Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Political Dogwhistles

Perhaps I should lead off by admitting that I am a conservative voter, albeit I sit just to the right of centre, as did my father. And at my age of 55 years I have to say that I have accepted the fact that I am almost a clone of him. I should also add that that is not at all a bad thing. He was one of a small group who lobbied for and implemented the pharmaceutical benefits scheme that allowed the poor and relatively so to gain access to medications they could not otherwise have. He also led a negotiating committee for over 10 years which finally succeeded in getting back the money that government stole from his profession. And it was his colleague who, at my fathers funeral, could not help but quote a line from a speech he gave at the Guilds most well attended AGM post fiasco.

"Government does not alter agreements honorably entered into. It simply abandons them."

For what it was worth, he'd said to me in private, it was a message that had to be delivered to those representatives of government he'd made sure were occupying the front tables at that AGM. He didn't suspect it would alter any future similar behavior but it was, he thought, a necessary comment about a lamentable display of human stupidity and deceit. Which brings me to the new Prime Minister and an article penned by Greg Sheridan, The Australian Newspaper senior editor and, they always have to point out, another enamoured with his own and the PMs belief and surety in Big Daddy. Their belief in a god concept rather belittles the position they hold. They do not only believe in it (as in the concept), they are convinced that what they cannot see nor touch nor objectively verify in any way at all is necessarily going to be the very belief that powers the parties 'values' and everyone else's by default. And what value is there in a belief that one is the pet of a being which is the cause, meaning and solution to all things everywhere? What is the problem with that?

Philosophy has the word epistemology which concerns not beliefs themselves, but how one manges to establish, or move, one's beliefs to the position of knowledge. Anyone making a decision about anything is using some type of epistemology or method whereby they arrange or glue together an idea, argument or belief. But can all methods help us build reliable knowledge? No they bloody well can't. If we assume to know that any supernatural concept is a description of reality it is to say precisely this - When it all boils down, we can only make the claim to know a god exists (and all of the other claims thereby attached) by merely pretending to know it does. Dressing that belief in rhetoric, metaphor and appeals to each and every logical fallacy can't move it any further than pure personal belief.

And yet no one, even the devout, actually uses faith to perform any constructive task, certainly not those we expect to be used to run a country, education, infrastructure or anything else such as keeping people alive. If faith is so demonstrably efficacious as a method of knowing something and therefore the only worthy foundation of 'values' or 'freedom' then let's put our courage into our convictions. Stand at the side of the road with your children and offer them this - dear one whom I value, and whose freedoms I respect the most, you have the choice to cross the road using an objective epistemology (look, listen, check) or you can practice your faith, close your eyes, call upon the power of the (insert whichever magical or protector friend is of your choosing) and step out into.. If we value injury, death and credulity then sure, use faith as epistemology and sell it to a secular society. If faith is hope or trust in things not yet seen then it's wise, surely, to cross a road hoping that it's safe without needing to know or pretending you do. These 'values' and 'freedoms' would argue that reason expects a child (and perhaps an entire country) to run blindfolded across a street. I'd asked my father why he was no longer so religious (he died a deist). "I asked too many questions. They didn't like that."

And this is what, along with an already natural tendency to deceive and to pulp agreements, to discard ethics altogether, can only be expanded and inflated when injected with the ramblings of men and women who believe they KNOW the all of everything but can't demonstrate any of it. It is to steal valour not earn it. There is no greater expression of a Dunning-Kruger mindset than to turn ones own ignorance into a virtue. Faith does work! There is no other means by which an individual can make oneself feel good, feel ethical and feel knowledgeable without the special need to be any of the three. Because need we remind anyone that in the Pentecostal tradition, ultimately and with what must be the ultimate value and freedom, one can do whatever one wishes provided they remember to get 'saved', eventually, and that hell is reduced to the crime of thought, or lack of belief. How is this a reliable or even a sane intellectual platform for government? Sheridan extols the virtues of the Pentecostal, therefore the faith healer and the speaker of tongues. Then why not use such credulity in parliament (and science, engineering and the health care system)?!

The religious have more than enough freedom in this sort of egalitarian country of ours. Try (go on, test it out!) being born again in 13 other countries and you'll experience a complete lack of freedom, of liberty and your life. But in this country anyone can pray to any variety of imagined beings or phantoms in their own time, without the burden of tax, perhaps even while crossing the street, with eyes wide open of course. So to hear the incessantly vague 'values' and 'freedoms' from people unable to investigate the flaws in their own epistemology, to see grown men in positions of power, not only unable but quite unwilling to think clearly and to indulge in 'values' held together by wonder tissue tends to make thinking people a little uneasy. It is the edge of the same theocracies all secular nations attempted to avoid. It is nothing but pretense dressed as piety, if there is such a difference. There is a division between states and churches for a reason - to allow the freedoms of both - one personal and the other social. One purely speculative the other objective, if possible (the former renders that impossible). If we are to take Mr Sheridan's argument as sound we should be able to run the country perfectly by doing nothing but praying and believing, from whence all knowledge comes. Until that time, in that other universe somewhere, where facts really don't matter, one would think it reasonable for our politicians to step down off their self awarded and entirely undeserved pulpits. Then, perhaps, we can actually all get to work, together.