use the plural, they would not always accord with your definitions.

That is right, ad hoc and worse, inconsistent. Look at the evidence: Te pro-life movement holds that abortion is immoral, yet they argue that welfare to help feed children or the death penalty are morally justified. That is, it’s fine to kill people, just not foetuses.  The aforementioned Abbott holds it is morally reprehensible to allow people smugglers to put people’s lives at risk, but wholly acceptable to pay money to those same people to take the leaky boats back out to sea.

Is there an alternative to moral/ethical imperatives?

Of course, but like life doing things the right way is not likely to be the easy way. To have a consistent system to moderate social/political decision making would mean being willing to the slew of prejudices we have been fed from birth and replace them with facts, evidence based facts.

There is a truism, an erroneous one as it happens; ‘ignorance is no excuse under law’. The law is a poor analogy, as it has developed beyond the ability of ‘everyman’ to comprehend, which is a consequence of the faulty morality dynamic. Ignorance can be countered, to a great extent, by having an ‘evidence base’ as a consistent platform for all our thinking and behaviours.

Of course we, as individuals don’t need any more ‘in depth’ knowledge of fact than we currently do of the mass of moral imperatives. The fundamental facts on any issue can be, and often are, readily available for those who seek out the evidence. True they often conflict with entrenched belief, but the beauty, the evidence of their value is consistency.

There is another problem facts present to a humanity often scare of ambiguity; fact can change as we learn more. Yet the fact is, life is ambiguous. We need to teach and learn that there can be a real joy in finding our firmly held views were wrong, and in changing them. It just comes down to breaking the lifelong habits of some seven billion humans.

Monday, December 01, 2014


Abbott government ministers are fond of fielding difficult challenges with “I do not accept the premise of your
question”. To be fair, I expect they honestly do not accept the premise, it does not fit their world view.

In the same way, the Australian people and a majority in the Senate do not accept the premise on which the based. Don’t get me wrong, Aussies are no more informed on the mechanisms of economics than any other country. But they can differentiate shit from clay, without understanding why they can smell the shit.

The premise put to the people, by the Abbott government was that the economy was in crisis, that every Australian now had to do the ‘heavy lifting’ to resolve the crisis. Against that dire backdrop we were simultaneously seeing:
Individuals, like Gina Rinehart, our richest ‘mining magnate’; a fortune created off holding licences to control resources which belong to all Australians, and contribute a miniscule percentage back into the country’s economy. On top of that, Gina, looking just like an overfed sow protecting an overflowing trough urging us to be realistic, to settle for a much as $2 an hour for our labours. That jars!

We watch big corporations and their benefactors pocket massive profits, but use every available mechanism to avoid their tax liability, among other liabilities to the economy. While our banks continue to post record profits, one quarter after the next, the rest of us face a struggle to feed and house ourselves; ordinary people constantly feeling the economic disparity.

In virtually the same breath confirming a economic crisis the Abbott government handed over nearly $1billion, following a bungled Tax Office challenge, just the most obvious payment to Abbott Patron Rupert Murdoch and News Limited. Favours need to be repaid, but ordinary Aussies are hardly in the position to deliver favours on such a grand scale.

No doubt Abbott, Hockey et al seriously believe in their chosen ‘economic’ model, comfortable in casting the bulk of the population as little more than servants to a wealth, shady and seeming disreputable business elite. Even the opposition appear to be in the thrall of this inequitable premise. But for the most part, we the people simply reject the premise of current budget demands.

The average Joe might not fully understand the ramifications of education funding cuts, or massive increases in university fees; or the assault on the ABC resonates deeply, even though many Aussies rarely access the broadcaster. It remains a valued icon. They have little doubt about the attacks on our ‘free health’ system, and the imposition of a ‘GP co-payment’.

There is no acceptance of the free argument of health, a tax levy was imposed and accepted from the outset of the scheme. We know the system works well, and should not be touched unnecessarily. It is also easy to see the argument of paying for health into the future is hollow, given that none of the impost will go back into health infrastructure. The bulk of it is targeted to ‘medical research’ a move which terrifies the country’s research bodies. For a sector which relies primarily on benefactors, with the fear of a special fund killing off the enthusiasm of public benefactors.

Then we have our economic gurus, again lining up to support the business elite in their forecasts and advisories. While we tend to accept the advice of ‘experts, when that advice is also based on a false premise it to should be soundly rejected. When the economic experts face up to the need, in a modern economy, of equity for all, then and only then ewe should listen to them. Sirs, we reject the premise on which the economy is framed. (

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Warped Voting systems

One vote one value, that should be the primary aim of our voting systems.
I love voting systems, especially the systems designed to reflect real voter preference; like the majority of the wide variety of Australian models across the federal and state administrations. We have straight single member preferential voting and variations of multi-member proportional representation.

On the face of it, they all provide the real choice of the voters to one extent or another, or would if they weren’t tinkered with constantly in attempts to favour the major parties.  Each time they try to control outcomes the systems simply become more warped.

