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The American Experiment – Australian Precipitate

4 Jan

“The flames kindled on the 4th of July, 1776, have spread across too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume the engines and all who work them.”

This isn’t a polemic against anything or an apologia in defence of anything. It isn’t a history lesson for those looking for dates and names. These few thoughts are offered as possible further thought-starters about the evolution of The American Experiment and what kind of Australian precipitate it might be producing.

The US Founding Fathers (if you acquainted with the history of this time, you’ll know there were highly influential Founding Mothers in there too) began their American Experiment with a set of Enlightenment principles that they ostensibly believed in and believed the soon to be ex-colonists would believe in too. But a bit like New Year’s resolutions, very soon practical realities took over. The best of this bunch of nascent politicians viewed politics as the grubby means to a noble end. The worst of them were seduced by politics, left the money on the dresser, and told politics they would be back just as soon as they could duck out on their wife, Mrs. Principle.

Ever since its beginning in 1776, The American Experiment has attracted a mixture of those who were faithfully wedded to principle and those who were leaving money on dressers – some whose only deviation was from one dresser to the next. We immediately think of JFK as one of those who were faithful to the principles on with the Experiment was founded. (If we were talking about actual matrimonial fidelity, JFK was not your man.) But perhaps the most prescient in modern times was the man who preceded JFK, Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, and man who sounds and reads today more like Bernie Sanders than Bernie Sanders.

In his farewell speech to the nation before handing over to Kennedy, Eisenhower appeals to all that was finest in the Declaration of Independence, applying the themes of the Declaration to the current modern circumstances of 1961. It is often referred to as Eisenhower’s ‘Military Industrial Complex Speech’, but it is a whole lot more. I have reproduced its text in full at the end of this piece. You could play a game with your friends to see how many of the themes in Eisenhower addresses are violated by Trump, beginning with the value of the Fifth Estate.

Without picking apart the moral innards of US Presidents post Kennedy, in my view the rot really set in with Reagan. Eisenhower ran the US contribution to winning the Second World War and was an erudite man of undoubted intellectual capacity. Reagan was a B movie actor whose intellectual rigour barely matched the quality of his movie scripts, was never on active service and remained in the US throughout the War, though claimed he was a bomber tail gunner flying sorties across Europe. It didn’t matter to Reagan that this was not true, because by this time (with apologies to Marshall McLuhan) the medium had become the message. And Reagan was the first to actively promote the anti Keynesian fundamentally flawed (as history records) ‘trickle-down’ economic theory of Friedrich von Hayek. Neoliberals new use Hayek as a cover for further enriching the rich at the expense of the rest of us. Margaret Thatcher regarded Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom as her economic and social bible. It emboldened her to claim that there was no such thing as ‘society’, the corollary of which is that if a thing doesn’t exist, what possible commitment can you have to it.

Apart from Obama, and allowing that there are justifiable quibbles here and there, all the Presidents since and including Reagan have been main-chancers more concerned with power and money than principle and the well-being of the people they were paid to govern. And now we see the results of their labours, with the richest 1% in the US now owning more than 50% of all the world’s wealth, and around the same as the other 99% of the US population.

So here’s the point of these few words. Australia’s security, defence-wise at least, has seemed okay while we’ve been, as it were, in-solution with the US as the glass rod stirred the beaker containing The American Experiment. But Trump plays to a support base of the uneducated ill-informed, anathema to Eisenhower. They are easily swayed by his ‘America First’, isolationist US solipsism. Under Trump, it is easy to imagine the glass rod being broken, the Bunsen burner being turned off, and Australia falling out of solution as The American Experiment effectively ends. What was once an advantageous comingling of Australian and US interests, could then find Australia a discarded precipitate as the US pours off what remains into the cups of the US rich.

Perhaps the government we need now in Australia is one that heeds Eisenhower, takes a good hard look at what Trump today means for the US tomorrow, and decides how we live in a world of our own (apologies to The Seekers).

Here is Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address delivered 17 January 1961.

“Good evening, my fellow Americans.

First, I should like to express my gratitude to the radio and television networks for the opportunities they have given me over the years to bring reports and messages to our nation. My special thanks go to them for the opportunity of addressing you this evening.

Three days from now, after half century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor. This evening, I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen.

