Sex, Politics and Ethics

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No, I’m not slipping in a sly plug for The Eeks Trilogy – although if you find the title intriguing you’ll probably enjoy The Eeks Trilogy, now available in a single volume titled Goldiloxians.

But right now I’m having my say about the story that’s been hogging the front pages of Australian newspapers for a week or so (it seems longer) and shows no sign of abating. It’s about Barnaby Joyce, who is

  • Leader of the right-of-centre National Party, which represents the interests of the rural sector and is in government in coalition with the Liberal Party;
  • Deputy Prime Minister (a requirement of the coalition agreement);
  • Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources (to the dismay of environmentalists who see this as a conflict of interest);
  • Minister of Infrastructure and Transport (since December);
  • The centre of a storm surrounding an affair with a member of his staff who is now pregnant with his unborn child;
  • Consequently separated from his wife; and
  • In open verbal warfare with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

The story is a gift that keeps on giving to the newsmongers because it irritates so many people for so many reasons.

First, there is a sexual morality issue. Barnaby has been an advocate of family values, invoking them in the recent debate about redefining ‘marriage’ to include same-sex couples. Barnaby was on the losing ‘No’ side of that debate.

Then there is the MeToo aspect. As Deputy PM, Barnaby was in a position of power over Vikki Campion, the humble Media Advisor who became his mistress. To some people this looks uncomfortably like a Harvey Weinstein situation.

Third, in a vain attempt to keep the affair quiet the mistress was transferred to the office of another National Party minister, in a high-paying job that was allegedly created especially for her.

There is Ministerial Code of Conduct that prohibits having one’s partner on the payroll. Barnaby is claiming that at the time of Vikki’s employment in his department she was not his ‘partner’. She was having sex with him, but was not actually and legally his partner as such. The PM has now made clear that the Code of Conduct will henceforth forbid sexual relations between ministers and their staff. This was immediately labelled the Bonk Ban.

To cap it all, it has emerged that Barnaby was staying rent-free in premises provided by a prominent National Party donor and commercial supplier of services to the Party.

In Australia we have a thing called ‘the pub test’. This sweeps away legal niceties that allow obvious rogues to hold up their hands in a gesture of supplication and say, “But I did nothing wrong!” Needless to say, Barnaby Joyce has failed the pub test on a Biblical scale in the eyes of all but his most one-eyed supporters.

One final comment from me… The story runs and runs because it gives sub-editors such wonderful opportunities for punny headlines. A photo of an obviously pregnant Vikki Campion was headlined ‘Bundle of Joyce’. Another headline over the Bonk Ban story referenced a campaign to ban poker (gambling) machines: ‘No Pokies’.

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And this year’s Stroppy goes to . . .

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C M Lewis! What’s that? You’ve never heard of him? Well, neither had I until my old friend Ron Allan nominated him for the 2018 Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle, based on the following piece of writing that was published in the Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History in 1987:

Transnationalization further fragmented the industrial sector. If the dominant position of immigrant enterprises is held to have reduced the political impact of an expanding industrial entrepreneurate, the arrival of multinational corporations possibly neutralized the consolidation of sectoral homogeneity anticipated in the demise of the artisanate.

Some credit for this nomination must also go to Thomas Sowell, who cited it in his essay ‘Some Thoughts About Writing’ and thereby brought it to Ron’s attention

I looked for a picture of C M Lewis at Google Images, but I was offered only C S Lewis and C Day Lewis. So here’s a picture of Thomas Sowell instead, together with a quotation that will appeal to many readers.

Nominations for next year’s award can be submitted at an time.

Populism

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The Cambridge Dictionary has chosen ‘populism’ as its Word of the Year. The word doesn’t even appear in my Australian Modern Oxford Dictionary – only a definition of a populist as “a person who claims to support the interests of ordinary people.”

