THE HOBGOBLIN OF LITTLE MINDS

A famous American once wrote “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds .” No, it wasn’t Donald Trump (I said “wrote”!). The quotation, however,  is a nice introduction to my theme: that politics is inimical to consistency of opinion.

Barack Obama is a secret Moslem who wasn’t born in America. Donald Trump is, wittingly or not, a Russian agent.  If you find one of those statements plausible and one not, I’ve got some bad news for you: you’re a human being with some sort of an interest in politics.

It is almost irresistibly convenient to believe the worst about our opponents, and not just in the limited sphere of formal politics. We all know that those on the other side of the fence – in politics, work, sport or family dynamics – are not only morally inferior; but also unfairly favoured by  the gods,  referees, the electoral system  and Rupert Murdoch.

All too often political abuse is characterised by an insane lack of judgement and proportion. You can accuse an opponent of any silly thing, no matter how implausible, confident that some of your allies will accept, embellish and reproduce it. For instance, Bertrand Russell – a  ferociously intelligent man – described John Kennedy as  much more wicked than Hitler.   I’m sorry, Bertie but you should get out more. The comparison between Kennedy and one of his successors, Bill Clinton, is more apt because, although neither of them could keep his dick in his trousers (a quality they shared with Bertrand Russell, incidentally),  fashions in public indignation had changed by the time Clinton came to power.   Kennedy was lucky enough to be famous at  a time when root rats were glamorous and the Press could be relied on to keep its mouth shut.   Clinton, on the other hand,  was  condemned as a sleazebag.  Admittedly Kennedy’s … er … conquests seem to have included women of genuine distinction:  Mafia harlots, for instance; prostitutes; film stars. Poor old Bill, on the other hand seems to have been fated to link up with second raters.  He even found himself married to a woman who couldn’t beat Donald Trump in an election.

Donald Trump is, by the length of the straight,  the most ludicrous U.S. President in history – a constant source of embarrassment to his fellow citizens and amusement to me. However  he’s not photogenic enough to be the Beast of the Apocalypse and  doesn’t even have enough  integrity or personality to be the second coming of Richard Nixon.  Yet to hear his supporters tell it he’s the authentic voice of the people (a frightening thought given that most of them are allowed to vote).   Barrack Obama, perceived by his enemies as an alien betrayer of US interests and by his supporters as a paragon of virtue was actually a bottomless reservoir of metronomic platitudes and not much else. He won the Nobel Prize for Blandness, didn’t he?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, John Howard, a suburban lawyer with the charisma of an accountant, was  disguised, for a time,  as the Australian  Prime Minister. He ended his career, much to my enjoyment, by losing an election to  an ABC wind-up toy. Howard was described as an unflushable turd  by a person (Mungo Macallum) who apparently made a living by providing political commentary.  Epithets such as “racist” and “war criminal” almost passed for moderation among Howard’s  critics. Abuse at that level  no doubt, boosted his ego but reflected badly on the critics’ sense of proportion.  We weren’t much better off after Howard departed: he was succeeded by the abominable Kevin Rudd, who is famous for eating his own ear wax in Parliament.  You don’t believe me?  Look  here

Rudd was stabbed in the back succeeded by Julia Gillard.  She was the most embarrassing Australian Prime Minister in my lifetime, beating Biddy McMahon by a short half-head, but that’s all she was. She wasn’t capable of doing anything on a grand scale, either good or ill.  After all, there isn’t much novelty in a politician being a treacherous liar; I doubt if anybody has ever become Prime Minister without it. To hear her critics tell it, though,  she was a combination of Messalina and Myra Hindley.  I shall always remember fondly her entertaining habit of leaping to her feet and squeaking “Misogyny!!!”, to roars of applause from the Fairfax press,  every time somebody  disagreed with her.

The point is that Joe Ordinary’s reactions to these politicians were predictable and depended almost entirely on Joe’s own political allegiance.  Most politicians, of any party,  have no personalities other than those invented by their hired liars with the aim of deceiving you. That won’t inhibit you from the most disgusting excesses of adulation or vituperation at the next election.

