Philosophical Conversations Public Opinion Junk for code
parliament house.gif
Think Tanks
Oz Blogs
Economic Blogs
Foreign Policy Blogs
International Blogs
Media Blogs
South Australian Weblogs
Economic Resources
Environment Links
Political Resources
South Australian Links
"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

nasty « Previous | |Next »
May 20, 2008

There's been quite a bit of nastiness going on in the intertubes over the past few days. Great, long comments threads full of insults, name calling, defaming, bullying, bitch slapping, hair pulling, all the kind of stuff you can reasonably expect when people start discussing the weather.

"Hi, nice to see you. Isn't it a lovely day for this time of year?"

"Quit it with the hysterical global warming fantasy, you Stalinist hippy nazi."

See? You're better off sticking with harmless topics like politics and religion.

Graham Young got upset with the ABC because he didn't like the way Robyn Williams introduced Don Aitken on Ockham's Razor. Aitken doesn't believe in anthropogenic global warming. Young also had a go at John Quiggin, Clive Hamilton and Tim Lambert. AGW believers are apparently bullies. The article isn't as interesting as the comments thread which gets quite nasty, despite the fact that Aitken weighs in to say he wasn't bothered by Williams' intro.

Lambert chimes in and the language turns decidedly blue. I don't know what he's supposed to have done, but Lambert seems to have upset some people to an alarming degree. Daggers at three paces and so much for rational debate.

John Quiggin dusts off Godwin's Law, which says that the minute you accuse someone of being a nazi you lose the argument by default. Young called him a brownshirt, which counts. The weather seems to be the last remaining topic where the language and ideas of the culture wars survives, although anything to do with evolution vs creationism gets a fair run at On Line Opinion, which seems to have attracted more than its fair share of Christian fundamentalists for some reason.

Geoff Davies had a go at changing the subject, via Aitken's piece, from brawls over whether climate change is caused by human activity, to the unsustainability of our indulgent lifestyles. It's pretty obvious by now that spats between believers and skeptics are obfuscating the main game, but commenters don't want a bar of it. It's Bolt versus Flannery or bust regardless of how it's approached.

Clive Hamilton also has a dig at Aitken in New Matilda, in one of the longest pieces I've seen published there. Hamilton argues that Aitken ignorned the science in favour of promo pieces distributed by fossil fuel industries and their less savoury connections with the tobacco industry and conspiracy theorists. Not a good idea Don, to side with the environmental equivalent of the Klu Klux Klan.

The arguments over ABC bias, parts per million and the rigour of peer review don't do much for me, rather it's the ways a big topic can gain momentum, develop and shift distributions on the internet. What are the social functions involved here? What do people get out of it?

Compare these brawls among a few high profile figures, where expertise is guarded with complexity and specialist terminologies, and the amazing collective intelligence at the psephological blogs before the election where both sides of politics left with more than they arrived with. People who just wanted to know who was going to win came out of it understanding some pretty sophisticated stuff about stats, demographics and strategy, and they could join in and learn even more from one another. The whole became more than the sum of its parts.

If it's true that the denialist side comes down to an organised campaign from corporate interests they're doing a damn fine job of it. The whole thing, peak oil, unsustainable consumption, environmental damage and the associated costs get sidelined in favour of bickerings over science very few of us can understand. It starts as a brawl between experts, so there's no space for anything or anyone else. It's not at all constructive. It insists people take sides and locates all usefulness in obscure expertise. Bloody great waste of time.

| Posted by Lyn at 2:52 PM | | Comments (27)


...a bit of nastiness going on in the intertubes over the past few days. Great, long comments threads full of insults, name calling, defaming, bullying, bitch slapping, hair pulling...

Maybe watching federal parliament is leading to all this bad behaviour.


The whole Quiggin vs. Young vs. Aitken vs. Hamilton vs. Rundle catfight is just too tragic. Surely it is time for Andrew Bartlett to chime in?

