Why we need action to tackle wealth inequality

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 15/12/2017 - 5:37pm in

As the Guardian has reported that:

The richest 0.1% of the world’s population have increased their combined wealth by as much as the poorest 50% – or 3.8 billion people – since 1980, according to a report detailing the widening gap between the very rich and poor.

Piketty’s report on which this is based is here. It suggests that ten per cent of the world’s wealth - and a much larger part of the 27% held by the top 1% of wealth owners - is in tax havens.

Why does this matter? The Guardian notes:

Thomas Piketty [has] warned that inequality has ballooned to “extreme levels” in some countries and said the problem would only get worse unless governments took coordinated action to increase taxes and prevent tax avoidance.

Which does not answer the question, which answer I have to say also appears to be absent in the report itself. My review of it this morning offers no obvious, let alone headline, explanation as to why the issue should be tackled, which I think is a major deficit. Let me offer three headline reasons why this is the case then, before dealing with the counter arguments and then drawing conclusions.

Relative inequality matters 

First, this matters because inequality is both absolute and relative, as is poverty. Those with literal minds say that so long as people have sufficient to live on the distribution of the remaining wealth in society is of no consequence, and at a literal level there is, I admit, a logic to this. But it’s also literally wrong precisely because we are not literal beings. We are instead relative ones and we undertsand ourselves not just in isolation, as the literal approach implies, but in relation to others who we witness all around us, as the relative appraoch implies. And since the world is now designed to highlight relative difference, largely because we are daily bombarded by advertising messages that are premised on drawing attention to the inadequacies of our relative position to induce demand, relative difference matters enormously, and we are intensely aware of it. If then that relative difference is growing, as the data implies, social stress will result and be manifested in a great many ways, from political breakdown to increases in mental ill health.

Public wealth matters 

Second, as the report highlights, at the same time that private wealth and disparities within its distribution are increasing, the value of public, commonly held, wealth is declining. In other words, the capacity of the state to both correct for wealth disparity and to tackle it is reducing. The capture of public wealth for private gain, which has been the objective of a great deal of economic policy for the last 35 or more years has succeeded in achieving this result: wealth appears entrenched.

Inequality is killing capitalism from within 

Third, as I argue in my book Dirty Secrets, this is intensely bad news for the future of capitalism. The fact is that risk takers, on whom market capitalism is dependent for real innovation rather than for financial returns, work best when they have little to lose. As a result those on lower income and smaller businesses innovate more with less capital than larger businesses do. And, as importantly, those with wealth to preserve put higher value on that act of preservation than they do on innovation, because their every instinct is to avoid downside risk. The consequence is the rise of the professional wealth manager, as Brooke Harrington has documented, and their deeply risk averse offshore structures that look for rentier returns and not entrepreneurial profit. In addition, the existence of perpetual trusts in offshore jurisdictions means that capital no longer passes between generations: the result is that concentration is bound to increase in the future and the chance that the funds held will be used as risk capital is very low, meaning that capitalism is itself threatened by this increase in wealth concentration.

In other words, I think that what Piketty and his colleagues note is very serious.

The counter argument

But it should be said that there is a counter-argument. For this I am, perhaps surprisingly, turning to Tim Worstall of the Adam Smith Institute who has recently published an article on CapX where he suggested:

Inequality is beneficial to us all.

Or rather, as he adds:

If there’s more output from an increasingly efficient use of resources, more consumption is made possible. And when we see the people over in the next field being able to consume more by whipping cows at the yoke, then we start to whip cows and we too get richer.

The economists reason it thus: firstly, greater productivity leads to inequality; secondly, the increased inequality pushes all to become more productive.

Hence his conclusion. But even Worstall has the sense to caveat the conclusion:

Or rather, understanding how and why inequality arises can lead to it being beneficial, just as it can be a disaster. If that inequality arises as a product of skimming the production of those proving to be more efficient, or even just the forced confiscation of production itself, then that’s not a good idea. For that means that those producing, those more productive, will slow their output and won’t be spurred to improve the techniques. This makes all poorer in general even as some wax fat off what is confiscated. Economists are well aware of this; they have called it “rent seeking.”

He then discusses what he thinks rent seeking might be, referring to trade unions, regulation preventing market entry and London cab drivers, which is a highly selective view of rent seeking, because none have driven the gross inequality we are now seeing.

However, I include Worstall’s argument for a reason. It is true that some are more productive than others in an economy and it is true that this has always meant, and is likely now to mean, that those who are more productive do earn higher rewards than those who are less productive. In principle I have little argument with this idea: I have no difficulty with there being some differential in earnings within any society and think them inevitable subject to their being a safety net to ensure that all can have access to the resources they need to fully engage in the society in which they live (which means much more than having a basic material standard of living). Importantly though, what Worstall’s suggestion implies is that there are very obvious limits to wealth differentials, because the fact is that however clever someone might be the differences in productivity we humans have to offer is not that big.

For example, who can be sure who is the more productive in a business: the person who can use the technology that a company owns or the person in the boardroom who decided to invest in it? There is no obvious answer for a very good reason and that is that their returns are mutually interdependent. Without the skill of the user of technology the person deciding to invest in it can make no return from doing so. So who is the most valuable? Both are, of course, but that suggests that all returns in such situations must tend towards a mean, and not towards diversity, but the latter is what we actually see and that must mean there are faults in the system.

The faults that exacerbate inequality

So why is it, when we look rather more broadly than the absurd list of examples that Worstall uses, that returns are so diverse and inequality is so great as a result? It is precisely because of the impact of the rents Worstall does not name, plus another key factor.

First, let’s name the rents. These include limited liability, which enables some to make money at cost to others because debts do not always have to be paid. That’s a state provided benefit that should be paid for by higher taxes on income recorded in this way, and on distributions from it.

Then there are the rents facilitated by copyrights and patents, which have more than anything else facilitated the rise of new wealth and the increasing divide in society resulting from the tech economy and the growth in intellectual property rights.

After that there’s monopoly power that goes unchallenged by the state even though it is an abuse.

And there are economic externalities such as pollution and the exploitation of natural resources that create rents when not corrected.

This list also ignores rents resulting from the control of land, and its non-taxation in a great many situations.

That also hints at the rent return to lobbying to permit light regulation and low or no tax. This might be at its worst in tax havens but it is commonplace everywhere.

I could go on but the theme should be apparent by now and is that far from the state being the enemy of the rentier they have gone out of their way to capture it to permit perpetuation of their abuse.

Second then let me mention the ‘other factor’. This is that productivity is not fairly distributed. Whatever our natural predispositions, the access we have to education, capital and society’s resources influence the extent to which we can reap a return on ability. In other words, productivity is heavily biased by the pre-distribution of wealth and so the two are not independent variables. And in this context, the incredibly generous treatment of wealth by the world’s tax systems has clearly helped fuel inequality.

