Being economical with la vérité

Sometimes you can’t help feeling that politicians and the media enjoy treating us regular citizens as though we were the third cousins from Hicksville. They act as though we’re all stupid, to put it bluntly.  ‘Just look confident and use lots of management-speak gooble-de-gook and you can tell whoppers’, is the seeming underlying attitude.

Here you can think back to Mr. Rudd telling us that the would-be refugees refusing to get off the boat wouldn’t get a special deal or that an Australian ETS was needed to save the planet whatever other countries did or did not do. Or, for an overseas example, think of President Obama’s claim to want to shrink the deficit. Yes, and Tiger and his wife are looking forward to an intimate dinner together this weekend.

Of course those are pretty blatant examples. Much more common is prevarication that is wrapped in politically correct orthodoxies inside an ineffable taboo.  For example, it’s just not done, old boy, to indulge in any hard-nosed weighing of the costs and benefits of large scale Muslim immigration.

We have to continue on with the fiction that all immigrants are potentially equally beneficial to this country. Now as an atheist myself, I want to live in a country where citizens feel free to say anything they want, even about religions and their claims about truth. Others just have to grow a thick skin. I’m something of a John Stuart Mill acolyte on this one. Allow free and vigorous debate and truth will out.

But if some groups insist on taking issues off the table, on the implicit threat of violence, then I am rather inclined to treat them differently as far as immigration to this country is concerned.

Look at the Yale University book row over the Danish cartoons. The truth is that the publishers and editors were afraid of violence, in a way they are never afraid when it comes to saying just about anything at all, however derogatory, about Christians or Christian beliefs. But the pretence invoked by the Yale publishers, in order to hide this dirty little truth, was that we don’t want to offend.

Or what about the UN Human Rights Council? This body turns out to be every bit as dysfunctional and awful as its predecessor. Recently it dispatched a special rapporteur to New York City to consider if the lack of affordable housing there violates human rights. I suppose that as the world’s injustices go, that must be top of the list, at least if you’re some international bureaucrat looking for a place to do some hard-nosed investigating of human rights abuses. Heck, I’m pretty sure I’d prefer visiting New York over Sudan or Somalia or North Korea too.

Or closer to home for journalists, what about the obvious truth that journalists tend, on average, to be more left-wing than the voting public? Likewise with university academics. A few years back an American legal academic looked at the political donations of legal academics from top law schools in the US. These are in the public domain there. Those sending money to the Democrats outnumbered those sending money to Republicans by more than 6 to 1. I’m confident the ratio would be much the same here in Australia, if not even more highly imbalanced in favour of Labor.

But of course endless talk of ‘diversity’ on campus almost never involves demands for a diversity of political outlook.

By the way, if you favour diversity in your judicial appointments, as so many do, you might be interested to know that on the US Supreme Court at present there is not a single practising Protestant, and this in a country whose population is 60 percent Protestant. Meanwhile in other respects it is crushing uniformity as regards appointees being those who were graduated from an Ivy League law school.

Here’s another unmentionable truth. The European Union is astoundingly undemocratic. The whole project is a top-down one driven by elites. And when the voters say ‘no’, as they did in France and Ireland, then they either aren’t asked again or they’re asked till they give the ‘correct’ answer. Meanwhile in the UK the Lisbon Treaty is waived through despite a rock solid promise of a referendum at the last election from all parties, a promise that was avoided by pretending that something that contains 99 percent of what went before is now too different to give voters a vote.

We could go on. How about the claim that ‘torture doesn’t work’? Leave aside whether you think waterboarding is a technique that does or does not fall under the aegis of torture. I can see the strengths of the view that says “I don’t want my country doing this, for moral reasons”. And I can see the strengths of the view that replies “Given what was at stake waterboarding was necessary, and a lot less harsh than many, many other ways of trying to get information”.

I think both those positions are honourable and defensible. What I find incredible, though, is the claim that these sort of techniques never work. It’s the old desire to have your cake and eat it too – so it’s immoral but doesn’t work anyway.  This, of course, is to imagine a world in which there’s always an easy way out and where the facts always correspond with one’s moral druthers.

It’s probably not even worth mentioning the lack of honesty in such recent events as President Obama’s winning of the Nobel Peace Prize, nominations having closed some dozen days after he took up the job. Give the power to pick a winner to a group of largely centre left Norwegian politicians and you shouldn’t be surprised if President Obama wins days into his tenure, but President Reagan never did despite his being as responsible for the Berlin Wall coming down as anyone.

Similary, there’s the obfuscation around Roman Polanski and the bid for his extradition from Switzerland. To listen to Hollywood types you’d think Polanski’s having drugged and had sex with an unwilling 13 year old girl, more than once, was an irrelevant detail in the life of a man who has made a few well-received movies. As Whoopi Goldberg explained, “it wasn’t rape-rape”. The literal truth, alas, is that is precisely what it was.

Meanwhile if George W. or Johnny H. or some rightwing Hollywood type (forgive me, but I can’t think of an example offhand, but you get the idea) does something this same crowd disagrees with then the moral exhibitionism and over-the-top cries of outrage are plastered everywhere.

It’s as though all this being economical with la vérité won’t be noticed by the great unwashed.

James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at the University of Queensland.

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