This all feeds in with the argument I have been making - which you no doubt have heard from me on more than one occasion :)- that the Culture Wars were most defintely not a Howard creation.

John Quiggin is without doubt one of the most militant Culture Warriors in Australia. I am currently writing a retrospective on the Culture Wars in Australia where I conclude that handsdown it was in fact PJK that lit the Culture Wars fuse.

Have you noticed how many of the more prominent warriors are white bourgeois bearded men 'of a certain age.' I call them "The Luvvie Greybeards." More on them anon.

Good point Rumpole. There's not a lot of dignity in either.

JG, who started it is important from a historical viewpoint, granted, but there's always going to be dispute over that. From my point of view the fact that we can reel off a number of prominent names, as you did in your first par, is worth thinking about regardless of what side of the fence they're on. Putting aside the luvvies, beards and men bit, the bourgeois of a certain age with access to media is something we can agree on. And as you say, their carry on is tragic.

I'm not up on the public intellectuals lit, but I'm pretty sure their role is not supposed to be to indulge in catfights in public over the legitimacy of their own expertise.

the bickerings over science is smoke and mirrors. The policy makers have decided that the science is good enough, and so Australia is moving towards an emissions tradiing scheme in the next couple of years.

That is the main game.

That seems to be pretty much it Nan, but doesn't all this crap give policy makers elbow room to slack off if they choose? Would you be awfully surprised if the trading scheme exempted the worst polluters?

I don't know whether the brawling promotes ambivalence among the public, or whether they're just arguing over everyone's heads, but I'd be interested to know. When you've got people carrying on in techno speak it's no wonder people turn to Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt.


Oh don't get me wrong, my position is not about apportioning "blame" or cheering for either Keating or Howard. For the record, I have been (in general) a Labor voter, and voted for Keating in '93 and '96 and Rudd in '07 and even Latham in '04.

I am concerned with histori(ographic) integrity and the "truth." I was just gobsmacked over the past 12 years as Howard won election after election largely due to the cluelessness of The Luvvies and in particular the narrative that emerged in the late 1990s that Howard was fighting a "Culture War" and maliciously hoodwining the masses (rightful Labor votes) in the process.

A cracking example is blogocracy's Tim Dunlop - a Luvvie par excellence - who this week stated

Why exactly Howard was able to “conceal” it and Rudd won’t be able to Kelly doesn’t really explain. I guess he means that by talking tough on immigration while actually drastically increasing it, Howard kept the latter “hidden” by emphasis on the former...

John Howard felt the need to adopt this bait-and-switch tactic because he underestimated the intelligence and decency of the Australian people: why else did he feel the need to hide what he was doing rather than take the time to explain the increase?

Que? The Howard Battlers were only too aware on the massive upsurge in immigration - particularly NESB immigration - during the Howard years. Why? Because they live in the bloody suburbs where NESB immigrants congregate!

I remember before the 2004 election, a feminist (and lesbian) blogger was sneering at the "racist" attitudes of said Battlers in the suburbs. She pointed out that as an inner-city dweller she was comfortable with immigrants because of the diversity - blah - they bring. People who live in the inner city are always surrounded by non-white people unlike the Anglo "redneck xenophobes" who live in the suburbs. And precisely where did this "diversity celebrator" live? Why in the federal electorate of Wentowrth of course.

Yaaaiirrsss, Elizabeth Bay and Paddington are just soooooo much more multicultural than Blacktown, Liverpool, and Ashfield, aren't they Luvvie!?

OK, now I get where you're coming from. I don't get as cross about it as you do and couldn't care less whether someone is a feminist lesbian or whatever, but I have a lot of sympathy for your overall argument. McKenzie Wark said the same thing of the Keating years - that the urban talking heads were so wide of the mark the suburbs rejected them along with their message.

Have you read Gabrielle Gwyther's stuff? She writes about this in the latest Griffith Review, although she's more interested misconceptions of the gated communities of aspirationals than the suburbs generally.

