Polls and trolls

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In my limited and unavailing exposure to classical physics, I remember vaguely only two principles, that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, and that in systems the energy differential declines and naturally reaches zero. I was reminded of these principles when reflecting on the implications of the opinion polls taken after the public outrage about the treatment of women in Parliament and the consequent strong criticism of the Prime Minister.

Main image: Newton's cradle (Michal Jarmoluk/Pixabay)

It is axiomatic that all intelligent people consider polls on political intentions to be unreliable. That no doubt says something about the mental acuity of those of us who duly glance at the news poll every month or so. The breakdown of the figures of this and similar polls, however, was interesting. It showed that support for the Prime Minister had declined substantially among women, but had remained steady or increased among men.

Psephologist Adrian Beaumont remarked on similarities with the voting patterns in last year’s United States election, where candidates who were accused of acting abusively or crassly towards women did not suffer electorally. He surmised that the differential between the responses of men and women might be influenced by a backlash against political correctness.

Political correctness is a phrase whose currency derives from its use in the so-called ‘culture wars’. They deserve further reflection in the context of the polls. I have placed culture wars in quotation marks because they really are misnamed. Wars suggest the image of two states attacking one another.

The culture wars might be better described as cultural muggings. They are like counter-insurgency operations, in which a heavily armed and resourced national force identifies and exaggerates the strength of a few resistance fighters and bombs and shells their villages. The purpose of the campaigns is to make isolated resistance to be seen as a vicious force motivated by a shared ideology, and so to strengthen support for the national status quo. Tactically, the operations incite dissidents to violent, authoritarian or abusive behaviour, depict it as representative of all dissidents, and erode public support for dissent by destroying its ethical base. The goal of the campaigns is not to gain territory but to prevent loss.

The campaigns characterised as culture wars in the United States and imported into Australia have characteristically tried to undermine ethically based movements for change. They are often supported financially by people who benefit for the status quo. The campaign to discredit global warming is the most notable example. It was supported by miners and business leaders who stood to lose from regulation of carbon emissions. It was prosecuted by media through sustained broadsides that portrayed scientific opinion as divided, treated isolated contrarians as experts, and provoked its opponents into intemperate statements that were then paraded as representative of all those calling for action. The campaign was successful delaying change for fifteen years or more. It held territory by marginalising its opponents. The army then moved on.

The campaign into which the protest against abuse of women has been drawn has targeted a variety of movements under the heading of ‘woke’. It has associated them with intolerance, arrogance, extremism and self-serving complaint. The image created from the representations of individuals is one of a humourless, vengeful, foolish and dangerous movement concerned to police and exclude behaviour and language that does not fit their code.

 

'To take the heat out of conversation, to smile at nonsense, and to refuse the trap of being trapped into an exchange of insults, allow the power of evidence and of decency to be heard.'

 

The implication is that all who protest against discrimination on the grounds of race or gender, and insist on reform of the social structures that embody it, belong to the kingdom of the woke. The heightened suspicion of those demanding change will then prevent any reform of discriminatory practices which would cost their beneficiaries profit or status.

Although not proven, the argument that the different responses of men and women in polls to the revelations of the abuse of women and discrimination against them in Parliament has been coloured by the campaign against the woke is plausible. It certainly suggests that in politics as well as in physics, to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Any strong political movement for change, whether in response to discrimination on the basis of gender or on race, will generate an equally strong opposition. The starting of culture wars is designed to exacerbate polarisation by giving the impression of a violent and unreasonable force for change, and so stirring an opposition to it strong enough eventually to produce political stagnation.

If that is so, proponents of change might profitably reflect on the principle of entropy, which says that in any system the differential of energy will inevitably diminish. In the political context that may mean the best way to counter the effect of culture wars is to refuse to take the bait to raise the temperature of public conversation, but instead to lower it.

It is tempting to engage polemically with the barrage of false facts, unjust accusations and personal attacks that are designed to elicit intemperate response. It may be more effective to invite exploratory conversation based on an exchange of experience, and to let truth speak for itself. That has happened eventually in the case of climate change. To take the heat out of conversation, to smile at nonsense, and to refuse the trap of being trapped into an exchange of insults, allow the power of evidence and of decency to be heard.

 

 

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.