Some conclusions

After saying all of which I draw some obvious conclusions. The first is that we will always have an unequal society and to the extent that the inequality is due to genuine differences in personal productivity, it is not just tolerable, but will always be tolerated by society.

The second is that I suspect that society has some tolerance for inequality at above this level. Parents will always have aspirations for their children and will seek to provide for them. Some are going to be better able to do so than others. I suspect that society has reasonable tolerance for this because most understand it.

But that said society is not, I think, now under any illusions that all wealth disparity arises for these reasons. Vast amounts of both income and wealth inequality now arise for the reasons I have noted, and others like it (like the capture of companies by senior management for personal gain). In proportion tiny amounts arise for the reasons Worstall notes. But the difference is telling.

Few resent the London cab driver their return for learning ‘the knowledge’. Nor do they resent the professional person the excess return they earn for having passed professional exams that afford them an income premium for life (I admit). Come to that, when union membership is widely available to argue that the rent they extract is a bias is a little absurd. If this is inequality then it is within the bounds society can readily accept.

But what is apparent is that the rents I noted impose costs that society is increasingly unwilling to tolerate. And so Piketty et al are right to highlight that the resulting inequalities are excessive and action needs to be taken against them. The contribution of Worstall to this debate is to a) make clear there is a rational justification for some inequality that very few would argue with and b) to suggest that over and above that some levels of inequality may be tolerated as well, of which he provided examples. But his failure to note the real causes of rent induced inequality indicates to what extent the likes of the Adam Smith Institute and other right wing think tanks are part of the problem on this issue by ignoring and even seeking to exacerbate a problem that they know exists.


In that case action is required. Tax is not the only such action, but it’s fundamental to progress. I have suggested short term reforms that could increase the tax on income derived from wealth here and have discussed why we need a wealth tax here. I have a chapter on wealth tax in a book linked to the World Bank out soon.

But we also need to crack open wealth in tax havens soon, and that includes refusing to recognise their trusts that are only designed to concentrate wealth. This is possible in the UK, EU and other widely used legal systems where great equality is a national objective. Only then can the abuse of these places be stopped.

And stopped it must be. Some inequality we can live with. But I agree with Tim Worstall for once; that from rents is intolerable. And the vast majority of wealth inequality derives from the exploitation of economic rents.

If the Big Four firms of accountants want to tackle inequality they have to reform themselves first

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 12/12/2017 - 6:00pm in


Economics, Ethics

There was a letter in the FT on Saturday that irritated me. It said:

Sir, We all must face the uncomfortable truth that in this country, the circumstances you are born into still have a decisive influence on the opportunities available to you in life (“Theresa May’s Social Mobility Commission walks out”,, December 3). At the heart of the problem is the stark postcode lottery that exists in Britain today. Just this week, a new report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation tells us a total of 14m people in the UK currently live in relative poverty. That’s more than one in five of the population.

So far so good. It continues:

This is not a new problem. Indeed, many businesses already recognise the importance of taking action on social mobility. But deep rooted economic and societal issues like those we are facing in the UK won’t be resolved overnight. And it is clear that the government cannot fix this alone. As employers, we have a crucial role to play in achieving social mobility in this country once and for all. We understand our responsibility, and we are taking concerted action to address this challenge head on. But we know there is much more to be done.

You may be beginning to sense my concern. The authors continue:

There are reasons to be hopeful. Chief among them, the knowledge that social mobility has never been higher up businesses’ agenda than it is today. Business leaders now understand that they cannot meet the demands of the modern world without employees from a rich variety of social backgrounds. This is the right thing to do, but it is also vital if the UK is to remain competitive on the global stage.

Their concerns tick all the boxes: social mobility; inequality; and diversity are there even if they spoil it somewhat by suggesting a competitive constraint.  So what more might they say? This (after I've deleted some padding):

We must capitalise on this positive momentum and ensure that in 20 years, we are not still operating in a landscape of inequality, having these same difficult conversations. Now is the time to create a fairer society, where it is an individual’s talent, drive and ambition that defines their future, not where they started out. It will take the best efforts of all of us — working together — to ensure future generations of young people have the skills, opportunity and support they deserve.

Who could argue? Well, I can. Because the signatories are:

Melanie Richards Deputy Chair, KPMG

Keith Skeoch and Martin Gilbert Co-Chief Executives, Standard Life Aberdeen

Malcolm Gomersall Diversity and Inclusion Partner, Grant Thornton

Laura Hinton Chief People Officer, PwC

Tim Smith Partner and Co-head of Social Mobility & Ethnicity Group, Berwin Leighton Paisner

Emma Codd Managing Partner for Talent, Deloitte UK

Mandy Love Social Mobility Lead Partner, EY

To put it another way, that's the Big Four accountants, plus friends.

But to be blunt, the Big Four are a massive obstacle to progress. I'd draw attention to my research on them, done with Saila Stausholm. What we found was that the Big Four:

  • Do not publish accounts that let us hold them to account  either nationally (in most cases) or internationally;
  • Do not account for the tax that they pay in many locations;
  • Do operate in all the world's major tax havens, whose sole purpose is to undermine the tax system of democratic countries, increase inequality, and deny the resources required to ensure that redistribution  of income and wealth takes place  both within and between states;
  • Do not admit to the  number of staff of employing many of the places where they are located;
  • Do not  supply any of the reasonable, additional, employment data that might be expected of firms of their size, including gender analysis;
  • Do sell tax services  that many might  describe as tax avoidance.

I am, of course, delighted with these firms wish to tackle inequality. Anyone  who wants to do that pleases me.  But if they are serious  in their intent the letters of this sort have to stop and action has to begin. In my opinion those actions include commitments to:

  1.  Full accountability both nationally and internationally and without exception in every location where these firms trade, and the publication of full country-by-country reporting accounts including information on tax paid, whether by the firm or by its partners  in aggregate in a place;
  2. Disclosing full information on the number of employees that each of these firms has in each location in which it trades, including information on gender balance and the gender pay gap;
  3. Withdraw from all activities in tax havens that might b, in any way,  artificially relocate profits to undermine the tax system of another country;
  4. End association with anything that might look like tax avoidance.

Do this and I will believe their public utterances. Until that happens they are part of the problem and do not come close to being a part of the solution.

I will be happy to publish their reply.

