Saturday, January 04, 2003

Junk intellectuals: A conservative laments

In the Weekend Australian Christopher Pearson, one of Australia's self-styled conservatives and editor of The Adelaide Review wrote a piece entitled, 'Do the time warp again'. (no link). A paragraph or two captured my eye. So I read it more closely than his attack on snags the week before. I was interested in what Australian conservatism stood for apart from attacks on the academic left. The question that I had in mind was:' how do Australian conservatives understand our intellectual history?'

Christopher Pearson presents himself as a conservative who knows about these things. After mentioning the babyboomers, the academic left and the impending collapse of the baby boomer's core values Christopher says:

"This is not the place to venture into a catalogue aria of the delusions of hyprocisy's of the past. What might be more instructive is to reimagine it. What if the intellectual civility and pluralsim of the 1960s had been maintained in universities and public debates? What if those who had demanded tolerance had also been prepared to concede it rather than enforcing various group-think that remain such as feature of what passes for the "national conversation"? What if Jacques Derrida 's view (that there are no facts, only interpretations) had been accorded rather less currency in the marketplace of ideas?

The short answer to those questions is that Australia would have become less of an intellectual time warp. The liberalism of J.S Mill and his school would be as robust as the conservative tradition of Burke and Hume. the tearing down of the Berlin Wall and its ramifications would be much more widely discussed and understood....

Some readers may think time warp is too strong a term. Yet how else can one explain that Australia is the only developed country where "conservative " is merely an abuse label. Elsewhere it is recognized as one among a number of respectable, contending philosophies . Even fierce opponents concede its usefulness as a way of making sense of the world or, as the Americans says, "its viability as an intellectual project."'

Woa, Christopher. Another answer might be that those Australians who have lived in the tradition of Hume and Burke have done very little to contribute to an Australian conservatism as a respectable contending philosophy. Intellectual time warp indeed. More is going on than us living in those passe leftie values of the peace, love, freedom and happiness brigade.

It does sound like Christopher is having a go at social liberals doesn't it? So what do Australian conservative think is wrong with liberal freedom and happiness? What distinguishes conservatism from liberalism? Christopher doesn't really tell us. Instead he turns away to other things---how the left of the ALP despise ordinary Australians.

What we have in Australia is an instinctive conservatism that artculates its social instincts in terms of 'cumulative wisdom' and 'experience' against the theory of the academic left. Instead of doing some hard thinking Australian conservatives have allowed themselves to be swept away by the economic liberalism of the deregulated market. They have not tried to make Hume and Burke speak to us in the present. They have sat on their hands bemoaning the views and practices of both the liberal left, the academic left, and the liberal media. They---eg., Michael Duffy----tell one another stories about how those on the Left who got mugged by reality became liberal conservatives.

So if Australian conservatism as a respectable, contending philosophy then what values , beliefs and idea constitute it as a tradition? What do liberal conservatives ----I presume these people are not liberals-----actually hold? Do they return to the common life and embrace the constellation of values of those Australians living in the suburbs-----the work ethic, family life , unselfconscious patriotism and churchgoing? Does this mean that those who live in the innercity of the Australian cities are resolutely lefty and non-suburban?

All that Pearson offers us for a living contemporary conservatism is a craving for continuity and connection, along with its reference for the spirit of self-sacrifice. Its not much.

Ya gotta do better than a 'what if ' Christopher. That just amounts to wishful thinking, a hook to introduce the time warp. C'mon Christopher, get the old brain cells work. You are not writing speeches anymore to attack the Australian Labor Party.

I thought that genuine conservatives in the Hume/Burke tradition live in history and tradition, rather than seek to transcend it. History and culture is what clothes our naked bodies, orders the nihilistic chaos of existence and nurtures us in our vulnerable lives.

Its junk intellectual history this time warp stuff. Conservatives can do better than write junk.
Junk Culture

So the Rolling Stones are coming to play Sydney. Who cares? Well James Russell is a big fan judging by The Rolling Stones, revisited and rerolled.

I was once. What I see now is the milking of babyboomer nostalgia by Rolling Stones Inc, which has perfected its business model and is now Rolling In the Dough. Why bother? Brian Wilson clearly has some juice left. The Stones are not writing anything worthwhile anymore; they haven't made a decent studio album since the 1970s---okay the 1980s; large bits of the 2nd of the 20 tracks of their recycled hits called Forty Licks is junk R&B by numbers. If they aren't a covers band, then they are a parody of a 1960s band that once was. Not even pretending to be postmodern pastiche can save them.