Main image: Newton's cradle (Michal Jarmoluk/Pixabay)

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, polls, politically correct, sexism, racism, auspol

 

 

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Once again Andy thanks for your observations & insights. Division at various levels is breaking down the possibility of dialogue/authentic conversation. Closed minds & hearts result in ghettos while openness or resistance to ‘other’ destroys the possibility of community. Thanks again Andy.


MARYANNE CONFOY | 22 April 2021  

This is a gentle and thoughtful analysis of the treatment of women in parliament and the different perceptions of the various actors in the drama. It's important to note that crimes have been alleged to have been committed. The dispute is not merely ideological. A number of female parliamentarians and staffers have been attempting to debate in a forthright, and respectful, way with the powerbrokers of the political scene. It certainly is tempting when respectful approaches are rejected to return fire with fire. However, persistence and patience can be a powerful combination.


Pam | 22 April 2021  

Describing the culture wars as “cultural muggings” or “counter-insurgency operations” which are used to “undermine ethically based movements for change”, seems to adopt the revisionist position that blames conservatives for initiating bogus confrontations. This obfuscates reality. The war against Western culture originated with communist intellectuals Antonio Gramsci, Karl Radek and Georg Lukacs after WW1. They believed the workers had failed by not supporting communism after the Russian Revolution, as had been predicted. But where economic Marxism didn’t work, they believed cultural Marxism could, because the intelligentsia would be a more receptive and persuadable audience. Religion, family, morality and everything noble in Western civilization would be attacked. The aim was to destroy Western culture from within. “We must organize the intellectuals and use them to make Western civilization stink…only after they have corrupted all its values and made life base, can we impose the dictatorship of the proletariat.” (Willi Munzenberg) By the 1970s, Marxist academic Herbert Marcuse boasted of working “against the established institutions while working within them.” (“Counterrevolution and Revolt”) Academic institutions are now so censorious of non-politically correct ideas, that philosopher Peter Singer is publishing a “Journal of Controversial Ideas” where academics can publish anonymously without risking their careers.


Ross Howard | 23 April 2021  

Change or suggested change in a group will often or usually bring up 'resistances'. The most common next move is to fight the resistance. That escalation hardens the positions and often convinces the resisters of their righteousness. 'See they are persecuting us; just shows we must be doing God's work'. However there is another way to manage resistances which is to make them bigger. So instead of 'That's crap!' You ask, 'Tell me more. Explain that to me more fully. I would like to know more about that position'. As the position is enlarged the flaws appear in the argument and or the valid aspects emerge more clearly. To apply that theory to the current matter a politician may explain that the treatment of women is 'just the way we do things around here, in fact it simply mirrors society in general'. 'Is that so?' 'Could you explain why that is? Does that mean that parliament reflects the prejudices and unfair practices of society without question?' ' Sure if they can't take it keep away from politics.' 'OK so how does everyone in the country get to be represented?' This is just a start but could go on. However the relationship with the resister is not dashed nor spurned. They will not experience the same need to defend as aggressively as if they are attacked. Often as they lay out their arguments they see their own errors or illogicalities. I know this is idealistic but, none of that will get near fanaticism or matters of faith.


Michael D. Breen | 23 April 2021  

Its funny how laws of physics, maths/science (calculus) can be applied to the seemingly intangible subject or object, whether it be a way of thinking, behavior or political / philosophical bent. Newtons first law of motion states: "an object at rest will remain at rest unless an outside force acts on it." This is most readily observed in many politicians who promise dynamic results to their electorate but become immovable unless besieged by some external influence. Calculus and physics tell us that an object that returns to its origin point has zero velocity, zero displacement nor expended energy (although obviously it has) ; this is somewhat like "revolutions" and "movements" going nowhere, probably due to loss of internal integrity, like some sub-atomic particles...not going anywhere, fragmenting and just decaying away. There was a time the public were outraged or intrigued enough to give attention to seemingly worthy causes but the entropy Andrew described results in an external apathy which defeats the original objective, thus no achievement. Perhaps political correctness and the "woke" brigade have unknowingly created the most powerful weapon for their perceived enemies: silent obstinance. Just smile and nod...


ray | 23 April 2021  

Insofar as "culture wars" encompasses opposing attitudes and viewpoints on basic issues affecting society, they are aptly named. Radical feminism's adaptation of the Marxist dialectical methodology of class warfare in deeming "patriarchy" generically pejorative, even evil is not an example of openness and the conciliatory disposition and objective associated with "conversation". It does little, if anything, to encourage decent fathers who cherish the females members of their families to regard "conversation" in the face of such prejudice, even if desirable, as an achievable exercise. The same can be said, I think, for 'woke's flagship generic condemnation of Western civilisation: a declaration of war, increasingly manifested in public mob violence.