Google hiring 10,000 reviewers to censor YouTube content

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 11/12/2017 - 1:30pm in

by Zaida Green, via WSWS Google is escalating its campaign of internet censorship, announcing that it will expand its workforce of human censors to over 10,000, the internet giant announced on December 4. The censors’ primary focus will be videos and other content on YouTube, its video-sharing platform, but will work across Google to censor content and train its automated systems, which remove videos at a rate four times faster than its human employees. Human censors have already reviewed over 2 million videos since June. YouTube has already removed over 150,000 videos, 50 percent of which were removed within two hours of upload. The company is working to accelerate the rate of takedown through machine-learning from manual censorship, according to YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki in an official blog post. The hiring drive by Google is yet another advance in the campaign against any expression of political opposition. Other social media giants have implemented measures against “fake news”; Facebook has altered its algorithms to reduce the visibility of certain news stories, and Twitter has banned the Russian-funded media …

Hague Tribunal Exonerates Slobodan Milosevic Again

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 09/12/2017 - 6:25pm in


Ethics, Serbia

by Andy Wilcoxson, via Strategic Culture Eleven years after his death, a second trial chamber at the UN War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague has concluded that Slobodan Milosevic was not responsible for war crimes committed in Bosnia and Herzegovina. More than eleven years after his death, a second trial chamber at the UN War Crimes Tribunal in the Hague has concluded that former Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic was not responsible for war crimes committed in Bosnia where the worst atrocities associated with the break-up of Yugoslavia took place. Buried in a footnote deep in the fourth volume of the judgment against Bosnian-Serb General Ratko Mladic the judges unanimously conclude that “The evidence received by the trial chamber did not show that Slobodan Milosevic, Jovica Stanisic, Franko Simatovic, Zeljko Raznatovic, or Vojislav Seselj participated in the realization of the common criminal objective” to establish an ethnically-homogenous Bosnian-Serb entity through the commission of crimes alleged in the indictment.[1] This is an important admission because practically the entire Western press corps and virtually every political leader in every …

Michael Flynn’s Indictment Exposes Trump Team’s Collusion With Israel, Not Russia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 08/12/2017 - 6:17pm in

by Max Blumenthal, via Defend Democracy Press When Congress authorized Robert Mueller and his team of lawyers to investigate “links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” opponents of the president sensed that sooner or later, hard evidence of Trump’s collusion with the Russian government would emerge. Seven months later, after three indictments that did little, if anything, to confirm the grand collusion narrative, Mueller had former National Security Council advisor Michael Flynn dragged before a federal court for lying to the FBI. The Russia probe had finally netted a big fish. As the details of the Flynn indictment seeped out into the press, however, the bombshell was revealed as another dud. To the dismay of many Trump opponents, nothing in Flynn’s rap sheet demonstrated collusion with Russia. Instead, the indictment undermined the Russiagate narrative while implicating another, much more inconvenient foreign power in a plot to meddle in American politics. According to plea agreement Flynn signed with Mueller, Flynn admitted to lying to the FBI about …

Counterpunch Article Urging Peace with Iran

Counterpunch published a very interesting article by Jonathan Power on the first day of this month, November 2017, on their website. He argued that it was high time the West stopped trying to bully Iran and overthrow their government. He made the point that if you asked most Iranians privately how they felt about America, they would quietly state that they were favourably disposed towards them.

Now America risks this goodwill through Trump throwing out the peace deal that Obama had brokered with the Mullahs. Power notes that the experience of the Iran-Iraq war and its horrors has left deep scars on everyone in the country over forty. Saddam Hussein was used as a proxy for America to avenge its deep humiliation felt by the overthrow of Shah and the hostage crisis during the Islamic Revolution. But Power goes onto make the point that the Iranian regime is very dubious about the morality of nuclear weapons and other, equally immoral forms of warfare. For example, one of the first things the Ayatollah Khomeini did was to stop the Shah’s nuclear programme. They only took it up recently because of the threat of American/ Saudi invasion. And the current ‘Supreme Leader’, Ayatollah Khameini, has said that nuclear weapons are immoral and un-Islamic.

He also states that while Saddam Hussein used chemical weapons, the Iranians themselves never did. He acknowledges that the Iranians’ foreign policy is destabilising, and in many cases destructive, but it essentially one of self-defence. They are also keen to protect the Shi’a minority in Iraq, who were oppressed by the Sunnis to which the secular Saddam Hussein nominally belonged.

He writes

Trump knows no Iranian history. When the Iranian revolution happened in 1979, the Shah was overthrown and the fundamentalist Islamic Shi’a regime of Ayatollah Khomeini came to power, one of the first things the new regime did was to close down the Shah’s nuclear weapons’ research program. (Ironically, it had had technical help from the US.) It was only after Iraq attacked Iran that the program was resuscitated.

Underneath the Iranian skin of anyone over 40 lies the memory of the Iran-Iraq war.

Whatever warm feelings the Iranian man and woman in the street might have for the West today can easily be undercut by any suggestion that the US and UK, in particular, might be reverting to those confrontational days when they covertly aided with sophisticated weapons President Saddam Hussein’s eight-year war with Iran. (It lasted from 1980 until 1988.)

The Reagan Administration escorted Kuwaiti oil tankers through the Persian Gulf to Iraq. It also initiated an arms embargo against Iran.

It was a terrible war, more akin to the trench warfare of World War 1 than any other, with opposing troops bogged down for years on end, fighting over a few hundred metres of ground. Iraq used chemical weapons on a large scale. The death toll was horrendous – estimates range from 170,000 to 750,000.

For its part, Iran refused to use chemical weapons in retaliation.

Its present-day Supreme Ruler, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has made a point of reminding us of this, explaining that using such a weapon of mass destruction would have gone against Islamic teaching. At the same time, he has long pointed out that this is the key reason for Iran not building nuclear weapons.

It is this war that has determined the larger part if not most of Iran’s foreign policy. “What Gulf Arab officials term ‘Iran meddling in Arab affairs’ is to Iran an essential part of an ‘aggressive defence’ of its national security”, write professors Ariane Tabatabai of Georgetown University and Annie Samuel of the University Tennessee in a recent article in Harvard’s quarterly, “International Security”.

He concludes that if the hostility with Iran continues to increase, we will lose any goodwill the Iranian may have towards us. It’s time to make peace with them.

The whole article is worth reading, and is at:

America and Israel want another war with Iran. This won’t be about protecting the West, curbing ruthless dictators and freeing their people. This is just going to be ‘Iraq II’ – Western capitalist looting and pillage redux. It’s going to be because Israel wants to destroy a hostile nation, and the Neocons and American and Saudi oil interests want to seize their oil fields, privatise their state industries, and sell them off to American multinationals.

And the result will be more carnage, homelessness, refugees and ethnic and sectarian warfare.

Brought to you by Trump. And aided, no doubt, by that giggling warmonger, Hillary Clinton, who never met a war she didn’t like.