That sounds pretty admirable to me. So why are the words ‘populism’ and ‘populist’ always used pejoratively? Nobody ever says, “That Trump fellow is a real populist. Good for him!” Could it be that the political élite, the pointy-headed intellectuals, the upper middle class people who work in universities, newsrooms and government departments, really do look down on the unwashed masses as Trump and many others claim? Do those people really think they know better what’s good for the common people than the common people themselves?

I have just read an article by Cas Mudde (pictured) in the Guardian Weekly (wishing that I’d thought of that name to give one of my characters in The Eeks Trilogy) in which he argues that what is often called ‘populism’ is really nativism. He goes on to define nativism as “an ideology that holds that states should be inhabited exclusively by members of the native group (‘the nation’) and that non-native people and ideas are fundamentally threatening to the homogenous nation-state;” and characterise it as “nasty.”

This got me thinking about the concept of the nation-state and why it was regarded as such a good thing in the 19th and early 20th centuries; why political heavy­weights in the richest countries of the West now consider it anathema; and why the epithet ‘racist’ is routinely hurled at anyone who expresses a preference for living among people with similar cultural practices, beliefs, values, history and language.

I flipped through a recent issue of the Guardian Weekly and found stories about conflict arising from this preference in six countries: Cameroon, Cyprus, Hungary, Myanmar, Poland and Tibet. And there was a story about German politics, which was dominated for over 40 years by a desire to restore nation-statehood.

Perhaps it’s time for us to be more tolerant of this preference, which seems to be deeply embedded in human nature whether we like it or not.

Life Imitates Monty Python

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We’re used to life imitating art, but sometimes this goes right off any reasonable scale. In the past week I’ve seen four glorious examples, all reported in the good old Adelaide Advertiser.

First, there is the story about a sit-in by Saudi princes to protest against having to pay their own utility bills. The princesses were showing more decorum, it seems. Or perhaps they were otherwise occupied at the motor show for women, soon to be allowed to drive.

The second story to catch my eye was that Oprah Winfrey is being touted as a potential presidential candidate, on the basis of a speech she made about sexual abuse and harassment in the entertainment industry. Germaine Greer was asked what she thought about it on ABC Radio National, and said that if Ronald Reagan could be President, why not?

Next comes the appalling news that “Struggling families are being deterred from travelling overseas because of the high cost of leaving the country. … Australian passports are the second most expensive in the world, behind those of Turkey.” Has overseas travel really become a necessity of life, in the same category as a flat-screen TV or a smart ‘phone?

Finally, I read about a 50-year-old Australian man called Craig Whitall. He is/was a drug addict with a history of 10 driving disqualifications, 50+ other traffic offences, 9 convictions for unlicensed driving and a 9-year driving ban. While driving home from a methadone clinic he caused an accident that killed 3 people – all members of the Falkholt family. “At what point,” I wondered, “does a sane law enforcement system give up on somebody, lock them up and throw away the key in order to protect everyone else?”

Award Time Again

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Yes, it’s time to submit your nomination for the annual Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle – known in the popular press as ‘The Stroppy’. Last year’s Stroppy went to a firm called Palladium for this superb piece of twaddle, devoid of any meaning and garnished with a split infinitive to make the judges wince:

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The same firm has already received a nomination, but let’s make it a fair fight. Come on now – there must be equally meaningless bits of twaddle out there somewhere! Deadline for nominations: Sunday 21 January (midnight GMT).

Affluenza: A Disease for Christmas

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I’m not in the habit of promoting other economists’ work, but Clive Hamilton and Richard Denniss deserve a mention at Christmas time. Twelve years ago they wrote the seminal book ‘Affluenza: When Too Much is Never Enough’ which pilloried the scale and negative consequences of rampant consumerism. Richard has now published ‘Curing Affluenza’ and was interviewed about it on ABC Radio National two months ago. I was away and didn’t hear it, but luckily this is the holiday season so the ABC’s programming consists largely of repeats.

Richard talked about the idiocy of buying bottled water and throwing away the plastic bottle – an artefact that would have been considered wondrous and valuable throughout all but the last few years of human history – and the fact that the most widely cultivated crop in the USA is lawns.