John RD | 24 April 2021  

Good read though one would argue keeping in mind the discipline of social science research, in considering the role and impact of modern polling, chicken or the egg? What we observe in Oz, especially for the hollowed out LNP (contracted out policy), has been political polling techniques imported from the US GOP and are not just about feedback from voters on selected issues, more complicated. We witnessed the ascendancy of Howard along with issues of antipathy towards Asian immigration amongst older Anglo/Irish voters etc., and more recently how superannuation has been presented negatively by those hoping to nobble the system (seems LNP govt. recently gave up that task). The tactic or strategy is used to promote an issue or policy idea by firstly eliciting key -ve concerns from focus groups, then getting the idea into the public domain through media themes, nudging, dog whistling and commentary, then testing, i.e. confirming via opinion polls, whether a policy or issue has legs i.e. can it get past media and voters? When ones hears the types of narrowcasting by framing and types of questions asked in political media, it's not that difficult to reach the desired outcome, when they miss so much of the context (especially international).


Andrew J. Smith | 24 April 2021  

Ray: ‘somewhat like "revolutions" and "movements" going nowhere, probably due to loss of internal integrity, like some sub-atomic particles...not going anywhere, fragmenting and just decaying away.’ The original composition of energy might ‘decay’ but decay means breaking down into smaller compositions or complexes of energy which go somewhere else, as opposed to decay away into nothingness. The original complex of energy that was orthodox (ie., political and economic) Marxism (or, more correctly, Marxist-Leninism) broke down into smaller complexes (eg., critical race theory, intersectionality theory) which would not have been tolerated by a Leninist state, or, for that matter, by the new complex of energy that is neo-Leninist Chinese Confucian fascism. Sin, like the child’s jingle about rain, goes away only to return another day, but in a different costume.


roy chen yee | 26 April 2021  

When I read the comments on some contentious ES articles I sometimes practise the linguistic skills of the Biblical exegete who confidently asserts "Luke has inserted the words of a contemporary hymn to convey the sentiments Mary might have felt when she visited her cousin Elizabeth." After 2/3 sentences I can guess who the commentator is. I admit I use some broad differential markers: progressive v conservative, pro-Vat2 v anti-Vat2, pro-Francis v anti- Francis, principle based v personality based, tolerant v intolerant, realistic v idealistic, openminded v dogmatic, etc. You get my drift. ES encourages respectful conversation in a time of division. However the democratic process has degenerated into a numbers game. Opinion Polls & Surveys are used to gauge the numbers. The task of various apparatchiki then becomes how to use these numbers to their political advantage, using whatever levers of power at their disposal. As Lenin said it can be as simple & crucial as getting the slogan right. Remember the rallying call of "Bread, Land & Peace." And "All power to the Soviets".