Philosophers On The Art of Morally Troubling Artists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/11/2017 - 12:26am in

The news over the past several months has been full of revelations of sexual harassment and assault by men involved in arts and entertainment and other fields (for lists of recently revealed cases, see here and here). The cases have brought to the public’s attention a variety of questions concerning power, justice, gender relations, privacy, business practices, and the responsibilities of perpetrators, victims, and bystanders. When it comes to those involved in the arts, most of us come into contact with them largely as consumers, and so it is no surprise that one of the questions many people are discussing is this: how, if at all, should the moral transgressions of those involved in making art change what we think about, and how we act in regard to, their art?

For this installment of “Philosophers On,” I asked several philosophers—and one stand-up comic—to briefly share their thoughts on this and related questions. Their contributions should not be taken as their last words on the topic, but rather as prompts for further discussion of it.

Our contributors are:

I appreciate them finding the time, on rather short notice, to take part in this post. Their contributions are below.

(It has been a while since a “Philosophers On” post has appeared; I plan for the series to continue from here on in on a more regular basis. Suggestions for topics are welcome; email me.)

a scene from Woody Allen’s film, Manhattan (1979)

Flaws, Aesthetic and Moral
Eva Dadlez

So, I’m making a good faith endeavor to introduce my Contemporary Moral Problems students to arguments advanced against for-profit insurance and the contention that it incentivizes turning down claims. To that end, I pop Michael Moore’s documentary “Sicko” into the DVR. To my horror, the Miramax logo, followed by “Harvey Weinstein,” scrolls onto the screen. It is too late to fast forward. Crap.

Sexual harassment and misconduct by artists and art producers (Weinstein, Louis C.K., Spacey, Cosby, etc.) have raised questions not only about the film industry, but about how art appreciators should respond to the work of these individuals in light of the disclosures and admissions that have flooded every media outlet. And while “Sicko” is not art, my experience suggested that any work might be considered somehow tainted by association with a miscreant.

At least two distinct questions are at issue here. First there is a practical question regarding the decision to continue consuming the artist’s or producer’s work. This is a question about inclinations to boycott the work of people of whom one disapproves. In many of the preceding cases of performer misconduct, programs have been cancelled by networks in a kind of preemptive strike, prior to any organized protest. Such cancellation (and prospective boycotts as well) are not an indictment of the work, but of the artist or art producer. Programs were cancelled not because artistry had suddenly and radically diminished but because the popularity of the artist had waned for reasons unrelated to artistry.

The second question is less practical but more interesting to an aesthetician. Should our judgment regarding the work or performance itself be affected by such disclosures? Is a film less good if it is produced by a rapist, a role less expertly performed if performed by a harasser, a routine less funny if an exploitative exhibitionist performs it? It depends. More precisely, it depends whether the attitudes that we object to—perhaps attitudes according to which the above mentioned conduct is harmless or playful or permissible—are endorsed in the film or performance. That needn’t mean, of course, that any actor portraying a rapist must be thought to endorse rape or uncritical attitudes toward it. Nor need it mean that such subjects themselves are out of bounds. A work (or performance) might be thought to endorse a problematic attitude toward objectionable sexual conduct when it invites us to imagine conduct of that kind as attractive or funny or arousing or indicative of a turbulent and passionate character unfettered by restraints afflicting ordinary men. So far, that might provide an ethical ground for condemning a work. But many philosophers believe that such endorsements can undermine aesthetic or artistic worth as well.

In “Of the Standard of Taste” David Hume criticized works in which “vicious manners are described, without being marked with the proper characters of blame and disapprobation” (ST 246). We cannot, Hume continues, “enter into such sentiments; and however [we]… may excuse the poet, on account of the manners of his age, [we]…never can relish the composition” (ST 246). This incapacity or disinclination is thought by philosophers like Noel Carroll to identify an aesthetic flaw, for, Hume continues, a “very violent effort is requisite to…excite sentiments of approbation or blame…different from those to which the mind…has been familiarized” (ST 247). That is, the work or the performance may well have failed to elicit the emotional attitudes of enthusiasm or approbation that it undertook to elicit. (Inserting emergency after-the-fact reference here: this kind of imaginative resistance has been productively and provocatively discussed in the blog of philosopher Kathleen Stock, who recently posted “Imaginative Resistance and the Woody Allen Problem”)

The disruption of imaginative immersion is held by some (though by no means all) to have a conceptual difficulty at its basis. That is, our conception of the limits of moral permissibility may undermine our ability to imagine nonconsensual sex as a deeply satisfying expression of affection, just because we can’t imagine what we can’t conceive. We can, of course, imagine that characters believe their conduct is appropriate, even if we do not. But we cannot imagine it permissible ourselves unless we believe the permissibility of such an action or policy is possible (perhaps in the unusual context the fiction presents, or in an otherwise restricted range of cases), something which strongly suggests that moral (and probably other) attitudes transcend fictional contexts. In other words, works and performances can make us complicit in the attitudes they endorse. The endorsement of attitudes most are inclined to resist might be thought an aesthetic flaw as well as a moral one.


Enabling The Sociopathy No More
Carol Hay

Is it ok to enjoy art that’s made by sexist assholes? I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m kind of sick of the question. I just don’t have it in me to sit through one more dinner party conversation monopolized by a mansplaining colleague bent on defending Woody Allen’s shitty movies. (I’m just gonna put this out there: most of those movies would suck even if they weren’t made by the child-raping, daughter-marrying, embodiment of narcissistic White male entitlement.)

Is it ok to enjoy art that’s made by sexist assholes? Does the art celebrate, elevate, or excuse sexist assholery? Then probably not. Otherwise, go nuts. I thought the poststructuralists had decided the author was dead; shouldn’t we just evaluate the content of the work itself? On the other hand, it seems to me the mere fact an artist happens to be a certain type of person—a female—has been sufficient to discredit the quality of women’s work for centuries. If it’s good enough for us, I figure it’s probably good enough for the assholes.

Does the assholery infect the work? I mean, probably. It’s not like there’s a shortage of art that wears its hatred for women on its sleeve. “Women live in objectification the way fish live in water,” Catharine MacKinnon reminds us. We’re surrounded by it, but we’ve also come to need it, and some days, even like it.

Women have proven themselves more than willing to consume art infected with sexist assholery. What other choice do we have? What else is there? We’re trained up from the beginning to identify with a male protagonist, illustrated so succinctly, and brilliantly, by the Bechdel Test (and its newer variant, the Sexy Lamp Test). Sandra Bartky called it “cultural domination”—the phenomenon whereby women are expected to identify with the abstract and universal subject for whom art and culture is purportedly made, even though this subject isn’t really universal, it’s male.

Most of the media explicitly pitched at women is garbage—chick flicks, rom coms, celebrity gossip, fifty shades of patronizing bullshit—and even if it weren’t a cultural wasteland we’d never notice because we’ve already drunk the Kool-Aid that tells us that anything by women, or for women, is inherently trivial, insubstantial, ephemeral. Real art, real ideas, are by men and for men. We’re supposed to count ourselves lucky to serve as their Muses, and any degradation required of us by the appetites of their genius should be given willingly, happily, gratefully. This is as close to greatness as any of us have any reason to hope to get: being jerked off in front of by an asshole.