They should play junky Las Vegas like Elvis did. Its more honest. Maybe this tour is the equivalent.

Thursday, January 02, 2003

New Weblog

Check out this weblog from Canada. It is really interesting. It is a visual, cultural politics weblog by Wood s lot

Wednesday, January 01, 2003

More Junk journalism

Greg Sheridan, that well-known conservative warhorse, has come out fighting the nasty liberal media's arguments about the forthcoming war with Iraq here in his That petroleum emotionalism. And what a junk piece it is.

The distortions are mind boggling. Sheridan begins his junk column with an acknowledgement that the Sydney Morning Herald:

"argued that any US-led military action against Iraq would be motivated by greed for Iraqi oil. Any conflict with Iraq would be "essentially a war in the economic interests of the US".

Well that's roughly right. The editorial did argue; it did say that the forthcoming war with Iraq involved both the politician's good and evil considerations and the strategic considerations involving the protection of its key economic interests; and it gave weight to the latter. Now note what Sheridan does: he reduces this reasonable stance by the liberal media to a position it does not hold at all. He says:

"That this extreme Noam Chomsky-John Pilger-like cynicism about the US, assuming at every point the most offensive motives possible, should be the mainstream editorial position in the Fairfax press is staggering. For the editorial's position to be true, then virtually everything Tony Blair, John Howard and George W. Bush have said about Iraq is a lie and these leaders are consciously deceiving their electorates about the purposes for which they are willing to risk their soldiers' lives. That is a profoundly serious allegation and one for which the Herald advances no evidence or analysis."

Well, the Sydney Morning Herald does not need to advance any evidence or analysis because it did claim that Tony Blair, John Howard and George W. Bush have said about Iraq is a lie or that these leaders are consciously deceiving their electorates A spelling out of the SMH text can be found at Beyond Good and Evil. The text makes the point that the strategic interests of the US are not those of Australia, whilst acknowledging:

... "that Australia's commitment to support international military action against terrorism is principled and correct. It has the support of the Australian people."

Nothing at all about lies and deception. Greg has simply made it up. This is junk criticism. Shooting rubberbands at Mars. In Greg's world you dont actually argue with a critic: you furiously fight the most extreme position you can find in the public sphere ---the Chomsky-John Pilger one for Greg. You attribute it to all your opponents and then set out to destrroy the demon by showing how stupid and foolish it is.

But wait there is more. Sheridan then says:

The Herald editorial ignores facts and logic. Of course oil is part of the strategic equation, and the threat Iraq poses to Kuwait and Saudi Arabia is also a threat to the West's oil supplies. But the idea that this is a discretionary adventure undertaken by the US solely for the purposes of securing oil is almost comic in its caricatured misunderstanding of the US."

It is Sheridan wilfully ignoring the Herald's argument. In Greg's world anyone who disagrees with Greg is emotional. Greg represent the voice of reason, logic and fact.

Oh yeah? What Greg produces is rusty old junk as far as I can tell. This junk pollutes the media vectors just like the old rusty cars and household rubbish dumped into the Port River pollute that most unfortunate river.
Two quips

"The noiseless din that we have long known in dreams, booms at us in waking hours from newspaper headlines."

"The splinter in your eye is the best magnifying-glass."

T.W. Adorno, Minima Moralia: Reflections from Damaged Life, (p. 49 & 50)

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Sticking it up them

I remembered this quote from Friedrich Nietzsche after reading the way that junk journalism plays fast and loose with truth in public discourse. It is from The Portable Nietzeche (edited by Walter Kaumann, pp. 46-7).

"What, then, is truth? A mobile army of metaphors, metonyms, and anthropomorphisms ---in short, a sum of human relations, which have been enhanced, transposed, and embellished poetically and rhetorically, and which after long use seem firm, canonical, and obligatory to a people; truths are illusions about which one has long forgotten that this is what they are: metaphors which are worn out and without sensuous power; coins which have lost their pictures and no matter only as metal, no longer as coins."

Conservatives love to go on about truth----the truth that transcends our mundane history. So what Nietzsche says is scandalous and it was meant to be so.