I know people who comment on blogs are not representative of anybody really, but there were an awful lot of people who believed that Howard had kept a lid on immigration rates compared with Whitlam, Hawke and Keating. They really did believe that the tough on asylum seekers thing meant tough on immigration generally. I think there is something in what Dunlop says about Howard, but it's also true that the urban commentariat mostly have no idea what it's actually like for people who are genuinely afraid of being swamped out where swamping happens. I did my honours on this very topic.

It's hard to ignore that the underestimated intelligence and decency of the Australian people has surfaced with the election of a Labor government. Who does the underestimating and when they do it seems variable.

Going back to the GW brawl, in both cases you've got a select few talking over the top of everyone else and calling it public debate when it should be called debate in public.

re your comment

That seems to be pretty much it Nan, but doesn't all this crap give policy makers elbow room to slack off if they choose? Would you be awfully surprised if the trading scheme exempted the worst polluters?

If that exemption happens over Garnaut's body, then its because of the power of the Greenhouse mafia.

re your remark

that the urban talking heads were so wide of the mark the suburbs rejected them along with their's also true that the urban commentariat mostly have no idea what it's actually like for people who are genuinely afraid of being swamped out where swamping happens.

The background here is globalization and its impact on Australia. The Strategy of defending the Australian settlement and saying no to globalization ain't going to work.It cannot be afforded in once you are plugged into a global economy.

What will work is ensuring that Australia's economy is dynamic and competitive and that involves changes. The outer working suburbs of the 1990s have become aspirational suburbs of 2008. So the working class culture and traditions change cos they are being transformed by global flows.

Going on about immigrants taking jobs, being swamped by foreign immigrants etc and keeping the lid on immigration barely makes sense of Australia's need to import workers because there ain't enough workers to keep the boom going.

"Swamped' gives the game away--its right wing populism even if it is articulated by those in the Labor movement.

Two points Gary. The Kath and Kim aspirationals are only pockets in the suburbs. The news coverage of people losing their McMansions gives the impression that that's all there is, but Gwyther's studies find the aspirationals moved out of less salubrious, older neighbourhoods as immigrants moved in to cheap housing.

The other thing is that some people look at immigrants and see people, but other people look at immigrants and see foreigners. Right or wrong, they genuinely feel swamped. Playing on that fear is obviously not good, but is ignoring it or, as JG points out, ridiculing it, any better?

that playing on fear, feeling swamped and ridiculing suburbia is continuing to work in the Keating/Howard frame of the 1990s, as it expresses the blue collar/suburban/Westies reaction to the effects of globalization. It's history--especially Sydney history for commentators like Gwyther--and white needs to be included in that swamp talk about foreigners. You cannot push the Cronulla riots into the background.

Its history because there is a boom happening and white working class people have been doing very well--eg., the way the working class Westies transformed into Anglo-Saxon aspirationals, as they moved out out the tacky suburbs into something better--master planned estates, started buying large airconditioned homes and large TV screens etc whilst talking about being self-made, working hard, the deserving poor and wealth creation. Sure they are going into debt---but that is another story.

In today's boom terms why should we have much sympathy for the suburban twitter about petrol prices? Petrol prices are going to keep going higher. Matter of supply and demand. The aspirationals have money as they use material acquisition as a sign of their economic success.

Why can't the ute crowd and their suburban aspirational friends trade in their petrol guzzling cars and 4WDs for a smaller more fuel efficient car, or even go hybrid.

Gwyther's argument that the Sydney aspirationals are challenging the status quo is not persuasive. They are the status quo. Strange stuff comes out of the University of Western Sydney. They think that Sydney stands for the nation.


While we are making great progress in finding at least SOME common ground :) I think you have misunderstood part of my argument, and that is that these people in Blacktown, Ashfield, Liverpool, etc. are overwhelmingly NOT 'fearful.'