But the thing that caught my attention was his response to Fran Kelly’s question about consumption being good for the economy – almost a civic duty. Richard pointed out that the nature of our consumption matters. At the moment, and especially at this time of year, people are exhorted to borrow money they haven’t got to buy imported stuff they can’t afford to give to people who don’t want it. In effect we dig up minerals, send them to China, and ship back container-loads of plastic stuff that we use once or twice and then bury in landfill.

In one way this may be seen as a neat circle: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. But Richard Denniss sees it as an insane waste of resources that could be put to much better use – and I agree with him.

“What about job-creation?” you may ask. Well, if we think it a worthwhile use of intelligent manpower to have people standing around in shops waiting for customers to wander in, or selling overpriced coffee to those same customers when they grow weary and need reviving for another bout of fruitlessly seeking fulfilment be means of material acquisition, then that’s a perfectly valid question. But even if that were a worthwhile use of human resources, seismic changes are under way in the retail sector making human beings as obsolete as milkmen’s horses. One thinks of online shopping, with delivery by drone from warehouses staffed by robots; or do-it-yourself supermarket check-outs.

So what should we be spending money on, if not useless imported gewgaws? Richard suggested care of the elderly: keeping old gits such as myself alive and happy for as long as possible, in an industry that is (for now) very labour-intensive. I say “for now” because, as readers of The Eeks Trilogy know, I expect intelligent robots to take over that kind of work quite soon.

No, I would prefer the Government of over-affluent nations to tax the surplus demand out of their economies and spend the money on their armed forces, specifically to target and destroy the creeping evil of militant religious extremism. Our wealth gives us the power to confront the closest thing to pure evil that we have seen since Hitler. Why choose to spend it on transient toys and tee-shirts?

Sexual Harassment

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A week ago I was in Kyiv watching CNN, and the big news story was Harvey Weinstein’s alleged sexual misbehaviour. Now I’m in the UK, and the big news story is male parliamentarians’ sexual misbehaviour. Brexit gets a mention too, but as a news story it’s not as sexy as… well, sexual misbehaviour.

There are some kinds of misbehaviour that have always been unacceptable, but there is merit in the claim that the boundary between unacceptable and acceptable has shifted a long way in a short time. For example, when I was a lad:

  • Men were expected to be the active initiators of any romantic/sexual activity. Failure to live up to that expectation signalled either lack of interest or homosexual inclination.
  • A woman’s first “No” was generally taken to mean “Try harder.”
  • Stolen kisses were thought to be romantic.
  • A slapped face was the standard punishment for a man who went too far.

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  • On the silver screen (chief source of moral guidance in those days) a woman’s initial resistance always gave way to eager melting into the aggressor’s arms.
  • Almost every American TV sitcom included the occasional episode where a wife was turned over her husband’s knee for a spanking – well-deserved and for her own good.
  • While not condoned, wife-beating (as domestic violence was called) was considered a fact of life that some women just had to live with. I’m not sure if it was technically a crime, but in the popular mind it wasn’t.

Against that backdrop it’s not surprising that many people – women as well as men – cannot take seriously the recent redefinition of ‘sexual harassment’ to include the accidental overhearing of off-colour jokes.

According to pollsters YouGov (as reported in The Week) there are big generational differences in how women perceive ‘sexual harassment’. When they polled women in the age groups 18-24 (A) and 55+ (B) they found:

  • 64% in group A and 15% in group B think wolf-whistling is sexual harassment.
  • 28% in group A and 11% in group B think commenting on a woman’s attractiveness is sexual harassment.

“But,” you may say, “what about a rich, powerful old man taking advantage of a powerless young woman who aspires to a career (such as politics or show business) to which she thinks the man can help her get access? Surely that’s sexual harassment pure and simple!”

I may be hopelessly old-fashioned, but when a woman allows a man to have his way with her in the hope of pecuniary advantage it looks more like prostitution than victimhood. But I’m willing to hear contrary opinions.