Like every other — Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all.

Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the nation. My own relations with the Congress, which began on a remote and tenuous basis when, long ago, a member of the Senate appointed me to West Point, have since ranged to the intimate during the war and immediate post-war period, and finally to the mutually interdependent during these past eight years. In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the nation good, rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the nation should go forward. So, my official relationship with the Congress ends in a feeling — on my part — of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.

We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts, America is today the strongest, the most influential, and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches, and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.

Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace, to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity, and integrity among peoples and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension, or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt, both at home and abroad.

Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insiduous [insidious] in method. Unhappily, the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defenses; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research — these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs, balance between the private and the public economy, balance between the cost and hoped for advantages, balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable, balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual, balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress. Lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration. The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their Government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of threat and stress.

But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. Of these, I mention two only.

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. Our military organization today bears little relation to that known of any of my predecessors in peacetime, or, indeed, by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States cooperations — corporations.

Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

During the long lane of the history yet to be written, America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations — past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of disarmament — of the battlefield.

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent, I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war, as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years, I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.

So, in this, my last good night to you as your President, I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and in peace. I trust in that — in that — in that service you find some things worthy. As for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.

You and I, my fellow citizens, need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nations’ great goals.

To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing aspiration: We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its few spiritual blessings. Those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibility; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; and that the sources — scourges of poverty, disease, and ignorance will be made [to] disappear from the earth; and that in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.

Now, on Friday noon, I am to become a private citizen. I am proud to do so. I look forward to it.

Thank you, and good night.”

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The American Experiment – Australian Precipitate

4 Jan

“The flames kindled on the 4th of July, 1776, have spread across too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume the engines and all who work them.”

This isn’t a polemic against anything or an apologia in defence of anything. It isn’t a history lesson for those looking for dates and names. These few thoughts are offered as possible further thought-starters about the evolution of The American Experiment and what kind of Australian precipitate it might be producing.

The US Founding Fathers (if you acquainted with the history of this time, you’ll know there were highly influential Founding Mothers in there too) began their American Experiment with a set of Enlightenment principles that they ostensibly believed in and believed the soon to be ex-colonists would believe in too. But a bit like New Year’s resolutions, very soon practical realities took over. The best of this bunch of nascent politicians viewed politics as the grubby means to a noble end. The worst of them were seduced by politics, left the money on the dresser, and told politics they would be back just as soon as they could duck out on their wife, Mrs. Principle.

Ever since its beginning in 1776, The American Experiment has attracted a mixture of those who were faithfully wedded to principle and those who were leaving money on dressers – some whose only deviation was from one dresser to the next. We immediately think of JFK as one of those who were faithful to the principles on with the Experiment was founded. (If we were talking about actual matrimonial fidelity, JFK was not your man.) But perhaps the most prescient in modern times was the man who preceded JFK, Dwight Eisenhower, a Republican, and man who sounds and reads today more like Bernie Sanders than Bernie Sanders.

In his farewell speech to the nation before handing over to Kennedy, Eisenhower appeals to all that was finest in the Declaration of Independence, applying the themes of the Declaration to the current modern circumstances of 1961. It is often referred to as Eisenhower’s ‘Military Industrial Complex Speech’, but it is a whole lot more. I have reproduced its text in full at the end of this piece. You could play a game with your friends to see how many of the themes in Eisenhower addresses are violated by Trump, beginning with the value of the Fifth Estate.

Without picking apart the moral innards of US Presidents post Kennedy, in my view the rot really set in with Reagan. Eisenhower ran the US contribution to winning the Second World War and was an erudite man of undoubted intellectual capacity. Reagan was a B movie actor whose intellectual rigour barely matched the quality of his movie scripts, was never on active service and remained in the US throughout the War, though claimed he was a bomber tail gunner flying sorties across Europe. It didn’t matter to Reagan that this was not true, because by this time (with apologies to Marshall McLuhan) the medium had become the message. And Reagan was the first to actively promote the anti Keynesian fundamentally flawed (as history records) ‘trickle-down’ economic theory of Friedrich von Hayek. Neoliberals new use Hayek as a cover for further enriching the rich at the expense of the rest of us. Margaret Thatcher regarded Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom as her economic and social bible. It emboldened her to claim that there was no such thing as ‘society’, the corollary of which is that if a thing doesn’t exist, what possible commitment can you have to it.