The real kicker is that it’s also up to us to make this sociopathy okay.  And we do. We are So Good At Making Nice that we usually don’t even notice we’re doing it any more. We are so fucking good at our jobs that we’ve managed to make everyone—ourselves especially—forget how much work we’re doing. We dodge the drunken pawing, we laugh off the awkward innuendo, we meekly apologize for friendzoning the guy who has no right to our affections, we gamely pretend the superior isn’t flirting with us (for which Sartre accuses us of bad faith), we bend over backwards to avoid making men feel bad about themselves.

The only time anyone ever notices that something is amiss is when women can’t, or won’t, keep doing the work of smoothing things over. And now suddenly, out of nowhere, the cat’s out of the bag. Tastemakers, idols, the best and brightest of the intelligentsia: turns out they’re a bunch of assholes. Perverts. Scumbags. Just a year ago, we were able to explain away the “locker room talk” of the dude who happens to be the actual Commander in Chief, but for some reason we’ve now hit a tipping point and the accretion of male sins has become impossible to ignore. Every one of us has stories. #Metoo has laid bare the elephant in the room, skeletons burst from closets, dirty laundry flaps in the breeze. What’s rotten in our personal state of Denmark is sexuality itself—what MacKinnon started referring to more than thirty years ago as our culture’s eroticization of gendered relationships of dominance and submission.

Women are not food. We do not exist to be consumed by men’s insatiable sexual voraciousness. We do not exist to nourish the fragile egos of entitled men who look to us to make up for the stings of a world who refuses to bow down to their unrecognized genius. Our adoration is not a consolation prize nor a soothing balm for life’s disappointments. Our affections are not awards to be handed out to those deemed most successful.

We’re done with it. The endless stream of fungible sexbots is drying up, and we’re running out of ways to discredit the women brave enough to call these assholes out. In the words of the inimitable Lindy West, let the witch hunts begin.

Art Makes and Remakes Its Own Ethical Boundaries
David Heti

More or less, I find most of today’s conversation about art and morality to be pretty banal. I find it very hard to see how anyone actually concerned with art has any interest in the matter other than to put it to rest. For too long it has been too much of a distraction, and good artists should have better things to be doing (i.e. addressing) with their time.

The question What are the (permissible) limits of artistic transgression? can be answered only through art, or, perhaps more properly, the particular piece of allegedly “transgressing” artwork being questioned.

Any attempt to legitimate an artwork (in any way) by reference to a stand-alone code or ethics or standard outside of or other than the artwork itself is something to consider only for those who don’t care about art ultimately. But, then, the question obviously comes: why does their opinion matter?

In a 22-year-old interview with BOMB Magazine, art critic and old man Dave Hickey said, “simply put, the art and criticism that interest me seek to reconstitute what we think of as ‘good.’ Maybe you don’t have to be ‘bad’ to make good art, but I suspect that there is no need for art in an environment where we all agree on what’s ‘good’ and on what constitutes ‘good’ behavior.”

None of this is to say, of course, that criminal courts shouldn’t deal with criminal matters, or, similarly, that other kinds of courts shouldn’t deal with other kinds of non-criminal but similarly expressly legal matters. But, whether it’s for me to tell a guy who cheats on his taxes that he shouldn’t go out and finish his painting anymore, I think, is really beyond my scope. (And, sometimes, too, of course, “courts of ‘public opinion'” can be without rules of procedure, triers of fact, sentencing guidelines, and other such relics of Common, Civil and all other such Law traditions. Full disclosure, though, I am personally not a fan of Facebook.)

The good comic—good ethically and good aesthetically—is the one who calls into question, confuses and provokes the serious. For the comic, the serious is the mark of human folly, vanity, error, and excess. Accordingly, for the comic who cares for the comedic, it is an absolute horror—it is the absolute, the existential horror—that any comedic possibility could be unconditionally proscribed.

Finally, in general it doesn’t matter at all to me to know who or what is behind any work that I like (e.g. Kafka and Giacometti could have been better to their women; Heidegger, to the Jews). In the case of Louis C.K., though, I think back to Joseph Kosuth’s line from the essay “Art After Philosophy“: “a work of art is a kind of proposition within the context of art as a comment on art.”

In other words, Louis C.K. can tell a joke again, but it just better be a damn fine joke.

Non-Aesthetic Reasons for Engaging with a Work
Shen-yi Liao

Is a comedian’s moral failing a good reason to not watch their stand-up special?

To try to answer this question, we might start by asking whether the comedian’s moral failing make the stand-up special aesthetically worse. We run into complications quickly. On the one hand, philosophers have not really written about the relationship between a creator’s moral failing and their work’s moral defect. On the other hand, philosophers have written way too much about the relationship between morality and aesthetics of a work, such that the debate seems not only longstanding, but intractable. (FYI: My own take is that the relationship between the morality and aesthetics of a work is varied and perhaps moderated by contextual factors, but too many other philosophers disagree with me.)

But we can also try to answer this question by shifting our focus. In thinking about whether to engage with a work, we need not focus exclusively on our aesthetic reasons for or against doing so. In fact, with our limited cognitive and material resources, we often decide whether to engage with a work on the basis of non-aesthetic reasons.

For example, given that I have a Netflix subscription, I decide on the stand-up comedy specials to watch partly on the basis of what is available for streaming. That is, availability is a mundane non-aesthetic reason with which we decide whether to engage with a work.

It is important to recognize that there is also a moral dimension to mundane non-aesthetic reasons like availability. Stand-up specials—like all other human creations—are not produced or consumed in isolation. As is the case with many other facets of our society, the availability of works typically reflect, and are often determined by, the various structural injustices that our society has.

By my count, there are currently 194 single-comedian stand-up specials that are available on Netflix in the US. 82% of these stand-up specials feature men. Or, to contextualize the disparity another way, there are 35 stand-up specials featuring women comedians, and there are 5 stand-up specials featuring Louis CK.

To decide which engagements with works are worth our while, we should consider the various aesthetic and non-aesthetic reasons collectively. That is, we should not try to answer the question that we started with in isolation. A comedian’s moral failing is, after all, just one non-aesthetic reasons amongst many that contribute to our decision. We should ask analogous questions regarding our other non-aesthetic reasons. For example, we might also ask: Is the lack of availability due to structural injustices a good reason to not watch a stand-up special?

But Not Him, Surely
Kate Manne

This piece contains descriptions of sexual violence.