Has this always been the case? Or can I blame “social media” – almost as ridiculous a concept as “reality television”-  for the decline of civilisation. (I realise that all fulminations against Facebook should be done in a Walter Brennan voice but I have a sore throat.) Abraham Lincoln was described by some of his contemporaries as “an idiot”, “a Yahoo” , “the original gorilla” and other endearments. The vows of many Clinton supporters to emigrate if  she lost the 2016 US election were foreshadowed by the determination of a prominent abolitionist, who disagreed with some of Lincoln’s policies, to move to Fiji if he was re-elected. She seems to have turned out just as much a bullshitter as they did; see evidence here   A good article about anti-Lincoln feeling can be found  here

So why are our judgements so unbalanced? Why do political affiliations lead us into inconsistent opinions? Is it a variant of the Endowment Effect according to which we value goods (and, presumably, people) more highly if we feel they are “ours”, that we have some proprietary interest in them? Is it just that we feel unable to express an opinion on a public subject without a crowd to shelter in? Are we afraid to hold a nuanced position? Are we more comfortable with a simplistic view of the world? If any of these explanations are true why the hell are we allowed to vote?

Oh and who was the American who inspired the title of this post? It was Ralph Waldo Emerson (no relation to Roy as far as I know).

 

 

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THE DEMOCRATIC ILLUSION

Isn’t it wonderful that we live in a democratic system? Government by the people! Not like in those bad old days when we were ruled by kings!  Bullshit, bullshit and bullshit.

All government is a racket.  From time to time a new set of rulers emerges after a process designed to confer the appearance of legitimacy on one section of the dominant class. The details of that process vary from time to time and from place to place. The parameters of the ruling class are likewise variable – sometimes they’re defined by money, sometimes by education, sometimes by the number of inbred ancestors. The one constant is that people enamoured of their own system tend to be scornful of all others.

Western “democracy” operates by insisting that you choose between nntwo contenders about whom you know nothing  except what hired liars have been paid to tell you.  It’s a slightly less honest version of the old Soviet system: you’re presented with a list of candidates and told “You can choose between Tweedledum and Tweedledee. Aren’t you lucky!” (The US variant  seems to involve two millionaires competing to establish their bona fides as just plain folks and paying hucksters millions of dollars to convince you that they’ve succeeded). In each case you are told that the system has legitimacy because your act of free choice is the heart of it.

Systems of hereditary monarchy can get tricky. Does descent in the male line of a previous king’s third son outrank descent in the female line of his second son? This is important because legitimacy depends on the correct interpretation of those rules.

On the other hand the Chinese know perfectly well that legitimacy depends on the mandate of heaven.  This is a great system if you want to become emperor because all you need to do is succeed. “Obviously the mandate of heaven had been withdrawn from him. I cut off his head, didn’t I?”.

Now take the Dalai Lama (Please!!!  🙂 ). Apart from illustrating the eternal truth that any cause espoused by pop singers and film stars is probably bullshit the DL exemplifies an interestingly  bizarre method of choosing a ruler.  The thud of a Dalai Lama dropping off the twig signals the beginning of a wide ranging search for his newest incarnation.  Naturally this isn’t just pure guesswork. There’s a magic lake in Tibet that gives the searchers clues about where to look.   Palden Lhamo, the Lady of the Lake (cf. Tennyson, Monty Python etc) keeps up a steady stream of directions: “You’re getting warmer …. now a bit colder ….  freezing ”  – that sort of thing.  And the end result of this arcane process?  You guessed it: legitimacy.  It’s going to be interesting when the present DL croaks, since the Chinese government has already announced that they and only they will choose identify his successor.  What they really should do is to produce a world-wide reality TV show “The Hunt for the Dalai Lama”. Perhaps Donald Trump will agree to be the host.

No government has any real legitimacy except that which flows from its ability and willingness to guarantee benefits for the general population. “Benefits” is a broad term: it encompasses national defence, protection of the weak against the powerful, weather forecasts,  roads, utilities, medical treatment, courts, traffic lights, prisons, disaster relief, national parks, statistical reports, immigration control, rules for aviation, suburban sporting facilities, professional  licensing,  diplomacy and drains.

Most of these benefits need not be provided directly by the government, although some of them should be. I would be very worried, for instance,  about the future of any society in which the government allowed genuine armed forces or police to be replaced by private companies. I’m perfectly well aware of the ritual incantation “Government services are necessarily inefficient!” but I counter it with the equally valid mantra “Services underpinned by the profit motive are  probably corrupt”. In any event the government’s job is to ensure that the services are available one way or another.

