Taken for fools by bumper-sticker brainiacs

It never stops amazing me how condescending and patronising those who find themselves in positions of power can sometimes be about the abilities of your average voter.

Rather than bore you all with more comment on the incredibly patronising, condescending tone and words of Ray Finkelstein in his Report arguing for a statutory, taxpayer-funded Media Council I want to focus elsewhere. Okay, maybe I will bore you briefly with this little quote from the Finkelstein Report: “There is real doubt as to whether these capacities [to weigh and assess what they hear] are present for all, or even most, citizens and, even if they are, both speakers and audiences are often motivated by interests other than a desire for truth…”. (p.30 of the Report)

Of course that would never apply to judges, retired judges, or professors of journalism, would it? Just to your average voter. What extraordinarily smug and sanctimonious tosh!

But my intention is not to blast Mr. Finkelstein in this piece, however much that may be a highly satisfying side-effect or digression. No, my point is that this sort of holier-than-thou attitude that systematically downplays the critical abilities of those outside some special circle of privileged power is far too common.

Here are a few examples. The first is from my own university, where these little golf cart-type vehicles zip around the campus daily carrying in big letters the words: "Emissions Free Vehicle". Seriously. 

So you have to ask yourself, does the VC and top echelon of highly paid bureaucrats at my university take all of us academics and students for  morons? An emissions-free vehicle? Well, if you don’t count how the vehicle itself was made, and more to the point, you opt completely to ignore how the battery that runs the thing was constructed and charged – as if the vehicle and battery simply appeared one day by magic, like some black box whose inner workings one is never allowed to peer into and understand you must attribute energy costs to such factors – well, in that make-believe-world sense it may be an “emissions free vehicle”.

But in the real world that all of us inhabit that sort of claim is patently ridiculous. And yet there they are proclaiming it on all of these little golf cart buggies zipping around. These higher-ups who had it written there must be assuming, I suppose, that students and faculty really are as stupid as they are suppose to be over in the halls of power.

Or is this perhaps just an exercise in proclaiming their own moral virtues, in line with the politically correct orthodoxies of the day?

Here’s another example: A bunch of left-wing Norwegian parliamentarians, together with a bishop, wait till the only right-winger on the committee is away and then vote to give the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union. And this from a bunch of Europhiles who can’t even convince their own Norwegian fellow citizens to join this democracy-enervating supra-national EU body. And this when the euro common currency, rammed down the throats of voters without any democratic mandate at all, is imploding all around the southern fringes of the EU and people in Greece are dressing up as Nazis in their thousands to welcome the German Chancellor to their country.

Oh, and let’s not forget this award only makes sense if you believe the EU was the cause of peace in Europe these past seven decades, not the result of a peace produced by NATO, America’s troops, and US willingness for half a century to stand up face-to-face against Soviet expansionism, even to the point of air-lifting supplies into West Berlin for months to keep the Stalinist monster at bay.

I’m all for the Single Market. And I understand that some newly democratic countries can gain a good deal by joining the EU. But even leaving aside one of the greatest causes of poverty in the Third World, the EU’s wretched Common Agricultural Policy, the EU has done next to nothing to bring about peace.  It couldn’t even deal with the Serbs when Yugoslavia broke up and Europe was lapsing into mass murder. It had to be the Americans, again, and military might that sorted it out.

Again, you have to assume the Nobel Peace Prize Committee assumes everyone in Europe, everyone in the world, is either an idiot or in the grip of some ideological fervour that allows them to put aside what might accurately be described as “the facts”.

Here’s one last one: Australia making it on to the Security Council. This, we’re told, will give us real influence. It will allow us to shape events. The millions, or tens of millions, of dollars spent pursuing this goal – even if it involved a bit of genuflecting to unsavoury countries here and throwing under the bus a few friends of Australia there – was well worth it.

Really? Are we thought to be simple-minded or something? First off, ask anyone proclaiming this to be a really important outcome to name the other present members of the Security Council. And if they name only the permanent members, the five countries with a veto, that doesn’t count. I mean, get them to name the present non-permanent country members other than Australia (so you can see how other people in the world will be influenced by our making it onto this body). And maybe have them name a few former members too.

And then ask them what the Security Council has achieved in, say, the last two decades. Or rather, ask what it has achieved that wouldn’t have been achieved with just the five permanent members of the US, Russia, China, the UK and France.

This is about posturing and prancing on the world stage. It’s about getting good TV coverage on the world stage, especially if you can’t come up with policies that get that for you at home.

It’s about assuming the voters are incapable of weighing up and assessing the overall value of making it to – temporarily only, of course — the UN’s Security Council.

The underlying thinking is that you and I haven’t got the capacities to do that, which takes us back to the Finkelstein worldview. Yuck!

James Allan is Garrick Professor of Law at University of Queensland

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