What should we make of the #metoo moment? As powerful man after powerful man with a history of sexual predation has gone down, it’s tempting to conclude that the ground has finally shifted. Another possibility: something has changed about the perpetrators. The obvious candidate: they have gotten older.

As such, they are much easier to cast in the common cultural script featuring the “dirty old man”—albeit a powerful variant of the trope, rather than a more pathetic figure.

But it is not as if sexual predators typically begin in their dotage, or even in middle-age. The typical sexual assailant begins to offend during adolescence, according to self-report measures. Moreover, even making an exception for statutory rape cases that are admittedly far from straightforward (morally or legally—of which more later), a significant proportion of sexual assault is committed by juvenile offenders. These offenders are overwhelmingly male, just as with older perpetrators.

The cases to make the most headlines to date bear this out. The allegations against Spacey and Weinstein currently date back to the early or mid-eighties (respectively). Spacey would have been around 24; Weinstein, about 30. Now we can envision each man as a sexual predator, looking back on it; we read the older him back into the narrative told by his victims who were hitherto silent. Yet when a woman came forward to testify that Ed Westwick, 30, had raped her three years prior, a common attitude expressed on twitter was: he’s too young and hot to be a predator.

Two more women have since come forward to testify against Westwick.

So why aren’t we talking about predators before they become so? Why are we so focused on uber-powerful older men, depicted as monsters, at the expense of recognizing where this tends to start—both statistically speaking, and in the cases of Weinstein and Spacey, specifically?

My hunch is that it has a lot to do with how protective we tend to be of boys and young men, when they are otherwise privileged in being, e.g., white, cis, and non-disabled, at least presumptively. We are extremely reluctant to depict these young men as wrongdoers, or even as doing serious moral damage. And, relatedly, we are highly sensitive to potential harms done to them across the board—sometimes quite appropriately so, in ways that should be extended to other groups, and sometimes at the expense of acknowledging those who number among these boys’ victims.

This sensitivity and protectiveness toward privileged boys in the US context is evinced by who men in positions of power seem to have to wrong before being held accountable. This is true both regarding sexual misconduct, and more broadly, in ways that suggest a diagnosis beyond homophobia (though this is doubtless a contributing factor). Trump was accused by numerous women of sexual assault and harassment, and made egregiously misogynistic and sexually objectifying remarks about women throughout his campaign last year. But it was his characteristically unhinged and sexually braggadocious remarks to the boy scouts of America this year that engendered unprecedented moral disgust and outrage from many hitherto supporters.

Similarly, consider what brought down Milo Yiannopoulos: his remarks about the sexual molestation he had suffered at age fourteen, by an adult male priest, as having done him little harm (on the contrary, he contended). It was vital not to let these gross and pernicious falsehoods stand, of course. But the public outcry was so strong as to cost Yiannopoulos his book deal and position at Breitbart. Whether or not this was the correct outcome (and bearing in mind the fact that victims of sexual abuse are often groomed by their abusers to believe such false exonerating narratives), this was hardly the first damning piece of evidence about Yiannopoulos’s character. After all, he had previously egged on his Twitter followers to abuse the Black actress, Leslie Jones, in egregiously misogynistic and racist ways. Though this got Yiannopoulos banned from Twitter, it was not until he was perceived as wronging privileged boys (by being nonchalant about the kind of abuse he himself had suffered) that many erstwhile supporters grew disgusted.

Consider too the victims of abuse by Catholic priests, among other religious leaders. The salient victims are boys, of course. But a significant number (as many as a third, by some estimates) of the actual victims are girls, who tend to be erased from the discourse.

In the case of a figure like Roy Moore in Alabama, she may also be blamed for seducing him—when she was fourteen, and he was in his early thirties. She is depicted as Lolita; he, as a modern-day Joseph, Daddy of Jesus.

So what should we do about all of this? Sometimes, the appropriate corrective is simply to extend as much concern to other victims as we have for those we envisage as prototypical boy scouts and altar boys: i.e., those who are white, cis, middle-class, and non-disabled, in the dominant collective imagination if not in reality. Moral concern and sympathy ought to be evenly distributed across gendered and other intersecting social hierarchies. But another danger is that we will elide the damage boys with this demographic profile do before they are men, typically to other, younger children, in the name of upholding these boys’ good names and bright futures.

Roxane Gay wrote, in her devastating memoir, Hunger, of the teenage “boys who were not yet men but knew, already, how to do the damage of men.” They had brutally gang-raped her during early adolescence. A prepubescent boy strangled his female classmate on the HBO television series, Big Little Lies; me too, I thought to myself, when I watched it. I was grateful for the permission to remember what had seemed to date unspeakable.

There are difficult questions about whether and how to punish and blame boys for such bad behavior, before they know quite what they do, depending on their exact age among other factors. But we must acknowledge what they do, and that they do it disturbingly often, statistically speaking. (And though girls are offenders much less frequently, when they are, the same of course goes for them.) We must not forget this for the sake of their victims—male as well as female or non-binary, and both former and future.

Some Thoughts On Art, Appreciation, and Masturbation
Stephanie Patridge

Recently, serious allegations of sexual misconduct have been raised against high-profile men, including male artists—e.g., James Tobak, Kevin Spacey, James Woods, Terry Richardson, and Louis C.K—these are, no doubt, not even the tip of the iceberg. Such public revelations naturally lead us to wonder how we, as appreciators, should respond to the creative works of sexually predatory individuals. One answer is that we should withdraw our financial support of these works to signal that such behavior is intolerable, and to undercut one main incentive for tolerating it (money). Still, success here depends on collective action, and given that on its opening weekend Daddy’s Home 2, starring Mel Gibson, outperformed industry expectations, conservative expectations seem warranted. Time will tell.

Still, we might want to know how, when confronted with such creative works, we should respond to the artistic elements of the works. There are two different questions lurking here:

first, might some facts about an artist’s moral character impact the appreciative-relevant features of their artworks/cultural products?
second, should our willingness to engage with these works from an art-appreciative perspective be affected by our knowledge about the creators?

Many will think that the answer to both of these questions is an obvious “no.” After all, Miles Davis, by his own admission, physically abused the women in his life. But, few would think that Kind of Blue is somehow made a worse jazz record by this fact, or that our enjoyment should be thereby disrupted. And, we might think that this generalizes to all such cases. But, the truth is more nuanced than this.

Let’s take Louis C.K.’s recent admission that he routinely masturbated in front of female colleagues. I will not bother to explain the troubling moral nuances of this case, but it is obviously quite bad. In light of this, we might wonder if in this case that the answer to either of our aforementioned two appreciative questions might be “yes”. Why might we think that it is? Well, in Louis C.K.’s case, art often imitates life in a way that might be thought to rightly bear on our interpretation of at least some of his comedic and directorial work. After all, masturbation is not an uncommon theme for him. For example, in a stand-up bit about the sexual differences between men and women, he quips “I cum everyday, and I’ve fucked maybe twenty times in my life.” This line now seems to have taken on a new, perhaps unintended, expressive meaning.

