“Useless”

When, as a boy living in my redneck part of rural Australia, I’d stuff up some task allocated by my late father, there’d be a reasonable chance of my being labelled “useless”. While I’m quite thoroughly uninterested in one of those “must have made you feel” discussions, what with all the confected reciprocity and bogus empathy that such exchanges entail, there are still things that can be said of the insult in question.

It – “useless” – is intended as an insult, but I’m afraid I can’t receive it as such. I’m quite happy to be useless. Consider the corollary of taking “useless” as an insult; receiving “useful” as a compliment.

To be “useful” is to count yourself a tool among tools. It’s to position yourself alongside instrumental luminaries such as pencils, auto-rewind and Preparation H. It’s not for no reason that “useful”, as applied to people, has negative connotations in politics.

I’d encourage anyone else who’s been called “useless” to give this some consideration. Unwittingly, you’re being paid a compliment akin to “not a Muppet”.

It’d be far better to be considered, in lieu of being “useful”, as “cooperative with qualifications”. At least this way you’d have some of your agency acknowledged in the mix. And I certainly don’t enjoy the prospect that my “usefulness”, should it ever present itself, may one day entail someone else being fucked over – avoiding this would be one of the qualifications for my cooperation.

Admittedly my concerns don’t condense down well to a single adjective, and I’m not in a mood for coining neologisms, so I think I’ll just happily settle for “useless” and let the connotations land where they will.

~ Bruce

Adventures in Ipso Facto Land…

Kremlin There’s a golem of rubbish that rears its ugly maw every now and then, spewing invective and irrational sanctimony whenever The Enemy’s Enemy gets something right, in spite of how often they get things wrong. Or at least, when The Enemy’s Enemy doesn’t mess up as badly on some singular point as does The Enemy. The upshots are romanticised while the down-sides are de-emphasised, ignored, or actively written off as non-existent – accounts to the contrary being propaganda of The Enemy.

Supposedly you’d know this if you were tuned-in to The New Paradigm, or had taken The Red Pill, or availed yourself of whatever other means of squinting with head askew required to parse complete garbage into high truth.

The particular denizen of Ipso Facto Land I currently have in mind is the Putinophile – the breed of supposed lefty that simply on account of the transgressions of the United States of America, views a murdering theocratic tyrant as a flawed hero. “USA bad, ipso facto Russia good”. With the recent release of Citizenfour, which reminds certain folks of Russia’s protection of Ed Snowden – all out of the good of Putin’s heart, no doubt – you’ll possibly have to listen to these tuned-in types prattle on about Russia just being misunderstood.

***

Putin’s regime, devoid of strong opposition as it is, is leading its people to tolerate gays, only while respecting tradition in the process. Leaders have to take The People with them.

Pussy Riot? They were needlessly provocative. They could have couched their concerns in a less obscene tone. And let’s remember, religion was horribly persecuted under Stalin – you have to expect that today’s Russian Orthodox is a religion still licking its wounds while shivering in fear. Pussy Riot should have taken that into account before sinking the boot in.

Why don’t more lefties understand Putin? The guy is sending troops into Ukraine to fight neo-Nazi militia. Ipso facto that makes him progressive. The right-wing never fight amongst themselves. What’s wrong with you? Are you a Right Sector supporter?

Tony Abbott said he was going to shirt-front Vladimir Putin, and Tony Abbott is right-wing, ipso facto

Russia Today, or RT as the kids say nowadays, isn’t a bad thing. Why, “state television” is just right-wing propaganda designed to make “public television” look evil. RT is just like the BBC, or PBS or the Australian Broadcasting Corporation – wholesome, and not at all like the Murdochracy.

It’s not a “prostitution of journalism”!

The deaths of journalists like Anna Politkovskaya, whistleblowers like Alexander Litvinenko, and opposition leaders like Boris Nemtsov could all just be coincidental. Just like the “at least 29 journalists” that Joan Smith claims were killed in connection with their criticisms of Putin’s regime – they could have all just written bad restaurant reviews. People get shirty over all sorts of things.

And why hasn’t Joan Smith been bumped off by Putin yet, if he’s so terrible?

***

Increasingly it seems, you’ll be told, along with the afore mentioned kinds of evasions, that RT and Russia really care about Palestine, and that the Kremlin (which RT tows the line of) would never cynically use a Middle Eastern nation as a proxy for its own interests. The US would, ipso facto

Never mind that you may be able to recall all of the criticisms of the US Government made in Citizenfour, and may very well agree with every single one of them – if you don’t obsess over what a hero Putin is, you’ve missed the point. You’ll be told to watch the documentary again, or with unintentional irony, be told to “think about it”.

If you don’t experience the paradigm shift, then supposedly you’re not getting to the truth.

It’s almost as if not being able to articulate a serious criticism of Western hypocrisy of their own, their entire pretence rests on an ipso facto argument arising from the delusion of a heroic Russia.