Uncle Pat | 26 April 2021  

Andy, I'm humbled and pray that in the height of battle your wisdom seeps through to stay my critical hand. That said, smiling sweetly in the face of an onslaught that is now commonplace on these pages might also be read as appeasement of the kind that lead eventually to the gas-chambers. Another way is to examine what is meant by 'having a conversation', suggested here as a civilised alternative to the 'Marxist-Leninist-feminist-woke cultures' that have commandeered these pages to benefit their own nefarious ends. I allude to the use of the word 'conversation', much favoured by those who typecast postmodernism and critical theory as antipathetic to all that is good on God's Earth. 'Conversation' is one of the insidious ways in which a new status quo has been legitimised and naturalised by a discourse that excludes dissent. The way in which this discourse establishes itself is through an apparent 'democratic' and 'consultative' norm, such as through 'making a suggestion' or 'canvassing an opinion'; yet it permits no debate. While observing all the official niceties of being 'conversational', its language reflects the triumph of this universe of closed discourse. In ES circles this 'conversation' requires conjuring up a new realm of Church membership, one that includes the fundamentalists and treats them as the same as reformers. In this 'conversation' modernists are placed on a par with Hillsong, thereby positioning 'conversationalists' in the comfortable middle-ground, giving them a podium that excludes them from scrutiny and presents them as peace-makers. Cheering from the sidelines, their supporters, some here present, use exactly the same language and capitulate to the same dynamic that reinforces closed discourse. Yet they get off lightly in parading their openness to differing perspectives by urging us all to participate in their kind of gate-keeping 'conversation'. It's an invitation we can't refuse, and the terms having been set, we must be careful to smile apologetically, thereby abandoning the exposure of conversational fault-lines. To paraphrase: such 'conversation' incorporates and reproduces the status quo, while rejecting as unseemly the dissident voice. Such seemly 'conversation', commonplace not just in poll-driven politics but in Church circles, involves the debasement of politics, the removal of genuine alternatives, and offers instead conjuring tricks that enable systemic problems to disappear magically. Wands are waved and social division and inequity are gone in a puff of smoke. Language is key to this Penn & Teller trickery. Thus 'conversation' is held up as the ideal, while roadblocks are placed in its way.


Michael Furtado | 28 April 2021  

PS.Nowadays everyone is having a 'conversation'. The word has come of age. I see it bowing and scraping on the opinion pages and chat-shows three or four times a day. It's formulaic sidekicks of tweeting and offers to open up a dialogue are equally seductive: something between a sheep's cough and a verbal tail-wag, a marker of decorum, itself a prime ingredient of the new openness to 'conversation'. 'Conversations' are clubby affairs. Their prime purpose is to exclude the unconversational, meaning intellectual or verbal excess and, above all, unseemly questioning of the essential functionality of the status quo. It's possible that the conversation got its start as an effort to dignify the interactions of the chatterati, a term that owes its origin to the right-wing snarl of the Thatcher years. Real (i.e. 'straight', white and powerful) men and their compliant women don't chatter. They move briskly forward with the business of the 'authority': yet another irritating circumlocution that 'conversationalists' frequently employ to suppress renewal. Beware the 'conversational' voice, Andy!


Michael Furtado | 28 April 2021  

Roy, the analogy of atomic radioactive decay was purely to suggest that the integrity of the original concept may become lost in a "half-life" like process. Somewhat like radioactive uranium eventually decays to lead in successive lives but will still be called "uranium" for a long time. Where my analogy fails is ideologies don't just lose followers, they also collect an aggregate of new followers, some who use the collective strength for their own agendas. While factions within a group might give a balanced perspective the more extreme can be disruptive to core values. A good example is Feminism; it has lost and gained followers such that some earlier leaders now don't recognize its primary direction any more. Throw in a few variations like TERFs (transgender exclusionary radical feminists) and the movement profile may suffer both internally and externally. I don't deal in judging "sin" or any associated guilt complexes but am wary of megaphone diplomacy and those who assert their convictions are the only right and true path..


ray | 28 April 2021  

Ray: ‘those who assert their convictions are the only right and true path’ Well, logically speaking, any ‘conviction’ (or strong belief) is an assertion that there is a right and true path. Theists and atheists are not the only true-pathers. An agnostic’s true path is that there are no provably true paths. A relativist’s true path is that what is more or less possibly correct for the moment is up to the circumstances of the moment and cannot be predicted ahead of time. It might look cuddly and ‘open’ but, really, it’s just as closed and convicted as a scepticism which denies flat out that there is any truth. A conviction is a belief that something is true. Even a belief that nothing is true is a belief that something is true.


roy chen yee | 30 April 2021  

M.F.: "onslaught" . . . "appeasement that leads eventually to the gas chambers ." Do you have a setting for hyperbole locked on your computer, Michael? Since, in view of recent submissions by Fosco and you it seems to be season opening for suggestions on "Eureka Street" editorial policy, is it not possible that the editors wish to avoid a one-sided publication that would exclude those voices you're on record as wishing to ostracise from its pages, thereby ensuring ES's editorial policy remains uncompromised? I, too, have reservations about the appropriateness of "conversation" purportedly for public consumption if it's confined to the club house and floats in the realm of the bizarre and ethereal, refusing to engage and name issues for what they are.