We might say the same about his recent directorial work I Love You, Daddy. Here the main character—who pursues a relationship with a very young show runner, and is said to be thinly veiled nod to Woody Allen—spends an entire scene engaging in mock masturbation in the presence of an unwitting, female actress. Of this scene, film critic Kyle Buchanan says that it “cannot help but evoke some of the stories that C.K.’s accusers have just told.”

In this sort of case, moral facts about the artist not only legitimately affect our appreciative responses, at least some of us are more disturbed and less amused, but we might think that they should. Here, art imitates life in a way that will and should alter our appreciative responses—we will likely find it less funny, or at least funny in a different, more painful way. Moreover, we might find that it also affects our assessment of the appreciative properties and even the merit of the work. Given our knowledge about Louis C.K., I Love You, Daddy is plausibly less funny, and merits being reviewed to less acclaim than it would otherwise. It seems that sometimes facts about an artist’s moral life will affect our interpretation of, attribution of appreciative relevant properties to, and overall evaluation of an artist’s work. (A similar claim likely holds for at least some of Woody Allen’s work.) Of course, all of this is consistent with the thought that Kind of Blue is a note-worthy jazz album, since here there is no plausible claim to be made that we see Davis’ moral life manifest in his work, at least not in any troubling way. There are cases, and there are cases.

Finally, it is worth noting that there may be some moral violations that are a bridge too far, and so merit our rejection of an artist’s work altogether (whatever we’d say about their appreciative properties). This is not a wildly implausible suggestion. We might think that certain egregious forms of racism are like that. For example, we might think that were Hitler’s paintings moderately competent we’d still have a compelling moral reason to avoid responding to them positively. Whether or not Roman Polanski’s raping of female children is one such a violation, does not seem to be a settled moral question. Time will tell.

Aesthetics, Morality, and a Well-Lived Life
Matthew Strohl & Mary Beth Willard

Suppose you’ve been a Woody Allen fan since you were twelve. You’ve long related to his neurotic characters. You watch Hannah and Her Sisters every Thanksgiving. You’ve amassed a collection of his works on DVD. But in 2014, Dylan Farrow published her open letter, in which she accused Allen, her adoptive father, of molestation. You believe her. That’s awful. He’s awful. May you still partake of his artwork even while condemning him as a person?

In cases where one’s interest in the artwork is low or ambivalent, the choice might be easy. Attention is a scarce and valuable resource, and one can choose to spend it elsewhere. Sometimes, even in cases where one’s antecedent interest in the work was high, learning about the moral transgressions of the artist interferes with one’s ability to engage with it. For us, the tension between Bill Cosby’s wholesome image and our perception of him as a vile sociopath makes it impossible to enjoy the comedy routines we were fond of in the 80’s. In the case of Woody Allen, he sometimes casts himself or another older man as the love interest of a young ingénue, which may call to mind his alleged crime in a way that interferes with engagement with his work. On the other hand, we do not find that background knowledge of the accusations against George Takei, relates to his performance as Sulu in Star Trek in a way that interferes with our enjoyment of the work.

There might be a moral imperative to cultivate a disposition to dislike art that is created by morally reprehensible artists. If the disposition to dislike the artworks in question is a moral virtue, however, it may also be an aesthetic vice. A person who has such a disposition to a high degree would shut their eyes when they walk past Gauguin paintings in a museum, change the station whenever Bowie comes on the radio, and never, ever attend The Ring Cycle. Caravaggio? Murdered a pimp. Ezra Pound? Anti-semite. (We could go on. Many great artists are awful human beings.) Perpetually viewing art through the lens of the moral character of the artist seems likely to ruin one’s enjoyment of art. Someone who lives their life like this might be well on their way to moral sainthood, but at the expense of severely impoverishing their aesthetic life.

Questions of social utility are also relevant. The artists just mentioned are all long dead, but many morally reprehensible artists are still alive and kicking. Privately watching a James Toback DVD that’s you’ve owned for twenty years probably has no marginal effect, but buying a ticket to a new film arguably does. If a new Toback movie were successful, it might put him in a position to harm additional victims. In cases like this, moral considerations might well override aesthetic considerations, but other cases are less clear. Often, as in Woody Allen’s case, while a viral boycott might hold the wrongdoer symbolically accountable, it might also severely harm the careers of their artistic collaborators. One might think they have it coming to them for agreeing to work with Allen, but this seems like a harsh attitude to take towards, for example, a young camera operator whose judgment was understandably colored by an opportunity to move forward in their profession. Such considerations are not decisive, but they might give us pause.

In any case, we take issue with treating moral considerations as automatically overriding aesthetic considerations. Aesthetic considerations aren’t negligible. Aesthetic value makes an important contribution to a well-lived human life, and great artworks aren’t fungible. There’s only one Hannah and Her Sisters, and engagement with it as an artwork can add significant, irreplaceable value to one’s life. This isn’t a small thing to give up, especially when it’s not clear what doing so will accomplish.

The recent spate of public realizations about the pervasiveness of sexual misconduct must restructure institutional policies going forward, but our private aesthetic lives are another matter. To be clear, we’re talking about enjoying the art, not defending the artist. (On the latter, we like Sarah Silverman’s take.) We don’t think there are easy generalizations available to guide our actions in this domain. We are left as individuals with the difficult, personal work of weighing the aesthetic and moral values in each case.

Discussion welcome.

(Comments policy.)

The post Philosophers On The Art of Morally Troubling Artists appeared first on Daily Nous.

Offshoring Business Education to prevent the Paradise Papers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/11/2017 - 8:30pm in


Economics, Ethics

The following is a guest post from Professor Atul K. Shah of the University of Suffolk. 

Corporate fraud has become a norm in modern society, and it is high time that we focus the lens of #Paradisepapers to business education and professional training. We must ask what it is about the content of their theories and methods of training that has resulted in this. What must we do urgently to transform present and future generations? Given how vast and multi-billion dollar and global the business education industry is, it is high time we look closely at its DNA and theories and examine the extent to which these are offshore too. How do the theories encourage greed and fraud? Why is it that these smart professional accountants, lawyers and bankers simply don’t care about the consequences of their actions? Do they even notice or understand how they are destroying the world?

