Firstly, there's Miranda Devine:
... the only way we humans really rate personal success is in love of friends and family.That quote is the final clause of the final sentence of her article. It's the only bit that makes sense. Some may howl at Miranda Devine of all people appealing to our common humanity, but it takes a mean person to deny her happiness in her personal life (however much she would deny it in others). I too can attest that being married is wonderful and that there's joy to be had in sharing your life with family and friends. Where I disagree is that it's hard to extrapolate private, personal experience to public policy; yet in her capacity as an imbecile Devine seems to think is both possible and desirable (this week, anyway).
WHAT is the great Australian dream? What do Australians want most out of life?Nope, can't say I did. My parents weren't wealthy and contributed far more to the community in nett terms than, say, Frank Devine ever did: I never thought that "something economic" was the be-all-and-end-all, and have the lifestyle to prove it.
You might think the answer would be something economic.
Why do journalists think it's clever to set up straw-man arguments like that? Don't media people know what a turn-off it is to see straight through an argument after the second paragraph? I just wish all the thousands of articles "in defence of journalism" would take an honest look at straw-man and other "sexing-up" devices for dull stories (or non-stories) and admit that the internet provides the excuse we've been looking for to dump flim-flam as a substitute for good writing.
But the truth is rather more prosaic and quite wonderful.I read widely and follow Australian politics and social commentary closer than most, but I've never heard of David Chalke. At this stage I suspect Devine regards him as "pre-eminent" because he says things she agrees with, rather than on any objective basis.
The latest snapshot of Australians' hopes and fears from the pre-eminent social researcher David Chalke tells us what Australians really want ...
The best that researchers of this type can get at is some sort of statistical likelihood - but Devine believes he has delivered up "the truth", a very big call. What follows here and in Devine's article should not be sheeted home to Chalke: Devine has to take responsibility for her interpretations.
... and it's not a carbon tax.The only thing in that list the government can really deliver is a carbon tax. Government can't deliver on any of the rest of that stuff. Any time they try, it's tokenism - and people like Miranda Devine go on about Nanny State, bagging governments for taking money from us in order to meddle unproductively in our daily lives.
More than anything they say they want a good marriage.
That would be their greatest accomplishment, 83 per cent of Australians said in the latest AustraliaSCAN survey.
Coming a close second was the ability to be in control of their lives (which received 82 per cent of the nominations). And third was to have happy and successful children (81 per cent). Owning your own home, being debt-free and fit and healthy were nominated as the next most important elements of personal success.
And if you ask Australians what are the five most important things which government should act on ... the economy and public healthcare (both at 41 per cent), education (30), violent crime and unemployment (both 28).So you were wrong about the economy, Miranda - it seems to be right up there, Miranda. With unemployment lower than it has been in decades it's hard to imagine what else government can do about it, short of conscripting the other <5% (and if they did, Miranda Devine would screech about her taxpayer dollars denying people's liberty).
Oh, and privacy? Just 6 per cent thought it should be a priority, even though the Greens and the Prime Minister have become so fixated on the issue.Conservatives believe in the dignity of the individual, Miranda, and privacy is one safeguard of that dignity. Just because "the Greens and the Prime Minister have become so fixated on the issue" doesn't make it a bad idea (or a good one, necessarily).
The way you avoid being tossed and turned by the vicissitudes of politics is to have a coherent set of principles. Principles enable you to disagree with people when they're wrong and agree with them when they're right. Miranda Devine and others (say, the alternative Prime Minister) who call themselves conservatives when they are only really reactionaries don't provide as much as they might imagine in helping people form opinions on the issues that affect them/us.
"Australians are unsettled. There is division out there," said Chalke at a conference this week, where he revealed his latest research.If your marriage is on or near the rocks, if your children are unhappy and unsuccessful, what on earth do you expect the Prime Minister (including the incumbent and any alternative occupant you care to name) to do about it?
They are crying out for leadership, feeling insecure and have "a sense no bugger is listening to me".
From a satisfaction high in 1995 ...The federal government in 1995 was Keating's Labor government: satisfaction couldn't have been too high because it lost office the following year.
... through a generally benign mood over the next decade, we hit a wall in 2004 and it has been downhill all the way ...Personally things started picking up for me from about 2004, but we are talking in general terms here. Why was satisfaction seemingly less high under Howard than it was under Keating, I wonder? Why did the Howard government send satisfaction with life plummeting, after all that tax cutting and border protection and [insert your favourite achievement of the Howard government here]? Surely an experienced journalist like Miranda Devine would have wondered at that too.