But it aptly describes those conservative practices, conventions and morality conservatives man the ramparts to defend in the culture wars.
Junk Journalism

Have a look at the nonsense in this journo piece on the National Musem of Australia now caught up in the culture wars. Check it out. You will see from the visuals why the cultural conservatives just don't like what they see and want it bought back into line quick smart. It underlines their sense of the 'authoritative and objective' in history.

The piece is by Glenn Milne, a senior reporter for The Australian. The piece is entitled Museum set for fight over who owns the past.

I have never met Glenn Milne the man in person but I have spoken to him on the phone. He seems a nice enough chap and he takes a good photo. But he writes junk. He gets paid to write junk.

The trash Milne writes is in the following paragraphs:

"The Australians who wander into the museum to gawk at Azaria Chamberlain's torn nightie and share a Christmas Cornetto with the children would probably be amazed to know that what they're looking at is now the centre of a fierce dispute that goes back to the establishment of postmodern philosophy under the French deconstructionist, Jacques Derrida. But what might sound remote is also intensely political. And all politics is local. What this debate represents is a battle for the hearts and minds of middle Australia. The way they view their history will affect they way they vote.

What has now been joined at the NMA is a fight for ownership of the past in the sure knowledge that whichever side of politics owns the past will also own the future.

Derrida's theory rests on the claim that the British empirical method of establishing facts and recording them is inadequate because such history is polluted by existing class values. Therefore, says, Derrida, history should be revitalised using contemporary values. Within Derrida's world view, "facts" in the old sense cease to exist."

This is junk because it is obvious that Milne has never read Derrida nor even a Derrida made simple for journos book with lots of cartoons. See Gummo Trotsky's response Keith & Jacques & Glen & Jack. He has some knowledge of Derrida based on reading the early texts. And Gummo is dead right---its simple nonsense that is being sprouted here.

Yet Milne implies that he has read Derrida, or has some knowledge of these difficult texts. But such nicieties don't matter for the conservative cultural code. All that matters is lamblasting the enemy---in this case postmodernism. In carrying out his job as a cultural warrior Glenn relies heavily on the views of the empicirist historian Keith Windshuttle, who has taken upon himself to be St George slaying the postmodern/radical dragon.

What poor Glenn, bless his dear soul, just doesn't seem realise is that his journo piece involves more than a bit of interpretation: it is an interpretation of both the works and texts of National Musem of Australia and the role it should play in Australian public life.

Poor Glenn. He has strayed away from his friends and into the enemy camp lead by Jacques Derrida. And he doesn't even know it. Poor Glen.

As I said its junk.

But lets not worry about the individual here. It's how the cultural code works that counts. That's what is important.

Monday, December 30, 2002

Michael Duffy lets loose

I have not read the journo work of Michael Duffy in The Daily Telegraph in Sydney. He is quoted in The Weekend Australian Inquirer (December 28-29, 2002) in a feature article, The Evolution of Robert Manne, (no links) written by Helen Darville of The Hand that Signed the Paper fame as saying:

"It is time these white maggots were shaken off the body of black Australia, from which they have sucked so much life."

Darville says that these are Duffy's actual words and she uses them to fire arrows at Robert Manne's paraphrase of these words:

"According to Michael Duffy, the pro-Aboriginal intelligentsia were 'white maggots' who were trying to 'suck the blood' from the Aborigines."

Darville comments:"Duffy wrote no such thing."

Well, the paraphrase looks pretty close to me: its 'blood' instead of 'life'. Darville cannot let it go. For her this is an example of a:

"technique of quite deliberate and careful misrepresentation ... designed to make it look like certain things happened in a particular way when they actually didn't."

This is junk criticism.

Duffy's white maggots are the lefties who feed off Aboriginal issues to suit their own spiritual requirements. You know the type: the posturers and hypocrites full of glib 'sorries', who wear their symbolic reconciliation as fashion labels on their suits as a sign of their political correctness.

This is junk critique that covers up an ethical failure to express compassion for Aborignial suffering.
Tim Fischer

This the former Deputy Prime Minister of Australia on the Outback:

"The romance is out there; [what] the Australian tourists visualise and want to see is out there; the myths are out there. And there are people out there doing well."

Tim Fischer, Outback Heroes.

I do not want to be a hero. Being a hero is a heap of junk for an old fashioned cultural code.