John RD | 01 May 2021  

roy, impeccable logic. Everybody is entitled to their opinion (fact-based, belief-based or otherwise); similarly, they're entitled to express their opinion (as may be moderated or censored according to policy and law), none the less, I'm entitled to be wary of same. I politely suggest you set aside your religion-based mantle for a while and consider your same logic statement(s) in the context case(s) of topics of race, terrorism, feminism, hate-speech and any number of other opinions/beliefs/convictions which persons may hold. These "hot topics" are inflamed because there's diametrically opposed thinking providing oxygen or fuel; ignition, ka-boom. We may consider views alternative to our own as radical or irrational, we can be confronted or concerned by alternative thinking... our inability to concede other understanding than our own frequently limits conversation beyond dismissal. In many cases the "truth" is either irrelevant or indeterminable; somewhat like your relativist's mess; this'll do until the real mess gets here. Be wary of the absolute...just try it on for size.


ray | 01 May 2021  

Ray: ‘set aside your religion-based mantle for a while and consider your same logic statement(s) in the context case(s) of topics of race, terrorism, feminism, hate-speech and any number of other opinions/beliefs/convictions which persons may hold.’ Done. And done many hundreds of years ago by the Catholic philosophy of distinguishing between evils which are intrinsic and evils which are prudential and, to introduce more nuance into the matter, to distinguish between the four sins (or types of sins), which straddle the intrinsic-prudential dichotomy, which cry out to Heaven for vengeance. A purpose of religion, which is a branch of philosophy, is, like philosophy in general, to identify that compulsory common ground of reason from which diverse opinions can legitimately be held. Diversities which come out of a common reason are tenable and therefore tolerable while those which originate in an irrationality, or a rationality which is incompatible with the common reason, is not. Of course, working out whether opposed beliefs come from a common source of reasoning can involve a lot of contesting.


roy chen yee | 03 May 2021  

Ray: ‘set aside your religion-based mantle for a while and consider your same logic statement(s) in the context case(s) of topics of race, terrorism, feminism, hate-speech and any number of other opinions/beliefs/convictions which persons may hold.’ Done. And done many hundreds of years ago by the Catholic philosophy of distinguishing between evils which are intrinsic and evils which are prudential and, to introduce more nuance into the matter, to distinguish between the four sins (or types of sins), which straddle the intrinsic-prudential dichotomy, which cry out to Heaven for vengeance. A purpose of religion, which is a branch of philosophy, is, like philosophy in general, to identify that compulsory common ground of reason from which diverse opinions emerge which can legitimately be held. Diversities which come out of a common reason are tenable and therefore tolerable while those which originate in an irrationality, or a rationality which is incompatible with the common reason, is not. Of course, working out whether opposed beliefs come from a common source of reasoning can involve a lot of contesting.


roy chen yee | 05 May 2021  

John RD, by the same token, do you have a setting for everything you post locked on your computer, since, in view of the perennial carping remarks by Roy and you, it does indeed seem to be open season for your criticism and objections to ES' publication policy. While I have no doubt that the editors wish to avoid a one-sided publication that would exclude the shrill voices perpetually raised by you and Roy, could it not be that the one-track, needle=sticking nature of your collective diatribes are precisely the kind of trolling to which Andy alludes overhere? Despite your protestations to the contrary, unless you demonstrate evidence of novelty or variegation, not just in tempo but of topic, your assertion that you have reservations about the appropriateness of conversation purportedly for public consumption falls a bit flat on the evidence. By way of contrast, my voice is hardly that of the club house and your accusation that it floats in the realm of the bizarre and ethereal, refusing to engage and name issues for what they are, is a measure of your relentless campaign, alongside Roy's, to contest the precise editorial and publication policies that you effect to defend.


Michael Furtado | 24 May 2021  

Michael Furtado: So those surrealist "nightmares" excused as comical, to which you increasingly resort as retreat from pertinent comments and questions in these pages are written by someone other than yourself?


John RD | 31 May 2021  

Ah, now, by gad, I think I've got it, M.F.: a stand-in in the Oxford Revue!


John RD | 02 June 2021  

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