My point is that this whole 'fear and anxiety of the white suburban working class' is largely - though not entirely - baloney. In fact, my own experiences of periodic visits to where I grew up coupled with my pouring over any stats I can find confirm that the racial tension/anxiety that DOES exist out there is just as much Other on Other rather than Anglo on Other.

To bring it back to the Tim Dunlop/Luvvie narrative over the upcoming immigration debate, I am arguing there is not a real lot to worry about as far as the suburban "rednecks" go because they are largely a mythical construction of the Luvvies.

In fact, I throw the whole "Other" nonsense back onto The Luvvies. Over the past 15 or so years, The Luvvies have created this mythical straw suburban-redneck not out of any empirical reality, but as a way of constructing their OWN identity by projecting onto the suburbs the opposite of how The Luvvies idealise THEMSELVES.

I really must stop twittering on blogs and actually get my bloody article written! :)

"They think that Sydney stands for the nation" - I was thinking earlier that most of this stuff seems to be about Sydney and Melbourne, coincidentally the two major media centres. My research on Brisbane people found no such clear divide as the urban/suburban or the blue/white collar. The whole easy division thing is a series of myths I think.

"They are the status quo." Can't argue with that.

You're right about Cronulla, which is still a white haven, but having been born there and spent a lot of time there since it's the family seat, I can tell you Cronulla has its own very specific culture that would have played a significant part in the riots. White people from other beaches aren't tolerated there. White people from the suburbs are not tolerated there.

JG, like I said to Gary, these easy distinctions between urban/suburban and cosmopolitan/redneck didn't turn up in my Brisbane research. What did turn up is that people who do worry about immigration are fearful of being outnumbered.

You say your people (if I may call them that) are overwhelmingly not fearful, which suggests to me that the whole xenophobic Hanson thing was overamplified and oversimplified. Just because it was there in the seat of Oxley doesn't mean it was there in every working class suburb.

I'm going to generously assume that your use of the word Luvvies is meant to illustrate the point that the construction of mythical groups is aided by the application of a label. That would be a rational thing to do, given that you're being entirely objective, empirical and all. And particularly because it's misapplied since Luvvies describes people in live theatre.

That your Luvvies have identified an Other in the mythical suburban redneck makes Durkheimian sense then. It's always struck me as odd that so many tolerance fans are intolerant of intolerance. I include myself there, which is troublesome.

My comment that "They think that Sydney stands for the nation" was meant to indicate the lack of regional difference in all of this 1990s stuff. Queensland would have been more fearful of boat people than Adelaide. Adelaide sunk into a black hole because Keating-style globalization meant de-industrialization, state bank collapse and becoming a rustbelt state.

What Hansonism (ie., rightwing populism) signified was the shift of the Liberal Party to a Howard style one nation conservatism and the building and retaining of its social conservative base by using the Rovian wedge strategy to retain a slim electoral majority.

A lot of the 1990s history is about the politics of building a conservative movement and a conservative hegemony.

Yes, I understood that Gary and you're right. In the 90s Queenslanders weren't worried about boat people but about the Japanese buying the place out. Even after the collapse of the Japanese economy people stayed livid about the amount of land being sold to Japanese investors. The tourism regions were the centre of that.

It's interesting how quite specifically regional Hansonism came to be generalised to cover anywhere the locals were unhappy, and anything they were unhappy about. That has to include John's luvvies, because they're not all of a piece either.

Obviously you're right about Howard exploiting the divide, but how much of that divide ever actually existed and how much was a manufactured myth? How many of us identify with one side or the other because of the assumption that the divide exists?

These are the kinds of questions I think we can afford to start asking ourselves now that Howard is gone. We can stop being what we're told we are and start being something else, hopefully more constructive.

Howard built a political framework--what Gary calls conservatism--- in which those hard done from globalization could express their big unhappiness and anxiety about Keating's big picture globalisation.

Many had lost their jobs and homes. Regional communities were in decline, hospitals were closing etc.

Howard was able to weave together the different stands of this unhappiness into a coherent picture based on the politics of fear. 9/11 gave this conservative strategy a super boost.