It follows that  any political movement in the name of  “independence”  or “liberation” or “self determination” is just as much a  racket as a “kingdom” or an “empire”.  A new government resulting from an election may be better or worse than its predecessor – the difference is just a toss of the coin. Exactly the same is true of a new government after a palace coup or an assassination or a change of dynasty. If we like it we say it’s legitimate; if we don’t we take to the streets howling ineffectual slogans “Not in my name!”, “Not my Prime Minister!”, “Impeach Trump!”.

WHAT’S IT TO YOU, SPORT?

(This post is based on a conversation I had recently on Facebook. To the other people who participated: thank you for the stimulation. If I’ve stolen any of your original thoughts, I apologise.)

I hate all national anthems. I hate people feeling obliged to stand up for them and feeling superior to those who don’t. I hate people with flags on their cars or in their front yards. It used to be an instance of Australia’s superiority to the US that we were above that sort of nonsense. Now, however, there is barely any such thing as a recognisable Australian culture. Most of our fashions in thought (including anti-Americanism) are imported from the US and one of those execrable fashions is a willingness to take flags and anthems seriously.

 

National anthems at sporting events are an abomination. The prevalence of them is one reason why, although I love sport, I have practically stopped attending it. In fact if you go to a big sporting event these days you get hit with a double whammy: vulgar national anthems to start with and a combination of 5th rate pop music and advertisements for Colonel Sanders throughout the day. And when I say “national anthems” (I’m on a roll now) I include pseudo-anthems – the Pommies playing Jerusalem before cricket matches, for instance. Are they completely immune to embarrassment? The author of Jerusalem,  William Blake, was as mad as a cut snake and his poem is a mixture of lunatic religiosity and disguised support for the French Revolution. During the First World War one Hubert Parry was commissioned to set it to music as a patriotic rabble rouser although he eventually tiptoed away from the commissioning organisation because it was a bit too patriotic if you know what I mean. He handed the rights to his music over to the suffragettes in the hope that it would become their political anthem. Political organisations just love songs, don’t they? Nothing serves to better illustrate the truth of the old adage: “If you’ve got something to say, say it; if you’ve got nothing to say, sing it.” One of the most hilarious sights in politics is a group of Fairfax-reading, ABC-watching  left wingers  singing The Red Flag. Personally I prefer the version that begins:

The working class can kiss my arse;
I’ve got a bludger’s job at last.
though there are plenty of others.
At this point I should probably clarify my own position on a couple of issues: William Blake, though mad, was, at his best, a fine poet.  The suffragettes, apart from their unwarranted obstruction of horse races, were a worthy organisation.
Here in Australia we have too many grudges about New Zealand.  I think it would be better if we tried to get along with our trans-Tasman neighbours. We could start with an equitable division of disputed properties. We’ll have Phar Lap and you can keep Russell Crowe. That’s a fair start, isn’t it? See, a bit of good will and you can resolve most difficulties. Not all, though: there remains the haka. Why it has not been laughed off the world’s sporting grounds I do not know. It’s offensive and ridiculous. It’s especially ludicrous when demonstrated by some seven-foot sheep shagger who’s as white as my arse and has a ribbon wound around his head to keep his brains from falling out. Give it away, fellers! Isn’t it enough that you win all the games?
I used to be so proud of Australian sporting teams because they didn’t know the words of the national anthem!!! That was a real indicator that our culture (back in the days when we had one) was superior to that of flag-wavers like the Americans. Not now, though. Now our boys throw their heads back and bellow absurdities with the world’s best (having devoted the previous week to memorising the words, they generally seem to have forgotten the game plan, but you can’t have everything). All national anthems are horrible, but ours is more embarrassing than most. The French have the most offensive lyrics, counterbalanced by a good tune (which they pinched from the Fitzroy Football Club). Australia’s has a crappy tune AND vomit-inducing lyrics. New Zealand’s has boring anachronistic words and a rudimentary tune. Canada’s has only two words and no tune at all.  The vapidity of South Africa’s anthem is masked by the fact that it’s so fucking long and you have to suffer through reprises in nineteen different languages.  The US anthem combines the musical subtlety of Chopsticks with the verbal sophistication of a tweet from their  President.
And flags!  Don’t get me started.  Flags will have to wait for another day.

CONVICTION POLITICS

Like many other Australians I have convict ancestors. As far as I remember this was never a secret in my family but in  society at large it was something to keep quiet about.