Australians feel uncertain, as if everything could be taken away from them.This is the opposite of the kind of complacency that apparently existed for decades until the 1970s (and, if certain Liberals are to be believed, during the Fraser years). Maybe we all just have to work harder, or want less, or something (I wouldn't know, I'm not a social researcher apparently offering "the truth").
The average Australian has year 8 reading skills and feels "disempowered" by an increasingly complex world.One really helpful public service would be some effective journalism, where people writing for the popular press do lots of research on complex issues and explain them in simple and balanced terms. The more I think about it, and the more I see of what's on offer, the more I think good journalism would be a great idea. Half-witted polemic doesn't cut it, Miranda.
"No wonder they are cocooning and fortressing," says Chalke, retreating from the world into the safety of their homes and family life.Is Chalke "retreating from the world" - in which case why does he refer to what others do as "they"? This is a badly constructed sentence that must be as bamboozling to those with year 8 reading levels as it does to anyone else.
From mid-2009 we started saving our pennies too, and the pinch has hit retailers as consumer confidence dives.Depends which retailers, Miranda. Some retailers have literally come out of nowhere in that time, while others who have taken more of those pennies than the value of the product/service warranted are, rightfully, "feeling the pinch". I'm surprised your mate Chalke didn't mention that, but if you want to see doom-and-gloom in everything then don't let me stop you.
Finally, after a bit of Choice-style rabbiting about consumer satisfaction by industry, Devine comes around to the issue of what you expect government to do about it:
As for what should be the government's top five priorities for action? Unemployment ...Unemployment is lower, not higher, than it has been in a long time. Unemployment is lower today than it was at any point during the Howard government, it's even lower than it was during the lotus-eatin' days of 1995. You said yourself that it was in the top five issues people cared about: looks like a match to me.
... housing affordability and illegal immigration have soared since 2009 ...Migrants, with or without visas, aren't taking my job or yours. They live in low-rent flats so that Miranda Devine and I don't have to. It's sneaky and dishonest to link immigration to unemployment and housing costs.
... while the environment has plummeted from first place in 2007 to second last place with global warming close behind. In fact, the twin downward trajectories could lead you to argue that climate alarmism has had the paradoxical effect of turning people off caring about the environment.Devine's article is peppered with sly digs at the environment, carbon tax and the Greens. In the above quote, the annoying becomes ridiculous. Environmental issues top the political agenda because scientists say they are overwhelming and can no longer be ignored. No political party claiming to address the issues of our time can afford to lack a coherent policy on the environment, or shunt it to the bottom of its list of priorities. You can vote this politician in and that one out, you can listen to this (social) researcher and ignore that (climate) one, but you can't vote out the environment.
If you say that people are crying out for leadership, sometimes that involves telling people what they don't want to hear. Sometimes it involves telling people that they will have to sacrifice now, in real and direct ways, in order to gain benefits that are so vague as to seem illusory.
There are many examples of leadership, but here's one that floats Miranda Devine's boat: on becoming Prime Minister of Britain in 1940, Winston Churchill declared that he had "nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat". If you read that whole speech (UK Hansard 13 May 1940 - look it up yourself), Churchill is very clear about the peril then confronting his country and the costs to be borne in facing them down; he is vague about what may be gained when those perils are dealt with ("... all that the British Empire has stood for, no survival for the urge, the impulse of the ages, that mankind shall move forward toward his [sic] goal" - really?).
Had there been snarky columnists in 1940, you can expect them to have bagged Churchill for such an inadequate offering at a time of such great need. There had been extensive public consultation about the nature of the threats facing Britain over many years before 13 May 1940 including, but not limited to, Churchill himself. Some may have called for him to be stuffed into a chaff bag and thrown into the sea. Certainly, Clement Attlee (a former Captain in the South Lancashire Regiment in the Gallipoli Campaign and Labour Leader at the time) was no fan, but unlike Australia's current Opposition Leader he was big enough to not quibble in the face of real national danger and work with the program until the danger passed, and his opportunities presented themselves. When Vera Lynn sang It's a lovely day tomorrow, she wasn't being ironic about government policy.
We can view Churchill in retrospect; we can't view Gillard the same way. That's why you respect the office and cut the incumbent a bit of slack (but not too much).