Nan, that's all true. But the narrative (and the politics of it) doesn't distinguish between those who were unhappy about the decline of industry and those who were unhappy about immigration (to take just two of the contributing factors). Certainly these could be woven into a core narrative - immigrants are taking our jobs for example - but that's not how it played out and given immigration under Howard, realistically it couldn't. Not to mention that it might have played into the hands of unions.

The globalisation thing and the move to a post industrial economy is the big picture, but there was plenty of much smaller stuff going on that just got steamrolled into a big us and them divide in all sorts of ways, the urban vs suburban among them.

Is it time we put the stereotypes of Howardism behind us? If so, part of that process is going to involve either some discomfort or some forgetting of our past convictions and assumptions.


I am extremely heartened that at least you clearly get it. Unfortunately Nan and Gary are typical of the problem I am highlighting.

I have a tonne to say and write about this, but I am going to hold off for a while as I am currently researching the (mis)perceptions of Howard's electoral success by The Luvvies and broader Left over the past 15 years in order to assess just how much that misperception played into Howard's electoral hand.

Of course, this misperception suggests a whole lot more about the lenses through which The Luvvies look at politics and society generally. Thus a clearer revelation of these myopic lenses might flag further challenges for the Left that need to be addressed.

John, getting it was the easy part. Dealing with the challenges that means for my own attitudes is much harder. It's too easy to slip into habitual ways of thinking and speaking, especially when these are accepted wisdoms.

I figured you were coming from a similar angle with references you've made to the real left, but I wonder whether you've thought about how constructive your own attitude might be. Have you ever tried to look at your luvvies with a sympathetic eye? Is it possible that there are some good reasons for the luvvie lenses being the way they are, and that hostility towards them might be among those?


Your mediation skills are wasted her mah dear, they need you in the Middle East! :)

But seriously, I understand The Luvvies inside out and upside down. I briefly was one of them in the late 1980s, early 1990s. Suddenly I realised all my old Lefty mates were jumping on the Luvvie bandwagon because it meant they could hiss and fume at how immoral and "conservative" and "right-wing" others were and still work as Merger and Acquisition lawyers. ;)

Mediation shmediation.

You mentioned further challenges for the left that need to be addressed. I'm curious to know how telling people you don't like them is supposed to help them see the error of their ways. If rednecks don't respond well to endless criticism why would luvvies?

The whole divide thing has been marked by hostility. Continuing that doesn't seem all that constructive to me. Katherine Betts for example. Gabrielle Gwyther. They both make great arguments but can't resist having a dig whenever the opportunity arises, so they just give your luvvies the shits.

Depends on your purpose I suppose, but if you're looking to a balanced analysis you'll have to tone down the disdain or settle for preaching to the converted.

Interesting you mention morality. I've argued that if the left are going to make any headway they're going to have to at least concede some of the moral high ground. It's not mediation so much as the bleeding obvious.

I am presuming that JG's populist category of 'Luvvies', refers to, if not stands for, the New Class intellectuals. By New Class intellectuals I mean the elites that have come to fore in the modern period, in part owing to the close connections they have established with the state and the market.

Included among these elites would be, most prominently, the legion of government bureaucrats and technocrats; but, in addition, it would presumably include corporate managers, mental health professionals, social workers, politically-correct liberal ideologues, careerist academics, culture industry “opinion-makers,” and the like.

Would that be right?

I understand the 1980s and 1990s thus. Resentful of the globalist agenda pursued by the state and the corporate sector, lower middle class and working class voters, particularly on the fringe of the major urban areas, were ripe for the Hanson-inspired populist revolt against the state and technocratic New Class. As Nan says the resentment was expressed in conservative terms by Howard. Populism became what was left over.

the people in Blacktown, Ashfield, Liverpool suburbs of Sydney were opposed to a multicultural and cosmopolitan Australia.