When I was a kid  “official” opinion still held that the only real Australians were those who thought of themselves as transplanted English.  We were a country of branch offices run by imported managers. The ABC was our version of the BBC, and sounded like it.  Newspaper editorials appealed to our sense of imperial solidarity  (though the word “Empire” was gradually being replaced by “Commonwealth”). The pseudo-English  went to Protestant churches,  owned businesses, worked as bosses.  They also sent their kids to the Boy Scouts, presumably to keep pace with young Catholics  in experience of pederasty.

The “Irish”  featured as labourers, soldiers and sportsman.  Balts and  wogs were useful for building the Snowy River Scheme and for slotting in to the bottom rungs of society as the Irish began to work themselves upwards.

In such a society convict ancestors were a disgrace, especially to the social climbers whose fondest ambition was to be indistinguishable from their English counterparts (despite the fact that  those counterparts would have regarded them with condescension and contempt). Convicts had been, after all, criminals.

The bitter conscription debate during the First World War, perceived by most people as largely Catholic vs largely Protestant, was still a raw memory for many. Those who looked back to those times with nostalgia now had no grown-up causes over which to fight  and were reduced to squabbling about control of the Labor Party.

There had always been a minority strain in Australia that didn’t go along with the cult of Protestant respectability, opting instead for an aggressive anti-imperial patriotism that was almost as tiresome.  By the late 60s this faction began to permeate the mainstream and criminal ancestors began to be a source of pride. After all, the convicts were  innocent victims of the evil Pommies, weren’t they?

My great grandfather was a convict. The newspaper account of his trial, conviction and unsuccessful appeal is an interesting document.  I thank my sister for finding it and sending it to me so that I can reproduce it and take the credit.

THE LEINSTER EXPRESS AND QUEEN’S & KING’S COUNTIES OF KILDARE, CARLOW, KILKENNY,  TIPPERARY,  WICKLOW, MEATH, DUBLIN & MIDLAND GENERAL ADVERTISER
Saturday 25 July 1840

James Gardner, Thomas Gardner & Mathew Brophy stood indited for assaulting Jeremiah, Philip & John Larrisey & William Morrisey of Boardivell on 26 April last.
There were eight counts in the Inditment,
The first was for assualting Jeremiah Larrissey so as to do him greivous bodily injury; the second, so as to endanger his life; the third for riot;
the forth for an affray; the fifth for a common assault on John Larrisey

The prisoners in answer to question from the Clerk of the Courts pleaded justification

William Morrissey examined by Mr Clarke – lives at Boardwell; recollects the night; was awakened by hearing his dog bark; got up & went to his kitchen door; shortly after which it was struck with a blow of a stone; shortly
after it was struck again; he asked who was there & what they wanted at that hour of night; a voice bade him open the door; he refused & shouted as loud as he could for help, as he knew the Larrisseys would hear him, their houses being within 5 or 6 perches of his at the other side of the road; in a few minutes he heard the latch of their door rising & knowing they were coming
to his aid, he opened his own door & went out with a pitchfork in his hand; when he did so a fight and scuffle was going on between the party & the Larrissys;
saw Mat Brophy knocked down into the grip of the ditch; after some time they succeeded in capturing the three men; brought them into his house & kept them prisoners until the morning, when the police having been sent for to Rathdfowney, they delivered them up into custardy; all the Larrissys were cut & covered in blood; Jeremiah Larrissy was severely cut; Phil & John were also cut & himself received 2 or 3 blows; the prisoners at the bar
are the three men they arrested.

The witness was asked a few foolish questions by Brophy which, if anything,the more fully established their guilt.

Jeremiah Larrissey, examined by Mr Corballis lives near last witness; recollects the night of the 26 April last; was in bed with his brother Philip; some time in the night Phil woke him & enquired had he locked the doors & in a short time after said he believed Morrissay’s house was attacked by robbers; they then got up; witness took a spade & Phil a shovel; John took nothing; when they went but they heard stones thrown, & soon after heard his brother John cry for mercy; went over to him & found him with a hold of James Gardiner.
Witness knocked him down with a spade & broke one of his fingers; Matt Brophy then came up & struck witness a severe blow on the head with a large wattle.
(The witness here exhibited a deep indenture in his head). Got several other strokes; his brother Phil was cut across the eye with a stone; knew some of the Gardiners before, but never had a quarrel with them.
Philip Larrissy corroborated the last witness’s testimony. Thomas Gardiner struck him with a stone on the temple – (witness exhibited the wound, which
was very severe) saw Matt Brophy strike his brother Jer.