It's true that neither Gillard nor Abbott have built up much credibility about their respective issues on carbon pollution or anthropogenic global warming, but this is not to say that the issue generally (or the specifics of how to mitigate it, like the carbon tax) is not real or one that should be addressed by political leaders today. It's a big issue; the success or otherwise of your marriage pales by comparison. Regardless of whether you share the opinion (or what percentage of Chalke's respondents do so), is it really so hard to understand why some people - not all of them dope-smoking hippies - link the welfare of their children to the state of the environment?
The percentage of those describing their attitudes to the environment as "ungreen" has grown from 20 per cent in 2007 to 33 per cent in 2011. While dark and ultra greens have shrunk from 26 to 21 mid greens have gone from 29 to 19 and pale greens from 24 to 27.Perhaps Chalke does define "ungreen" and the various shades of green, but I bet they're rubbery.
One could link environmental issues to another obsession of Devine (and Chalke?), unemployment. People who don't have fulltime jobs disappear from official unemployment statistics if they work an hour a week (but want more work), or if they give up looking for work. In the same way, people who thought environmental issues were important in 2007 (when all major parties were committed to strong environmental action, including a price on carbon) compared to today (where all major parties can fairly be accused of not being fully united, or even in some cases genuine, in their commitment to strong environmental action).
And when it comes to the group Chalke defines as Middle Australia, just 13 per cent think the environment should be a top five priority of government, compared to 28 per cent of the inner urban, tertiary educated largely atheist elites described by some as "insiders".Again, I'd love to see some definitions there. Miranda Devine has been tertiary educated (at the same US university where Barack Obama did his undergraduate degree) so her attempts to cry havoc about this issue in the hope of whipping up a culture war look pretty thin. Devine is a political insider, having close relations with Tony Abbott and other members of the Howard government and being privy to information denied to we non-insiders in the interests of maintaining said relations. She is a loyal employee of a company committed to zero net emissions.
Whereas 75 per cent of Middle Australia believes in the proposition: "It's time this country got back to basic moral values like honesty, hard work and putting families first", the same was true for fewer than half of the elites.Again: definitions. Tony Abbott contradicts himself on a regular basis, saying whatever he thinks needs to be said in order that he becomes our Prime Minister: I'd say that's dishonest. Abbott rides his bike or kisses fish instead of developing real policies based on consistent policies: I'd say the guy is work-shy. In terms of putting my family first, Tony Abbott is much less involved in the raising of his children than I am in the raising of mine, and he offers little to help me and my family in nett terms. Therefore, I conclude that Tony Abbott must be one of those elites - he was a member of Federal Cabinet for five years and millions of people want him to chair that body, so I reckon he qualifies as 'elite'. Don't you, Miranda?
Despite the fact we sometimes fall short of our own expectations, we value our families - whatever shape or size they are.If it's a cultural cringe to care what Poms think, why should we care about Martians? Why is a family with "two mummies" not part of that "whatever shape or size" thing?
Yet how rarely are happy marriages and well-adjusted children spoken about or celebrated. Instead, a Martian arriving in Australia could be forgiven for thinking all we have are dysfunctional unions, cheating spouses, and "Polly has two mummies" controversies.
Happy marriages and well-adjusted children are often spoken about and celebrated where I live and work. The place where you rarely find mention of these is in the so-called public sphere, the media. Miranda Devine has the seniority and the clout to change the way her employer works in this regard - take up thy copy of the Chalke report and go to the executive floor at The Daily Telegraph, Miranda, and make those hard-bitten types with ink in their veins see the beauty and the wonder that surrounds us all. For example: the most significant thing about Madeleine Pulver's recent travails is how her family and friends stood with her, rather than a tendentious link to some book.
Miranda Devine would do that, but there's a catch: she's full of crap.
Marriage is the best way to keep people out of poverty and keep children happy.A good marriage is. A bad marriage is a special kind of hell. Imagine being married to Miranda Devine, and you can see how lame it is to extrapolate the personal to public policy. Again, if marriage is so great you can't seriously deny it to gay couples, or insist that such a move would be too controversial to try.
Yes, Virginia, Miranda is patronising you. Part of this is endemic to her: you should see her with events management people and waiters. Part of it is endemic to the journosphere: they have no idea about people and fall on every piece of market research they can get. At newspapers the advertising people, not the journalists, are the ones in touch with what people want. The advertising people know there are commercial penalties for patronising "the punters", something journalists don't get (and remember, they are never ever wrong).