Apart from Obama, and allowing that there are justifiable quibbles here and there, all the Presidents since and including Reagan have been main-chancers more concerned with power and money than principle and the well-being of the people they were paid to govern. And now we see the results of their labours, with the richest 1% in the US now owning more than 50% of all the world’s wealth, and around the same as the other 99% of the US population.

So here’s the point of these few words. Australia’s security, defence-wise at least, has seemed okay while we’ve been, as it were, in-solution with the US as the glass rod stirred the beaker containing The American Experiment. But Trump plays to a support base of the uneducated ill-informed, anathema to Eisenhower. They are easily swayed by his ‘America First’, isolationist US solipsism. Under Trump, it is easy to imagine the glass rod being broken, the Bunsen burner being turned off, and Australia falling out of solution as The American Experiment effectively ends. What was once an advantageous comingling of Australian and US interests, could then find Australia a discarded precipitate as the US pours off what remains into the cups of the US rich.

Perhaps the government we need now in Australia is one that heeds Eisenhower, takes a good hard look at what Trump today means for the US tomorrow, and decides how we live in a world of our own (apologies to The Seekers).

Here is Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Farewell Address delivered 17 January 1961.

“Good evening, my fellow Americans.

First, I should like to express my gratitude to the radio and television networks for the opportunities they have given me over the years to bring reports and messages to our nation. My special thanks go to them for the opportunity of addressing you this evening.

Three days from now, after half century in the service of our country, I shall lay down the responsibilities of office as, in traditional and solemn ceremony, the authority of the Presidency is vested in my successor. This evening, I come to you with a message of leave-taking and farewell, and to share a few final thoughts with you, my countrymen.

Like every other — Like every other citizen, I wish the new President, and all who will labor with him, Godspeed. I pray that the coming years will be blessed with peace and prosperity for all.

Our people expect their President and the Congress to find essential agreement on issues of great moment, the wise resolution of which will better shape the future of the nation. My own relations with the Congress, which began on a remote and tenuous basis when, long ago, a member of the Senate appointed me to West Point, have since ranged to the intimate during the war and immediate post-war period, and finally to the mutually interdependent during these past eight years. In this final relationship, the Congress and the Administration have, on most vital issues, cooperated well, to serve the nation good, rather than mere partisanship, and so have assured that the business of the nation should go forward. So, my official relationship with the Congress ends in a feeling — on my part — of gratitude that we have been able to do so much together.

We now stand ten years past the midpoint of a century that has witnessed four major wars among great nations. Three of these involved our own country. Despite these holocausts, America is today the strongest, the most influential, and most productive nation in the world. Understandably proud of this pre-eminence, we yet realize that America’s leadership and prestige depend, not merely upon our unmatched material progress, riches, and military strength, but on how we use our power in the interests of world peace and human betterment.

Throughout America’s adventure in free government, our basic purposes have been to keep the peace, to foster progress in human achievement, and to enhance liberty, dignity, and integrity among peoples and among nations. To strive for less would be unworthy of a free and religious people. Any failure traceable to arrogance, or our lack of comprehension, or readiness to sacrifice would inflict upon us grievous hurt, both at home and abroad.

Progress toward these noble goals is persistently threatened by the conflict now engulfing the world. It commands our whole attention, absorbs our very beings. We face a hostile ideology global in scope, atheistic in character, ruthless in purpose, and insiduous [insidious] in method. Unhappily, the danger it poses promises to be of indefinite duration. To meet it successfully, there is called for, not so much the emotional and transitory sacrifices of crisis, but rather those which enable us to carry forward steadily, surely, and without complaint the burdens of a prolonged and complex struggle with liberty the stake. Only thus shall we remain, despite every provocation, on our charted course toward permanent peace and human betterment.

Crises there will continue to be. In meeting them, whether foreign or domestic, great or small, there is a recurring temptation to feel that some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties. A huge increase in newer elements of our defenses; development of unrealistic programs to cure every ill in agriculture; a dramatic expansion in basic and applied research — these and many other possibilities, each possibly promising in itself, may be suggested as the only way to the road we wish to travel.