Look at the sample ballot (below) for the Victorian Legislative Council (Upper House). Because of the generally large number of candidates vying to fill these multi-member electorates Victorian politician have actually managed to provide three different methods of voting, most devaluing the intention of the base method:

·         Number all the boxes, (exhaustive preferential) in the example that is 1 to 38 in your order of preference. This is the most pure method, as long as the voter can garner enough information of the large number of candidate to make an informed choice.
·         Just vote one box above the line. Dinky this one, so simple to allow your vote to be skewed in ways you never intended. The parties and candidate make all your choices for you, to suit their own agendas.
·         Limited preferential, number a minimum of five of the boxes; meaning preferences are exhausted at the number the voter chooses to stop at after their mandatory five. It also stops preferences accidentally leaking to candidates the voter doesn’t want to support.

Personally I see the Victorian system as a unrepresentative pig’s breakfast. Far fairer would be to dump the ‘above the line’ and impose a minimum (in these 5 member electorates) of numbering ten boxes. Surely finding information on ten preferred candidates is not too onerous and ensures a reasonable preferences option before the vote is exhausted. But then the simpler system doesn’t benefit the big parties so we can forget that one.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Our Intellectually Challenged Leaders

“My government will behave as grownups!” declares the likely new premier of Victoria, after next month’s election. Polls have the Napthine (Liberal/National) government being annihilated after just one term. The same claim was made by Tony Abbott in the lead up to the last federal election. The political flavour might seem different but the claim the same.

 I personally find this trend unsettling; we are after all choosing people to run the complex machinery of modern government, not the school captain or president of the student representative body. Forgive me, but it seems the mere fact these political leaders are moved to assert their ‘grownup’ status leads one to have serious doubts.

So we need to ask the question, why are our (Australian) current crop of political leaders so doubtful of their intellectual maturity? The one constant I can find is ‘religious education’. Inverted commas because it is more probably training or indoctrination, as opposed to broad education; and the religious is a side issue in the process. It seems leadership and compliance to direction are the primary goals of training.

In the words of the legendary Professor Julius Sumner Miller, WHY IS IT SO? I posit two distinct, underlying motivations of ‘religious education’. The first is that religion, based as it is on faith and belief, abhors the teaching of knowledge. The second is even more powerful and compelling, the support and defense of capital.

To the latter issue, it should be recognised that the church (the roman church in particular) is possibly the wealthiest and doubtless the longest running corporation in history. Religion per se is at best a control tool, capital s the motivation. Certainly from the Medici period, but more likely as early as Constantine, the church has been an economic force, with much wealth to protect.

On the issue of knowledge we are already seeing the worst fears of religion being realised. As secular education increasingly produces people who are able to think, able to question and seek sustainable answers, religious power is waning. So our current crop of ‘Jesuit trained’ leaders are in fact intellectually immature. Conversely, the intellectually mature are open to attack, purely because they are aware of doubt, the need to question and accept error and consequent change.

I suspect many who might make the very best leaders are repelled by their own constant self-questioning. Yet we need leaders who doubt, who seek truths and better ways. Perhaps the current, grand battle, between capital and the rest, will spawn a new crop of real leaders with demonstrable intellectual maturity. Meanwhile, I feel extremely disenfranchised as the Jesuit  leaders hold the advantage or rigged electoral systems which lock out real challenge.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Giving Meaning to Grief

Whenever I have a fit of grief I like to try and understand just what it is I’m mourning. I have not always been an admirer of Gough Whitlam, in fact I grew up in a household where Gough was seen as an ogre. My father detested him with a vengeance, well before Gough was considered cool, well before he really hit the national stage.

I probably don’t mourn Gough the man so much as what he stands for, dead or alive. You see, he had no fear of failure, something which seems to dog most of our political elite, and he didn’t fail! We only need to look at the Whitlam legacy to realise the changes he wrought in the short time in power; including healthcare and education reforms, recognition of Aboriginal land rights and others not yet rolled back.

Those reforms are now at risk because of his, currently, gutless party, and reticent leader Bill Shorten. To be sure the party and Bill Shorten  face a formidable foe in big money and the Murdoch media. Whitlam led a party still focused on the traditional spirit of collective and supportive community; that has gone out the window. The focus has drifted to the individual, to the self serving political culture preferred by the right, typified by Thatcher’s “there is no such thing as society. There are individual men and women...”

Bloody Hell! Even when Labour does present positive, unifying and compassionate policy they can’t sell it. Is that because too many ALP MPs are busy covering their own ‘individual’ arses to have the guts to openly own Labor policy? Even Abbott’s individuals can get behind, and sell their simplistic divisive messages. They only fail when it comes to the ‘we the people’ game. “Team Australia” appeared stillborn because it sounds ridiculous out of the mouths of Team Divisive.

I was close to supporting my local Federal ALM member Lisa Chesters , but I know was just be supporting the bowl of insipid blancmange that is the current ALP. I’m perplexed by the current rash of ‘photo ops’ of ALP members, from heavyweights to also-rans in kiddie’s class rooms. What is the message? “It Might Be Time, when the kiddies are old enough to vote?” Sweet, and useless!!!

It is not difficult to identify policy targets and craft simple, repeatable messages to sell them. It just means behaving like a team, of championing those things the ALP has been long known for; social cohesion, compassion and equity. Well that, but probably in one and two syllable words. I know ‘m not the only person grieving Gough’s passing, don’t let it go to waste ALP, wake up and start fighting for our country! And keep it simple!