More people are getting married while divorce numbers are falling, according to 2009 figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.There is a longterm trend that has dipped a bit: half of all first marriages fail and 70% of second (or more) marriages fail. Again, there's not much government can or should do to change that one way or the other.
There's not much more that can be done for this piece by Christian Kerr. It bears all the hallmarks of an order to go over the top and Make Agitprop Against Bourgeois Fascist Running-Dogs On Internet, of a piece with:
- taking MySpace from great promise to oblivion without any intervening period of achievement;
- taking one of the great media titles of the world, The Times, and lumbering it with an even more arse-witted online strategy of the sort that has almost killed The Australian Financial Review (and has killed off many papers in the United States);
- the Damocletian sword over Julie Posetti; and
- so, so many others that News Ltd may fairly be regarded as both not understanding the online world, and hating/fearing a medium they have failed to control.
THE anonymity afforded by the internet makes it hard to know for sure who is driving online public opinion.I'd be fascinated to see if something so nebulous can be said to be driven.
But one thing can be said about this surfing, tweeting, blogging community busy putting links and comments up on their Facebook pages: it is made up of people with nothing better to do.You could say that about any activity really: people who do anything you don't like or want to do can be described as "people with nothing better to do".
But digital democracy is not representative democracy; representative in the sense it embodies the true vox populi.You're not a political science graduate (as Christian Kerr is) until you can quibble with the idea that 'representative democracy' truly lives up to either word in that phrase (as Christian Kerr has been known to do, in his cups).
Tudehope points out some of the immediate distortions of the web world. Tradesmen and manual workers do not sit at desks with computers on them.What, never?
Tudehope's former boss once proposed a tunnel under the Sydney CBD so that tradesmen from the western suburbs could renovate homes in the eastern suburbs without having to travel through the CBD. That tunnel was built but few tradesmen, or anyone else really, use it. From this we may conclude that Turnbull and Tudehope may not be authoritative sources on what tradespeople want or need.
(Apologies for the tendentious bullshit in the preceding paragraph. Reading too much News Ltd does that to you, and not being a journalist I can apologise when wrong).
He talks of cyberslacking, too. "It's an issue for all companies," he says, but goes on to warn that the problem is particularly prevalent in enterprises where employees are "given more freedom at their desks".People who are given "more freedom at their desks" (more freedom than what?) are the sort of people required to spend more time at them than normal office hours allow. So-called slacking involve non-work-related tasks that people require to function in modern society, the exercise of which costs the employer little and gains them an employee who can and does focus more on work tasks once personal matters are dealt with. Not all non-work-related online tasks involve social media.
Michelle Prak, a social media consultant with Adelaide-based Hughes Public Relations, points to Sensis data from earlier this year that shows only 22 per cent of social media users say they visit social media sites at work, but wonders aloud if the market researchers have been told some little white lies.That might make life interesting for Michelle Prak the next time she deals with Sensis. When she accesses social media sites during work hours, is she "cyber-slacking"?
The generalisations and passive voice used to introduce his contentions show that he's trying to pull the wool over, that his heart isn't in it:
... it was heralded ... This has led many on the Coalition side of politics to deride ... All the experts agree; just what is done while cyberslacking is next to impossible to quantify ... There are fears ...My favourite piece of tendentious bullshit in an article replete with it, however, is this:
... it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that much of the political commentary offered on the web and through social media is produced on someone else's time. That fact itself may explain the snarky tone of much of it.If the Takes One To Know One Act were enforced, that piece would definitely be actionable. Yes, Kerr is being a hypocrite, but I suspect there's more to it. The man whose reputation as a journalist/commentator is built upon the persona of Crikey's Hilary Bray cannot make that accusation with a straight face. Kerr has been instructed by his employers to abase himself in an extraordinary act of self-criticism, almost reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution. Perhaps this is what happens when the conservative intelligentsia is so hollowed out it consists entirely of old Maoists (can one ever truly shake that state of mind?), or there may even be something of News Ltd which lends itself to such an interpretation.
There are fears that the often angry tone of web-based political discussion is making mainstream debate derogatory.Well, you've got to do what you can I suppose.
News Ltd blogs should not allow posts that call for asylum-seekers to be killed at sea, or calling the Prime Minister a liar (all sorts of euphemisms are applied to Tony Abbott when he does the same thing) in the name of lifting the tone of public debate. Christian Kerr might not have the clout within News Ltd that Frank Devine's daughter has, but surely he can do more and better than bringing lazy straw man work into the digital age.