But each proposal must be weighed in the light of a broader consideration: the need to maintain balance in and among national programs, balance between the private and the public economy, balance between the cost and hoped for advantages, balance between the clearly necessary and the comfortably desirable, balance between our essential requirements as a nation and the duties imposed by the nation upon the individual, balance between actions of the moment and the national welfare of the future. Good judgment seeks balance and progress. Lack of it eventually finds imbalance and frustration. The record of many decades stands as proof that our people and their Government have, in the main, understood these truths and have responded to them well, in the face of threat and stress.

But threats, new in kind or degree, constantly arise. Of these, I mention two only.

A vital element in keeping the peace is our military establishment. Our arms must be mighty, ready for instant action, so that no potential aggressor may be tempted to risk his own destruction. Our military organization today bears little relation to that known of any of my predecessors in peacetime, or, indeed, by the fighting men of World War II or Korea.

Until the latest of our world conflicts, the United States had no armaments industry. American makers of plowshares could, with time and as required, make swords as well. But we can no longer risk emergency improvisation of national defense. We have been compelled to create a permanent armaments industry of vast proportions. Added to this, three and a half million men and women are directly engaged in the defense establishment. We annually spend on military security alone more than the net income of all United States cooperations — corporations.

Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence — economic, political, even spiritual — is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet, we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources, and livelihood are all involved. So is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system — ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

During the long lane of the history yet to be written, America knows that this world of ours, ever growing smaller, must avoid becoming a community of dreadful fear and hate, and be, instead, a proud confederation of mutual trust and respect. Such a confederation must be one of equals. The weakest must come to the conference table with the same confidence as do we, protected as we are by our moral, economic, and military strength. That table, though scarred by many past frustrations — past frustrations, cannot be abandoned for the certain agony of disarmament — of the battlefield.

Disarmament, with mutual honor and confidence, is a continuing imperative. Together we must learn how to compose differences, not with arms, but with intellect and decent purpose. Because this need is so sharp and apparent, I confess that I lay down my official responsibilities in this field with a definite sense of disappointment. As one who has witnessed the horror and the lingering sadness of war, as one who knows that another war could utterly destroy this civilization which has been so slowly and painfully built over thousands of years, I wish I could say tonight that a lasting peace is in sight.

Happily, I can say that war has been avoided. Steady progress toward our ultimate goal has been made. But so much remains to be done. As a private citizen, I shall never cease to do what little I can to help the world advance along that road.

So, in this, my last good night to you as your President, I thank you for the many opportunities you have given me for public service in war and in peace. I trust in that — in that — in that service you find some things worthy. As for the rest of it, I know you will find ways to improve performance in the future.

You and I, my fellow citizens, need to be strong in our faith that all nations, under God, will reach the goal of peace with justice. May we be ever unswerving in devotion to principle, confident but humble with power, diligent in pursuit of the Nations’ great goals.

To all the peoples of the world, I once more give expression to America’s prayerful and continuing aspiration: We pray that peoples of all faiths, all races, all nations, may have their great human needs satisfied; that those now denied opportunity shall come to enjoy it to the full; that all who yearn for freedom may experience its few spiritual blessings. Those who have freedom will understand, also, its heavy responsibility; that all who are insensitive to the needs of others will learn charity; and that the sources — scourges of poverty, disease, and ignorance will be made [to] disappear from the earth; and that in the goodness of time, all peoples will come to live together in a peace guaranteed by the binding force of mutual respect and love.

Now, on Friday noon, I am to become a private citizen. I am proud to do so. I look forward to it.

Thank you, and good night.”

A new Menzies Era

3 Nov

My mother, when a North Shore matron, invited a number of her friends over to show off her son recently returned from National Service having spent a year of the two in Malaysia, as an infantry Malay Language interpreter. 

I arrived to join this assembly of the North Shore sensibilities having just received the news in a city pub that a regular soldier with whom I was on friendly terms had been cut in half by a Viet Cong machine gun.  My late friend wanted to leave the army, when I knew him.   He was intelligent, capable of successful tertiary study and keen on beginning a family.  His wife was exceptionally beautiful and attracted the attentions of officers when my friend was away on exercises.  We had worked out an army exit strategy involving mature age study supported by student allowances, etc.  He decided to sign up for one more three year stint in the army so build up some capital and was sent to Viet Nam.