John Larrissey (a feeble minded old man) examined by Mr Clarke – Fully corroborated his brothers testimony; got a blow across the eye from which he for a long time suffered a great deal of pain, and another across the back of the hand; had the palsy before the night.

Dr Robert Drought examined by Mr Corballis – Is a medical gentleman; knows the Larrissys; attended them after the night of 26: Philip was in a dangerous way; the eyebrow was detached & lay upon his cheek. Jer had a very extensive cut on his head; it was nearly 2 in length: John’s right eye was injured; Philip received great bodily harm.

The prisoners not producing any witness his lordship recapitulated the evidence
& the Jury found the prisoners Not Guilty of the first count, Guilty of all the others.

TO HIS EXCELLENCY LORD EBRINGTON LORD LIEUTENANT OF IRELAND

The humble petition of James Gardiner and Thomas Gardiner prisoners confined in the goal of Maryboro in the Queens County
Most humbly show to your Excellency
Than that they were tried at the last assizes holden at Maryboro before the Lord Chief Justice Bushe and found guilty of an assault on William Morrissey.
Phillip-Jeremiah and John Larrissey and sentenced to seven years transportation.
That your petitioners most humbly show to your Excellency that they at all times since the commission of this unfortunate transaction felt the deepest sorrow for it and in proof of which they offered to plead guilty of this assault but were put on trial when not pleading guilty to all the counts in the indictment against them and they consider that the Jury only returned a Verdict against them for a common assault but petitioners cannot speak with certainty whether or not.

That your petitioners most humbly show to your Excellency that this occurrence for which they are now under so severe a sentence happened thus.

A person named Peggy Larkin lived as Servant with the aforementioned Larrissey’s and in the Spring of 1839 sowed some potatoes with one Key who resides near to
Larrissey’s, that in sometime after some disagreement took place between the girl and the Larrisseys when she left the neighbourhood and went to Service elsewhere. She having pitted these potatoes in the garden of the said William Morrissey who lives immediately opposite to the Larriseys the High road running between them
That said Peggy Larkin has a sister named Joney who is married to one James Gardiner an uncle to your Petitioners. She her husband and five small children
were in the most absolute distress for several days for provisions when this Joney Gardiner asked them would hey go bring her some of the aforesaid potatoes belonging to her sister the said Peggy Larkin to which they foolishly consented thinking it no harm.
That on their coming to said Wm Morrissey’s home where these potatoes were pitted his dog began to bark and he got up out of bed and on making noise the Larrisseys got up and came out and thought your Petitioners were going
to rob them assaulted your petitioners very severely and your petitioners in defence of their lives assaulted said Larrisseys & Morrissey but your petitioners most positively declare they had no intention of committing any other crime but to bring away a few of the aforesaid potatoes not for themselves but for the support of the sister and children of the owner there of in proof
of this…… and can they brought for them was taken on the spot but returned the next morning by the Police.
That your Petitioners most humbly show to your Excellency they are very poor and were not able to defend themselves by Council or Attorney and have a widowed mother, two sisters and a brother solely depending on their earnings
for Support and Petitioners under the circumstances of the case most humbly entreat of your Excellency in Clemency and mercy not to send them out of the Country but commute their sentence to any length of imprisonment and hardship your Excellency may think meet to inflict on them in order they may one day or other render some assistance to their unfortunate distressed
parent.
Petitioners most humble refer Your Excellency to the annexed recommendations in their behalf.
And in duty bound …………..pray

(signed James Gardiner and Thomas Gardiner dated 2ne August1840;

We the undersigned inhabitants of Queen’s County do hereby certify that we have read the foregoing Petition and that we believe the same to be true and under the circumstances of the case beg leave to recommend the Petitioners to the Clemency and mercy of His Excellency the Lord Lieutenant.

Given under our hands this 4th day of August 1840
John R Price, Westfield Bev Joseph Spacker? Ag…….
Peter Roe, Gortmaclea? James Llewellyn Roe, Coolbally
John Henry? JP ? Thomas Dowling, T…..
Robert White, ?? John Roe JP?
Pa….. T…… JP? G 21 1840

James & Thos Gardiner

The Law must take its course
Aug 14 (signed E)