Gary, That's pretty much the category described in the literature, initially as New Class but lately as cosmopolitan. That's the sociological perspective which, in my view, has been guilty of generalisation. There's been plenty of theorising and very little empirical work, but what empirical work there is, including mine, finds that it's nowhere near that simple.

I'm calling JG's term Luvvies derogatory, rather than populist, partly because I doubt very many suburbans use it or even care about the cateogory it describes, and partly because it misses the target. Luvvies describes people in live theatre.

You say culture industry opinion makers, which for mine is a more important bunch here than any of the others and is the point of the original post. We have on one hand, JG's feminist lesbian blogger (or Phillip Adams) and on the other, Janet Albrechtson. To what extent do either of them represent anything other than themselves, or extremes? Yet this is what passes for public debate. I can't imagine either of them slumming it with the droids in the suburbs let alone reporting their experiences without their ideological filters.

I think that politics and the ideological commentariat have set up a false dichotomy which could have, repeat could have, contributed to the creation of an actual divide, but it's nowhere near as drastic as assumed.

The story goes that the Hanson revolt was against the new class and everything they held dear, but we've already established that the problems in Adelaide were different from the problems in Brisbane. The 2004 Election Survey finds that people in the outer Sydney suburbs were more worried about immigration and multiculturalism than those in urban areas, but as JG correctly points out, new immigration had a far greater impact in areas of cheaper suburban housing than more expensive inner urban housing. To be blunt, the wogs in Paddington all had Ockerised accents and made excellent coffee, but in Cabramatta it was possible for second generation migrants to prosper without English. Multiculturalism was such a sacred cow it didn't distinguish between cultural practices and the ability to communicate in English in, say, an emergency. Or selling someone a tube of toothpaste.

These are some of the consequences of the globalist agenda that are unevenly distributed economically and geographically. Yet the much maligned suburbans could get as angry as you or I when their kid's Lebanese or Korean friend got picked on at school, or when some idiot wrote racist graffiti on their corner shop where they'd made friends with the Indian proprietors. They may be concerned about climate change, but the trains don't go and there's no way to get to work other than the car. They're maligned for choosing private schools, but if you've ever seen a truly underfunded public school in a bad area you wouldn't blame them. Who would send their kid to a school with one functioning toilet if they had a choice?

This is the stuff I suspect JG is going on about when he talks of the luvvie left and the real left, and there is something to it. Where I'm starting to think he's wrong is assuming that the well publicised spokespeople of his luvvie left are representative of the left generally. Though on the other hand it's true to say that those spokespeople have hijacked the leftish position in recent times.

In theory, the true cosmopolitan of the left is the Kantian universalist, which includes the redneck. You'd know more than me about the ancient version of the ecumenical (is that the right word?), but in theory the real cosmopolitan is the global ecumene which, as I understand it, includes people whose entire lives revolve around the Holden/Ford divide and couldn't give a crap about the new economy.

I agree with JG that we need more empirical work to understand what has actually happened over the past 20 odd years, to really know it and to move on. But I think he's wrong to assume that a handful of loud people with access to big communications channels are representative. I, for example, exist. I don't know whether JG counts himself as a lefty but if he does, he also exists. I also think it's wrong to begin with hostility toward one side or the other if you have the brains to know better. Surely we've had enough of that crud.

Andrew Fraser describes the general quite well without descending to the particularity of the individual. He says:

As both the Left and the Right rushed to condemn Hanson, “politics
as usual” revealed itself as an administrative technique. Before Hanson into the public arena, the very possibility of democratic debate on
issues of race, immigration and globalization had been foreclosed. From the early 1970s, a carefully constructed, bipartisan fog had descended over public discussion of such matters, relegating them to technocratic policy-making. Believing that political choices are best made by certified experts in accordance with a technical rationality that allows only a narrow range of possible solutions, politicians of all parties refused to tolerate an “inarticulate,” “uneducated” and “plainly incompetent”
woman presumptuous enough to speak for the common folk.

It is possible to talk in general terms about the 1990s.