Here are ten issues to address if change is to happen:

  1. Business and professional education have become profoundly privatised and technical, detaching themselves from public values, public conscience and personal responsibility and accountability
  2. Finance and financialisation dominates the culture of business education, which is very profit-driven, and the primary theory of wealth and profit maximisation. This ideology and logic is presented as unquestionable but is unsustainable and deserves to crash with #paradisepapers
  3. By making the subject scientific and technical, it becomes very impersonal. In addition, business schools are highly profitable factories of education, where the teaching approach and content is formulaic, and the student is on a production line. How on earth are they going to develop a conscience, or personal values in students in such an atmosphere? Their vulnerability and innocence is being actively exploited by the experts, and this must stop.
  4. Ethics, if taught at all, is a stand-along topic and not integrated with all the subjects taught in the business school. Its teaching tends to be philosophical, technical and legalistic, rather than personal, cultural, emotional and virtuous.
  5. Tax is treated as a burden and a cost of business, rather than a share of profit given to government for its vast contribution to business infrastructure in terms of health, roads, utilities, transport, education and skills, legal protection and social cohesion.
  6. Culture, as in faith, communities and social capital, is virtually ignored and therefore denied. The fact that students have culture and bring it into the classroom is suppressed and denied completely. Instead, an acultural universal approach to business is taught and globalised. Business education actively destroys culture to make its own living, and globalises this destruction.
  7. Business academics and intellectuals rarely engage with the problems of the real world and empathise with war, inequality, pollution and social upheaval. These are not profitable behaviours, nor do they boost CV’s or egos. Just look at how many top business schools and their professors are commenting on #paradisepapers.
  8. Virtue is desperately needed to promote a peaceful and equal society. This requires virtuous conduct by educators and a profound respect for students and their hunger to learn and transform society. Business educators have failed in this regard.
  9. Corporate fraud and crime need to be at the centre of business education, but are avoided or ignored, when they have become so normalised. The curriculum must embrace this to help students truly understand how profit is maximised through corruption, crime, exploitation, regulatory arbitrage and tax evasion.
  10. Financialisation has led to a huge growth of financial power, which is undermining the very fabric of global economics, trade and sustainable society. This politics and power need to come centrally into the business curriculum, to show that wealth is often made through monopoly rather than through merit or effort.

I hope this article circulates widely among business students, and I welcome their thoughts and opinions.

Professor Atul K. Shah is author of Reinventing Accounting and Finance Education – For a Caring, Inclusive and Sustainable Planet

Advance Australia Fair: ignore the other national histories on offer.

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 15/11/2017 - 8:47pm in

National history is the story that binds ‘us who make up the nation’ into a single entity with a collective memory. It has a purpose and as such we can choose what historical events and realities to put into that story, whilst forgetting the rest. Of the four main current contenders for our national history, I think we should pick ‘Advance Australia Fair’ as the only truly useful one.

In nearly all Western countries, national history binds those who live somewhere with a story of what those who previously lived there were up to, even when the ancestors came from lots of other places. This is particularly true of Australians, some 30% of whom were not born in Australia and some 70% of whom will have one or more grandparents who were not born in Australia. But it also holds for the history of Great Britain, the USA, France, and even Germany: their national histories are not the histories of the ancestors of those who are now British, American, French, or German.

It is crucial for national historians to realise that it is irrelevant whether national history is accurate or balanced. A national history unites those who live in a place into harmony and productivity. We are free to accentuate whatever aspect of the past we need for the purposes of binding the current population in a fruitful story; free to ignore and forget the rest. It is said that winners write history. So let us be winners and choose wisely.

When it comes to the history of Australia, one can currently choose four stories with some historical truth to them.

Those who wish to see Australia as the vessel for first-Australians can rightfully point to the 40,000 years in which around a million Aboriginals (with varying ancestries and waves of conquest themselves) lived here. In terms of life-years, the human history of the first-Australians represents 99.9% of the history of Australia. Within this ‘dream time’ history, the 0.1% of human-years that has occurred in the last few centuries merely represents an invasion of others, a blip.

Those who wish to bind current Australians to a Christian guilt-trip can rightfully point to the near annihilation (by disease and design) of the prior population, followed by 2 centuries of Anglo-Saxon dominance that had little regard for other cultures and has successfully replicated itself onto all newcomers from other places. Though it is of course textbook racism to blame white newcomers for white guilt of an earlier wave of white people, one might argue that wherever one’s ancestors truly came from, it is a fair bet that they will have replaced, murdered, and interbred-via-rape several previous populations at some point. That assessment includes first-Australians, by the way. So the determined guilt-historian might as well blame all Australians for a genocide as a symbol for what some ancestors will have been up to somewhere.

Those who wish to depict Australia as a place of frontiers and a welcoming land to all productive newcomers can pick the era of the new waves of migrants in the 19th, 20th, and 21st century. For the ancestor-years-lived-in-Australia of 95% of the population, it would indeed be a fair description to say that Australia was an unknown land the ancestors had to discover and get used to, a new country born in exploration and still a place of wonder for the latest newcomers. The vast majority of ancestor-years lived in Australia will be better described by wonder and making-a-go rather than the guilt-trip, simply because the vast majority arrived so recently (the guilt-trip bit was a blip within a blip). So one can point to the welcoming national anthem and to current citizen ceremony history as reflective of the experienced national history of Australia.

Those who want to prepare Australia for future wars and tie the population into stories of blind obedience to authority, can point to the world wars when droves of young Australians died for the whims of its leaders. They can similarly point to the Boer wars beforehand, and the Korean/Iraq wars afterwards. The young Australians and their families involved in those wars wanted to believe their involvement was meaningful, as do the current families of servicemen and women. So the current war-mongers-in-charge have historical precedent on their side when they perpetuate a 150 years long ancestry of promoting blind obedience and faith in the mythologies of those in power.

So you have four histories to choose from, each with some historical accuracy for those who insist on such things. Each is a perversion and gross simplification of our lives and that of our ancestors. Indeed, none of the four captures the mundane realities of the 100,000 years that our human ancestors have lived. We should dispense with what the egos of the historians dictate and choose on the basis of our combined egos.

Personally, I think the ‘we are a welcoming frontier country’ history is the one that best serves Australians’ current interests. It is the nicest of the national stories on offer, the most inclusive and the most generous to the incoming waves of migrants and the vast majority of those who live here.

I thus reject the war-monger stories now told about the wars, as well as the ‘born in sin’ stories, and even the ‘dream time’ stories. I do not reject them because they are untrue, or because they lack a constituency of people who believe them and want to believe them. I reject them because they are divisive. No more than slivers of these stories should be in our education curriculum.

The dream time story is not useful because too few can identify with it. The guilt trip is not useful because no modern nation wants to celebrate their ancestors as genocidal egotists and rapists (unlike the Romans who celebrated both). The blind obedience story is the story of mental retards who lack the courage and capacity to stand on their own two feet, and is thereby also belittling.

Advance Australia Fair, I say, from all the lands on earth we come. Ignore the other stories on offer, I say, for their purpose is to demean us, not unite us.

How an ostensible $16/day car rental comes to cost twice that

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 11/11/2017 - 1:41pm in