Between Hanson & Hitchens.

Recently Q & A hosted a panel which included Pauline Hanson. She is quite well known in Australia, critics would describe her as an xenoophobic and supporters would say she is asking some serious questions. Her political party has done well in recent elections and has a policy of a Royal Commission into Islam and of halting immigration exclusively of Muslims. Christopher Hitchens, who has died, was a militant atheist and very critical of Islam, as well as warfare and imperialism.

I am not a devote follower of politics, but I am confident in asserting that Ms. Hanson is the main Australian politician who is critical of Islam. I would assume Mr. Hitchens would support her attitudes, to a limited extent. A question to ask his ghost via spirit medium, would be ‘Do you think all religious political groups have a definite & active interest in marginalising criticism and a result of this, is the obscuring of reasonable criticism of Islam by the undesirable title of Islamophobia?’ His answer to banning Islamic migration would be a little more predictable, I reckon.

It is difficult for atheist criticism to gain traction, in part due to an attitude that religion is well intended. Neither the Bible nor the Quran (nor the Torah) are perfect guides to morality, and this is in direct conflict with strong Christianity & strong Islam (& strong Judaism). As long as discussion centers on the positive parts of the Bible, the assumption of the perfection of the Messiah & his message is left unchallenged, and the explicitly murderous verses & verses of nonsense don’t become part of the reputation. It is distasteful to connect murder and nonsense with the Christian theology, with the Christian holy book. However, I would think it less provocative to do so, than to criticise Islam. Criticism of the Quran, or of Islam on the evidence of the nations where it has been strongest for the longest, is seen as fanning the flames of right wing extremism and intolerance.

To briefly discuss Aisha (an active figure in the Sunni – Shia schism), explicit details in the Koran provide Islamic acceptance & approval of at least one occurrence of paedophilia (10 y/o girl and 54 y/o man) and polygamy (to the 11th degree), both crimes in ‘the West’ and both significantly, but not exclusively or totally, associated with Islamic communities, including migrants & refugees. This is an honest criticism is diminished & ignored by things such as the fear of the label of Islamophobe & genuine Islamophobes who only squawk of terrorism. Also, those Muslims who either want to change their community or represent a change are less publicly active than would otherwise be the case, and so their views do not propagate as one would wish.

In a moment of support for Ms. Hanson, those nations (Saudi Arabia & Iran) have not produced a respectable democracy. Democracy in Indonesia (which is successful & mostly respectable) I believe to be a product of historical capitalism (controlling profitable spice trading) which in turn led to colonialism (by the Dutch) who imported their systems of organisation which were retained after the Dutch (& others) departed.
Criticism of Kim Davis was a much greater presence in the media than criticism of Saudi Arabia & Iran in relation to LGBTQI causes, especially with the Saudi seat on the UNHRC. This illustrates the shielded (within the mainstream) status which Islam currently, and wrongfully in my opinion, holds. Further it is a dynamic which produces alienation of the right wing & conspiracy.

Ms. Hanson and her One Nation party represent citizens who hold strong negative views of Islam and seek to represent these views on the national scale. Mr. Hitchens was more an activist than a representative and sought to develop the international public discourse on religion. How would you compare Hanson & Hitchens? How do you compare Islamophobia and militant atheism?.


The Resource of Public Discourse.

I like to describe the resources of public discourse thusly; attention, emotion, creative chances and action. Talk shows, panel shows and general media constantly circulate information throughout the community, according to various agendas and events. The subject of the popular public platforms will receive more attention, which feeds into expressions of emotion (eg. I care about this cause, I have more time for those people now, I never really got it before), feeds into a chance of someone creating a solution (eg. reduce the gender pay gap by asking women to negotiate wages), and it can feed into signing a petition, protest / solidarity march and what-not.

The circulation of information can indeed be circular. An example begins with those indigenous peoples of the world who face cycles of suffering which are an ongoing effect of colonisation. From the (what I imagine to be) perspective of a child, it is not immediately obvious that history is to blame for some social problems, nor that social projects specifically for minorities (instead of for problems) may be validated as an effort to break a cycle of suffering. Left to explain to themself, a child might learn a skin deep explanation to both predict and explain certain social issues, and that social projects specifically for minorities are simply a different expression of favouritism. As the child grows and learns the invisible explanation, the surface explanation is overcome, righteousness kicks in and this cycle repeats itself.
To briefly go deeper, a dogma, as opposed to a talking point, brooks no argument and readily produces contradictions (race-blind hiring set against racial benefits). A talking point allows the consistent explanation to be given, tweaks to the consistent explanation and immediate developments of the state of affairs alongside just arguing or joking, and it’s those last two which circulate the issue into smoko. These two paragraphs hopefully demonstrate a resource of public discourse, development & maintenance of the public opinion.

Most resources are limited in quantity, and this is true of the resource of public discourse. Each of us has only a finite time alive, and as attention requires life then our attention is a limited resource. As the developments of emotion, creative chance and action require that attention to begin, they are also limited. Competition for the limited resource of public attention comes from media personalities seeking to maintain their position, from advertising seeking to hold and manipulate it and from more places. Limitations of attention, perhaps by a limited broadcast time, means not all questions can be asked, conversation may be cut short, fuller explanations are inexpressible and so please be mindful of the balance of public discourse. Sometimes a dogma is a better response than a talking point.

Public discourse is a society wide resource to which we should all have recourse. An ability to determine what is discussed is at least as powerful as determining how it is discussed, and so there is a never ending battle over the hot topic & public enemy number 1. I believe a good discussion should include a relative position of the subject, and a relative position of social justice campaigns could undermine their impact. Positioning an issue within a broader context could also result in better distribution of the resource of public discourse.

