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October 04th 2011 print

John Izzard

Being No. 1

The Bolt judgment promotes that most nasty form of censorship, self-censorship, whereby a writer is not restricted so much by a clearly defined law, but by the fear of an ill-defined legal entanglement. Australia’s film censorship works this way.

The past week has been quite extraordinary.

What with the launch of the new ABC series The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and the continuing excitement following the launch of a little book by Australia’s No. 1 public intellectual, Robert Manne, attacking the nation’s No. 1 newspaper, The Australian, and then the judgment against Australia’s No. 1 blog-man and journalist, Andrew Bolt, by Australia’s No. 1 legal interpreter of our freedoms-of-expression, Justice Mordecai Bromberg — it is a relief to see our No. 1 politician, Julia Gillard, is still running No. 3 against Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd. 

At times you get the feeling that you are living in another country! 

What the week has done, though, is flush out some rather nasty underlying currents that have been lurking about for some time. These currents strike at the heart of the free and open society that we presume to enjoy. It is intriguing that the nasties have all surfaced at the same time. 

Through their actions, Robert Manne, Andrew Bolt and Judge Bromberg have conveniently drawn attention to these “nasties” in a way that years of writing, by many commentators, had failed to do. These nasties can now be refined down to: 

  1. Arrogance of the intellectual elites.
  2. Thought-control via political correctness.
  3. Attempts to restrict the freedom of the press.
  4. Legal restrictions upon an individual’s freedom of expression. 

The trial of Andrew Bolt and the Bromberg judgment certainly sent a clear message to writers, journalists and commentators about their freedom to operate in a free society. The judgment promotes that most nasty form of censorship, self-censorship, whereby a writer is not restricted so much by a clearly defined law, but by the fear of an ill-defined legal entanglement. Australia’s film censorship works this way. 

But without doubt, the trifecta, plus one, goes to Australia’s No. 1 public intellectual, Robert Manne. In Bad News he rounded up about 10 years of news items, printed by The Australian newspaper  —  items with which he didn’t agree — then claimed that printing these non-approved-by Manne news items and opinions, were some sort of a problem. Indeed for their sins, Manne proposed that the newspaper’s editor, Chris Mitchell, should be sacked, and the owner, Rupert Murdoch, have The Australian taken from him and sold to another owner. And neither Mr Mitchell nor Mr Murdoch could go to Fair Work Australia. 

Presumably the new owner of The Australian would be someone like Eric Beecher, owner of Australia’s No. 1 one-eyed, Left-wing, online site, Crikey

But it is not Manne’s attack upon a worldwide media outlet that so questions his 2006 title of Australia’s No. 1 public intellectual. News Ltd is big enough to take stick. It is his attack on the rights of non-elitist, non-intellectual-accredited, non-scientifically educated, and the non-Lefty, non-politically-correct citizens of Australia, to have an opinion on the “science” of climate change, and indeed have the right to express an opinion about it. 

You might ask, since when do citizens not have the right to be doubtful — indeed suspicious of the dodgy, the tricky and the so-called “keepers of the sacred knowledge”. You don’t need to be a scientist to smell a rat in the apocalyptic world of climate-science. 

Manne’s attitude, as expressed in Bad News  and later at the Sydney launch at Glee Books, that ignorant Australians should just shut-up and accept the science of climate, is simply an extension of the elitist phrase, “the science is settled”. But of course, science never is! The earliest discoverer of how to make a flint blade, by chipping it, no doubt proved that the science of chewing on the haunch of a dead masterdom, wasn’t the way to go. Slicing it with a flint blade, or chopping it with a stone axe, beat gnawing away at it with your teeth. The science of toolmaking wasn’t settled then, and isn’t now. 

You might say that the science of medicine was always “settled” until someone always came along and “unsettled” it. Academies and universities were once places where science was usually “unsettled” by experiment and argument, rather than enforced by edict. The “settling of science” is a political notion, not a scientific one. As Australia’s No. 1 public intellectual, Robert Manne should know that even the most dogmatic climate scientists claim that the science is only 90% to 95% “certain”. It would only take a 99.9999999999% certain-theory to be unsettled by some dumb kid or an absent-minded parson, to change the game. Think of the science of much of Georgian and Victorian England —  and all the way back to the Greeks. The theory of “settled science” is something cooked up about a decade ago. There is no such thing. 

No doubt Marx, Lenin, Stalin and Chairman Mao thought the science of communism was settled, as were the whacky ideas that the Adolf cooked up about race and bloodlines and the genetic modification required to improve them. Settled science, settled government, settled ideas can be extremely deadly and should be avoided at all costs. Public intellectuals should be our guardians against authoritarianism, not promoters of it. What on earth was

Australia’s No. 1 public intellectual thinking? Or at least, writing? 

The Pythagorean theorem only takes 24 words; the Lord’s Prayer 66 words; Archimedes’ Principle 67 words; the ten Commandments 179 words; the Gettysburg Address 268 words, yet it took Robert Manne over 25,000 words to tell us that he doesn’t like what The Australian newspaper prints, what Keith Windschuttle writes, and what the majority of Australians think about climate, and he wants to stop them all.  Oh, by the way, the EU regulations on the sale of cabbage takes 26,911 words. 

Meanwhile, this week The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is on television. Enjoy!