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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

some recent history « Previous | |Next »
June 27, 2003

This is an interesting article.

The point Margaret Simons makes about the collapse of public debate into the culture wars is well known. The claim that sneering replaces debate is a counter to the upbeat claims of Tim Dunlop and about the public conversation in civil society being based on arguments. The reality is more in accord with this.

What is more interesting is the argument that the Hindmarsh Bridge Affair in Goolwa, south or Adelaide, marked the begining of the culture wars in Australia. Margaret Simons says:

"I think the Hindmarsh Island bridge affair remains one of the most important episodes of recent Australian history. But I also believe that until very recently, the publicly available narrative of what happened at Hindmarsh Island has been not evidence-based history, but myth. In fact, to use some words that are resonant in the culture wars at present, Hindmarsh Island has been about the fabrication of history.The Hindmarsh Island bridge affair was in many ways the beginning of today's culture wars."

On the surface the conflict was over a bridge to be built across the River Murray that linked Goolwa to Hindmarsh Island by the Chapmans. The bridge would replace the old ferry and so allow the expansion of the marinas and holiday houses on the island. That was in the early 1990s. Fairly reasonable to sort out in terms of ecologically sustainable development.

Yet a remote bridge a national issue. Why?

The debates over development and planning became entangled with protecting the sacred sites of the local indigenous people under the Aboriginal Heritage Act 1988 (S.A.). Sacredness and development were opposed to each other. The Ngarrindjeri women claimed to be the custodians of secret women’s business concerning the creation and renewal of life for which the island had traditionally been used. They took their case to the High Court.

The affair, which involved respecting the traditions of others, reached into the political centre of the nation. Both Labour and Liberal Governments in SA were involved, as well as the federal Labor and Coalition governments.

It turned nasty with civil litigation being used to counter public protest. These SLAPPS have had the effect of suppressing public debate.

And so we had the culture wars

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 3:06 PM | | Comments (5)


Good post. On the first point, I get as frustrated as Simons about the sneering and slap-down that happens in political debate but shit happens. It sort of ties in with your post on aesthetics too, or at least in regard to people who claim not to understand why people become political. They do it because it matters; it affects everything. The stakes are high, and when they are, people get angry and lash out. Now I accept that Simons is talking about something more than that, the concerted effort to stifle debate through intimidation, but that happens too. Sometimes overtly, sometimes more subtlely. But what have we got out of it in this case? Well she got to publish her book, and quite a few column inches to defend it in major dailies. She's right to deplore the mindless of some attacks but it seems oddly naive to think stuff like that won't happen, to imply that it has been different or that it ever could be.

The real case that needs to be made is about the lines of power that allow certain voices to get more airtime than others, not that sometimes people say mean things.

Having said all that, I'll repeat: I'm sympatheic to the claim she is making.

The Hindmarsh Bridge issue was an excellent example of a group facing defeat, setting out to develop any fresh arguments they thought might work. They understood how to milk the weaknesses in our legal system.
Post modern irrationality opens up many new vistas, especially for those who "know" there's is a "noble" cause.

I don't see how you get "postmodern irrationality" out of:
closure in public debate; networks of power working to allow some voices more airtime than other voices;
or the historical antecedents of the culture wars.

True, the culture wars do include a conflict over postmodernism. Though I support postmodernism Tim would be critical of it because of its relativism.

So how is my post an example of postmodern irrationalism?

foucalt was a wanker. you're all just middle class tossers apsiring to be working class. get a real job out of academia you champagne socialist catamite!... biff.

Hi there biffer from boofhead at hotmail,

It just so happens that I do have a real job out of academia.

And my tastes are for chardonnay not champagne.

On the money I earn from my job in the real world I cannot afford champagne.