This tragic story was just one of the many that represented the costs borne by Australians and Vietnamese as a result of the con job perpetrated upon the Australian electorate by the Menzies Government for no better reason than its desire to retain power – self-interest regardless of the human costs.

I asked my audience of North Shore ladies why they had voted for Mr. Menzies.  The consensus was that the avuncular Mr. Menzies’ wonderful speaking voice inspired confidence.

The most remarkable traits of the Menzies Government were those which conspired to engender within the electorate a soporific acceptance that the Government had things under control, knew things which we could not know, was a repository of wisdom – in short, we should leave the running of the country to the Government and not concern ourselves in things we were ill-equipped to intelligently consider.  In a similar vein, Malcolm Frazer stated upon taking office that it was his first priority to take politics off the front page of the newspapers and have the electorate leave it to those  who  were best equipped to take care of such things (one assumes those born to rule).

The Abbott Government has quickly settled into this born to rule mode of dealing with the public – press conferences are few and far between – the suppression of news about asylum seekers and their demonisation so that we don’t care about them anyway – the shutting down of climate change monitoring.  In the best anti-intellectual, science-denying traditions of the Catholic Church pressed upon him through the tutelage of Bartholomew Augustine Santamaria,  Tony Abbott believes that whatever happens to the climate will be God’s will, as indeed, will be every act perpetrated by his Government.  Let him deny that this is his ultimate belief.

So dear Australian electors, settle back and watch God eke out his will upon us through his instrument Tony Abbott.  It is your choice.  Perhaps it is time to stay the hand of God with the voice of reason.

Dawkins v Pell on Q & A in Australia

15 Apr

Talk-back television is perhaps not the best kind of forum to advance serious thought about the validity or otherwise of the notion of an omnipotent, omniscient god, whether as the core belief of organized or unorganized religion. 

Pell turned up for a debate and relied upon his researchers to trawl through the blog musings of Dawkins to look for shades of inconsistencies in positions Dawkins may have taken over the years: an ad hominem, gotcha exercise altogether worthy of this prelate who has shown himself more concerned with defending the bureaucracy to which he belongs, the Catholic Church, which accords him power and status, than the flock over which the Church arrogates authority to him .  Truth for Pell and his like is of no concern and may be completely disregarded if it does not serve their ultimate self-interest.  Pell’s court attendance in support of one of his colleagues, a pedophile, against the interests of his colleague’s victim is a case in point.

Dawkins, jet lagged as he mentioned, was overly sensitive to the ill-informed and largely irrelevant reactions of the audience, and allowed Pell to get away with the kind of logical nonsense that that is typically uttered by anyone who concocts arguments to support of an irrationally derived belief rather than examines the validity of arguments in order to discover the truth.  On the one issue of substance put to Pell – why Pell’s omnipotent, omniscient god should insist upon his adherents acting with love and compassion in their dealings with the species homo sapiens while this same god facilitates the grossest forms of torture, staving, and all manner of sufferings upon homo sapiens, even the most innocent, children below the age of reason, on this issue Pell confessed to being flummoxed.  Furthermore, Pell effectively conceded that the Christian notion of Original Sin was a nonsense because, in the nature of evolution, there could not have been any single male and female pair we could point to as being the homo sapiens Adam and Eve.  Thus, even that uniquely theological notion of guilt by genetic inheritance is expunged as the excuse for the Christian god torturing and staving children to death. 

Of course, the moderator, Tony Jones, was more interested in interrupting his two guests so that he could keep the show rolling and, to that end, allowing all and sundry – the studio and viewing audience – to have their say.

Perhaps Q & A can run a show on brain surgery techniques, quantum theory or whether one plus one make two if you really don’t want it to: let the punters have their say and make a show of it. 

There are some issues which of their nature, political issues for example, are the subject of legitimate public debate, the stuff of a democratic society.  Talk-back television is not suited to the consideration of matters which general audiences cannot be expected to have an informed view.  The adherents of religions can be expected to know what their religions teach and what they have been brought up to believe or they find emotionally appealing as an antidote to the notion of nothingness following death, but they cannot be expected to contribute to the debate about the truth of their beliefs unless they have studied theology and/or philosophy.

Non ad hominem.