On polling day

The State of New South Wales goes to the polls today.  I live in another state, but it shapes as an interesting contest that may lead to some intriguing results.

Mens Sana in Corpore Sano

I’ve been thinking lately about the Latin phrase mens sana in corpore sano as a means of analysing politics (among other things).  It seems to me that every non-criminal government will ensure that its citizens remain alive; it is only the best that will offer them conditions that really make them live. Some of the smaller parties contending today, however, can be said to have made that their starting point.

Arts Party

I received an email from the Arts Party yesterday (which is what prompted this post). The capacity of the arts to challenge people, and therefore change and enrich them, should not be underestimated.  Hence, a grouping like this is an encouraging thing. 

Australian Cyclists Party

I recently joined the Cyclists Party because it seemed to be the closest to my core interest of running: after all, cyclists and runners use much the same infrastructure (like rail-trails) and have a common interest in promoting fitness-oriented policies (as it happens, I subsequently also bought a bicycle).  Like the arts, a dedication to fitness has an incredible power to change people and show them their own strengths.  This, surely, is to be encouraged.

Vote 1 ACP

Shooters and Fishers Party

It might seem incongruous to include a reference to the Shooters and Fishers Party after the preceding two.  I do not think this is so.  Aside from the obvious benefits of having to be outside to both hunt and fish, I think there are benefits from both as regards mental wellbeing.  For one thing, both activities connect the present with the people of the past: not for nothing is a French political party with similar aims named “Chasse, pêche, nature, traditions” (“Hunting, Fishing, Nature, Traditions”).  For another, the task of killing either animal or fish compels the hunter or fisher to consider (if only fleetingly) some of the bigger questions of existence: as Hemingway said, “Because [the Spanish] have common sense they are interested in death and do not spend their lives avoiding the thought of it and hoping it does not exist only to discover it when they come to die”(1).

Vote 1 SFP

Outdoor Recreation Party

The Outdoor Recreation Party hints that, in the future, the liberal and libertarian schools of thought may find that a common love for the natural world gives them more in common than what divides them.  Being outdoors – being in nature – is rejuvenative and touches people at a fundamental level.  Camus said that “the great shout of stone that Djemila hurls between the mountains , the sky , and the silence – well do I know its poetry: lucidity, indifference, the true signs of beauty or despair” (2).

Vote 1 ORP

There are many important questions in politics.  But whichever way you vote today, I hope you vote for whatever you think will help may you most whole in body and mind.

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(1) Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon (1932), ch. 19

(2) Albert Camus, ‘The Wind at Djemila’ (trans. Ellen Kennedy), in Philip Thody (ed.), Lyrical and Critical Essays (1970), p.79

The Arts Party – a Response

I posted a piece the other day pondering an issue that I felt was raised by the creation of the Arts Party.  Last night a very good comment was made on the piece by the leader of that party – I thought it was a great response, so I’m copying and pasting it hereunder –

Hello there, I’d like to chime in on this post if I may, speaking as the leader of the Arts Party! We’ve got 1500 members across all states and territories of Australia and only registered in August 2014. Our first policy document will be out soon and was the result of grassroots meetings, discussion and inputs that occurred again in every state and territory – I was personally at most of those meetings!

We absolutely focus on the need and right of EVERY Australian to have a more creative and cultural life (to be a creator and a consumer). It’s clear that those of us living in the cities are the relatively lucky ones, when it comes to access to output and facilities (if we can afford them that is). However regional and rural communities are often virtually starved of quality artistic and cultural content and performances, something that needs addressing first.

Artistic and creative experiences should not require driving 2 hours to the Opera House, or a 2 hour flight, they should be happening in suburbs and local streets, communities and towns across the city, the state, the country. It’s good for the economy, health, tolerance, and “us” in so many ways…

I wrote a while back that microparties are a very encouraging sign for our democracy: having secured life and liberty, some proper argument can be had as to the pursuit of happiness (however that term is understood).  For myself, I surely look forward to following the Arts Party’s contribution.

An “Arts Party” for Australia?

Reading up on the New South Wales election recently, I saw a reference to a very new microparty that rather caught my eye.  It calls itself the Arts Party, and exists to promote the cause of art and creativity at a political level.



This is a movement I have some sympathy with, since it seems of a piece with my general guiding principle of mens sana in corpore sano. But I did ask myself:  Is such a party reinforcing some inherent problems as well?

What crosses my mind is this: some members of what one might call the creative classes regard the suburbs (or outer suburbs) of our major cities with condescension. Another views them with contempt bordering on genuine hatred. Beyond the suburbs, a third seems to view rural areas as almost another country.

In addition, perhaps the most recognisable focus of rural cultural output is the ABC’s radio program Australia All Over, which is (not unfairly) derided as hopelessly folksy and unchallenging.

In the circumstances, then, must the program of an Arts Party necessarily involve a one-way conversation from the metropolis to the rest of the country, where one side has everything to say about culture and the other little or nothing to teach? And if so, is this desirable?

On studying international law.

There was an interesting piece on the university study of international law on the Marquette University Law Blog recently.

I found it interesting but was a little unsure whether “international law” here means law between nations or foreign law. If the latter, it may be less critically needed in Australian law schools, where foreign cases are routinely used for teaching purposes.

Speaking generally, I’m always intrigued by American lawyers’ relationship with transnational law. I have some sympathy with the scepticism and caution of someone like William Safire (‘The purloined treaty‘, NY Times, 9 April 2001). For example, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia can be said to have failed, noting that it has been so procedure-heavy that it remains prosecuting offenders some 20 years after the events in question, when national courts have moved significantly faster (eg Prosecutor v Saric (High Court of Denmark, Okten, Linæs and Øesterborg JJ, 25 November 1994, unreported).