Public Opinion, Soft Drink & Spectacle.

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”
Edward Bernays

Public opinion is the most popular opinion if a survey were administered and the top results collected. It does not require a logical explanation, a position held may be arrived at by different approachs. It is this public opinion which democratic institutions should define and apply. It is this public opinion which advertising firms seek to manipulate for private gain.

Public opinion is not entirely free, nor entirely national. Restrictions on free speech vary from false advertising, to inciting riots, to threats. International opinions are beyond any single nation, and Earth Day is a demonstration of public opinion unrestricted by national boundaries. Attention given to dissent varies in quality and quantity, and this feeds back into public attitudes about the current state of affairs.

This ‘invisible government’ is not as coherent as it may soiund. Public health government  departments and Coca-Cola advertisers both influence public behaviour and opinion in effectively opposite directions. It is an scary world where the best & brightest in this field are more likely found in a private company than public service. That is where they are though, for good or ill.

The competition for the public attention is where the Spectacle proper begins. NYC regulations of soft drinks began a Spectacle which reached Australian shores and for good cause, obesity is a major health problem here & there. A major public health problem, treated with socially supported medicine, the cost of which can be assisted by taxation on the billions of profits of soft drink companies.

The then mayor of  NYC, a city 50%+ obese, sought to regulate and moderate soft drink consumption. The anti-soft drink aspect of the Spectacle expressed itself in forms of newspaper stories, talk show segments and billboards displaying health messages. The pro-soft drink aspect of the Spectacle manifested in the same forms but also could draw on the Spectacle of the brand. Brands which advertise as though a tropical getaway were taken with each sip, or at least when you feel like a holiday, sip that feeling away. Truly there are soft drink brands which are international, and these brands won (by constitutional appeal that government exceeded it’s authority).

Ability to influence public opinion is found much more in the private pursuit of profit than in public service. This dynamic, of pursuing a fantastic representation for a wage, elevates the Spectacle beyond reality. A company is better known by advertising than by the real conditions, and in pursuit of a sale companies (Fair Trade Coffee) advertise the real conditions, as though your purchase is needed to validate decent working conditions. Coca-Cola is not the company which supplied a cocaine infused tonic to the public, it is not the company which drained drinking water in poor, rural India, Coca-Cola is the Spectacle manufactured by the marketing department. It is global. It is not going away soon. There has got to be a better way.

“The Indian parliament has banned the sale of Coke and Pepsi products in its cafeteria. Indian parliamentarians should take the logical next step, and ban the sale of Coke and Pepsi products in the entire country.

The ban came as the result of tests, including those by the Indian government, which found high concentrations of pesticides and insecticides, including lindane, DDT, malathion and chlorpyrifos, in the colas, making them unfit for consumption. Some samples tested showed the presence of these toxins to be more than 30 times the standard allowed by the European Union. Tests of samples taken from the US of the same drinks were found to be safe.” – source

What Is Philosophy?

Philosophy is the explanation. The questions held in common are the most common areas of philosophy; Why are we here? What for? When does it start? The best explanation, in alignment with the scientific method, not only connects abstract concepts with the concrete reality, it also suggests what happens next.
For millennia assorted gods understood by holy people or prophets or shamen were the best explanation. Now, the people with PhD’s (philosophical degrees of … domain) are expected to have the answers. As a divine explanation gave way to natural philosophy, so to did natural philosophy become physics & biology & chemistry, etcetera. As a parallel, philosophy of logic become involved with modern computing & coding.

Interpretation is the eternal cause of philosophy. No matter the depth of understanding when Descartes wrote his utterance”Cogito Ergo Sum”, the reader must at least know Latin. They may not know meta-physics, Descartes was interested in building his explanation from the deepest doubt up, so he found the deepest certainty, that of a self.
Examine a philosophy of, “Always butter the corners of the toast and the rest will look after itself.”. On the surface, this explanation is of no use to any non-toast related application. Application to untoasted bread is an extension, and not explicit in the philosophy. Further development to a distinct, non-food related, facet of life, perhaps study, is due to the individual. In relation to study, “Always butter the corners of the toast and the rest will look after itself.”, could be interpreted to mean focus on the tricks and tricky parts of the subject, and the rest will naturally follow. But is this re-application due to the philosophy, or the individual?

Good philosophy will make use of common knowledge. A philosophy in Latin is of use to Latin speakers, but of scant value to a Singaporean. A philosophy chock full of esoteric terms may be useless for the those outside the domain, but does require that definitions and boundaries be learnt explicitly instead of implicitly.
Allow me to demonstrate this dynamic. Force in common usage is a vague term, force in reference to cinema has an obvious bastion, and force in scientific usage has a stricter definition. The situation in biology contrasts this lump of language. In biology a fish is only the common name for a great diversity of living things, and a PhD graduate would not use the term, but instead the Latin name which carries the biological tree of life (Kingdom, Phylum, Class, Order, Family, Genus, Specie). So, a philosophy may become mystic & magical, or material & mechanical depending on the state of affairs in need of explanation. Is it better that learning be a growth of the old understanding, or a wholly new understanding?

Tides, which were once the domain of Neptune, have become the territory of an offshoot of natural philosophy, tidal sciences. If you were to describe the tides, would you say the water is always knee deep, but sometimes more? Or would you say the water is between knee and hip depth but constantly varies? How should relationships and dynamics be described?

Philosophy is the best explanation and should carry what is relevant. The philosophy of the scientific method insists on repeatability and predictive results. Reinterpretation continues to keep alive theology, and the art industry. Terminology and dynamism are common between many areas of philosophy.

What’s the difference between an excuse and an explanation?