The problem is that this caution rapidly shades into an unattractive scorn for international legal norms, including orders of the International Court of Justice (eg Ted Cruz. ‘SCOTUS rejects authority of World Court‘, Human Events, 1 April 2008). Its reductio ad absurdum, incidentally, seems to be in the non-ironic claim of the Eagle Forum that international law does not exist at all!

History, Reality & Scotland (#indyref)

As I type this, ABC News24 is giving an update on the voting – now underway – in the Scottish independence referendum. It seems the “no” vote is ahead.

Whatever the result, the argument will continue. If the referendum fails, the yes camp will forever claim ‘we wuz robbed’. If it succeeds, the no camp will spend a few years saying, Cassandra-like, ‘you’ll be sorry’.

The Scottish referendum seems like a good example of a much greater problem in modern thought, which is the desire to believe that the past was – and the present is – thus-and-so because one says it was (or is).

Perhaps no country has a more active relationship with its own past than the United States. On one analysis, that country’s founding principles and founding identities are readily identifiable, more immutable and less open to multiple readings as words cast in stone. This ramifications of this certainty in the present are its analogue of certainty about what American values are and preferences for particular constitutional analyses. It also has its analogue in the somewhat tortured response to the suggestion that there are multiple ways of making sense of the past and in the discomfiture with the reality that even honourable leaders may sometimes need to act extralegally.

What does this tell us about the Scottish referendum? The most optimistic readings of an independent Scotland’s economic future are still not encouraging. And this future is pursued in the hope, not only of living out a fictional past, but of forcing a great many other people to do so as well. And in contrast to the American experience, where dominant knowledges of the past are conflicted, malleable, and up for grabs, it is hard to imagine an independent Scotland accepting much critique at any level from a conservative or Unionist reading of the past.

Perhaps this tells us something about the outcome to be desired in Scotland: that it will be allowed to cling on to a make-believe past and a wishful-thinking future, in a small, obscure and windswept territory on the fringe of Europe, as far as possible from the levers of real power.

It is hard to think of a sadder epitaph for a proud nation.

On ‘disciplining’ children

In a recent case – State v Victor and Victor – a Louisiana court convicted a man of murder for beating his son to death and his wife of manslaughter for failing to prevent it.

It’s interesting to compare this case with Jordan Lebeau’s essay in the Boston Globe on why African American families may tend, on apparently rational grounds, to retain corporal punishment for their children.

It seems to me that a practice can be justified if it retains a rational justification (cf this article from the Pacific Legal Foundation), or at least a non-insane justification. But when that practice will inevitably throw up at least one or two cases that end in death for one party and imprisonment for another? That seems to me too high a price.

Will the Child Abuse Royal Commission backfire?

(Personal note: I thought for quite a while before writing this, and I’m a little reluctant to post it because I know it may hit some very raw nerves. If it does, I certainly apologise).

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Abuse is starting to trouble me.

Not because I have a personal stake in the subject matter at any level (save, perhaps, for being a reasonably genuine Roman Catholic). I am starting to think that, ultimately, the Commission will help normalise child abuse rather than stamp it out.

Like most people, I have followed the enquiry entirely through the media. The accounts of abuse and institutional inaction must, indeed, be seen to be believed. The problem is that, once seen and believed, they quickly numb the senses (1). I don’t think that this (lack of) reaction is unique to me: I suspect it is becoming the norm. Some evidence for this might have come through a few weeks ago, when an allegation that at other times would have seemed implausible – that former Field Marshal, war hero and Governer-General Sir William Slim had been an abuser – was reported, not only uncritically, but deadpan. What’s important here, I stress, is not the allegation (which might or might not be well-founded) but the tone of the report. It is, one might say, a scandal that failed to scandalise.

I’m going to make a prediction and suggest that in the foreseeable future, we may see the Royal Commission, and child abuse connected with it, becoming the source material for comedy. There’s a precedent for this: in the late 1980s the Fitzgerald Inquiry into Police Corruption uncovered a seemingly endless amount of misconduct, and itself eventually became the subject of humour –

In the case of child abuse, some of the comic foundations have perhaps already been laid in the form of Family Guy’s character “Herbert the Pervert” and in South Park episodes like “Cartman joins NAMBLA” and “World Wide Recorder Concert”. (2)

If I am right about this, and child abuse becomes a subject of comedy, then the next step is likely to be normalisation: once something becomes a punchline, it tends to lose a great deal of its taboo-ness and its abnormality (3) and can be discussed ‘rationally’ (for want of a better word). Some of the intellectual groundwork has actually already been done for treating child abuse as just another form of sexual conduct: consider the indulgence which some would afford film-maker Roman Polanski in relation to his rape of a thirteen year old girl, and the support in 1970s France for legalizing sexual relations between adults and children.

There is a powerful argument that the present Royal Commission is a long overdue act of justice, and a much needed cleaning of many institutions’ Augean stables. I have a lot of sympathy for this argument. But I think that in the long run, the revelations which flow from it will do more harm than good.

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(1) A phrasing I have shamelessly stolen from Clive James’ “Postcard from Los Angeles”.
(2) It’s interesting to note in this regard that Family Guy is usually taken to have a liberal orientation and South Park a conservative one.
(3) For example, a person who might have been alarmed by the decision in National Socialist Party of America v Village of Skokie may well find it harder to treat Illinois Nazis as a threat after seeing them openly mocked in The Blues Brothers.