~ Bruce

(Photo Source: Dion Hinchcliffe).

When requesting condemnation from Muslims…

Before I proceed, not as a caveat nor a qualifier, but because I haven’t said as much here as yet; the Charlie Hebdo shootings are unequivocally and without qualification, an atrocity. In as far as a meagre site like this, with its meagre traffic and meagre output can be capable of noticeably contributing to the global outpourings of sentiment, the editorial position at Rousing Departures is one of solidarity in freedom of expression, and sympathy for the victims of the Charlie Hebdo shootings. If anyone reading has a problem with this, or if they want to append a “…but” of their own, they should just walk away.

***

Don’t jump to conclusions on account of the title – condemnations of atrocities are always desirable. That being said, you can’t nor should you demand that any given person enact a condemnation.

When I condemn Islamist atrocities I do so for the obvious reason that they are ethically undesirable, and frankly, because it’s easy for someone in my position to do. Unlike the Charlie Hebdo staff, or Saudi Arabian atheists, or Sufis subject to Taliban rule, and unlike a whole range of other populations, I’m not under any threat of violence.

Some folk don’t seem to understand their own relative safety.

ruppie “Maybe most Moslems peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible.” – Rupert Murdoch.

An obvious retort (there are many), is that holding cancer victims responsible for treating themselves is more than a little silly. At the very least, this is a bad analogy, but then Rupert didn’t get his riches on account of his wits, so I guess we can’t expect any better.

A somewhat less obvious retort, although entirely more salient, is that Rupert’s prescription would have Sufis labouring to reform or repeal Wahhabism. Sufis who never blew or shot anyone up. Sufis who never contributed to Wahhabist theology or Islamist politics. Sufis who’s relationship with the excesses of Wahhabism/Islamism can simply be summed up as having been on the receiving of sectarian violence.

Before people start attributing responsibility for anything to Muslims, it’d first help to know about the various kinds of Islamic believers there are out there. Let Information Is Beautiful help you get started on that. (Keeping in mind, that not only do the various branches read their texts differently, but that they don’t all have the exact same religious texts*.)

It would also help, before asking anything of anyone, to make sure they aren’t already doing it. Just because you’ve never seen a Muslim condemn Islamist violence, doesn’t mean that such condemnation doesn’t happen – that’s the argument from ignorance right there.

Not only do many Muslims criticise Islamist terrorism, but they have sometimes been known to really rise to the occasion. This is desirable, and laudable, and very much so because such action is voluntary.

(And if you want to see a Muslim being really critical, you can always head to this arcane thing called the Internet to read such material. Hell, I’m pretty sure even old Rupert would love such reading, should he ever find it.)

***

If you’re going to frame your demands for condemnation under the banner of The West And Its Values, which you’re probably free to do if you’re in a position to make such demands, then you may want to actually be just a little in-touch with history. Let me furnish you with a few facts.

  • Fact: The Ottoman Empire, while certainly guilty of its own crimes, kept Wahhabism in check until the 20th Century. The West did not because the West just doesn’t factor in in the early history of Wahhabism. From the 20th Century onward, The West has been pretty rubbish at opposing Islamism.
  • Fact: Ideologically, modern Islamism syncretises doctrinal elements from certain Western values; specifically, those of Nazism/Fascism. (This is something, incidentally, that should obligate Western anti-Fascists to actually oppose Islamist groups, rather than voice solidarity with them).
  • Fact: Financially, Wahhabism and Islamism for the past few decades, have been propped-up by the Western hunger for oil. A hunger that has seen past Islamist/Wahhabist atrocities wilfully ignored by Western powers, as well as into the present in cases like that of Raif Badawi.

Perhaps, if you’ve owned a car over the last few decades, you’d like to reconsider your own responsibilities, given your own potential indirect funding of Islamic terrorist cells. Or perhaps you’ll review your patronage-by-extension of the regime responsible for atrocities during the Grand Mosque Seizure of 1979. Of course, such a likelihood is slim because the likelihood of substantial indirect financial contributions to these atrocities by Westerners increases with wealth/fossil fuel use – right Rupert?

(Before turning a blind eye to Islamist extremism became the hypocrisy of choice for a portion of the post-Soviet-era Western left, this was the right’s stock in trade**).

I don’t mention any of this to denigrate The West, and I certainly do hold the Enlightenment values of tolerance dear; values that stand on their merits. But I do have to state that I can’t empathise with people invoking these values for the sake of having something to brag about or barrack for. While these values permit triumphalism, they’re not about triumphalism, and it’s not like any of us are Enlightenment intellectuals capable of taking credit anyway.

This kind of thing seems suspect to me, and has a whiff of hypocrisy about it – do these Brave Heros of The West really hold these values dear, or are they just playing Dungeons and Dragons? And as with connecting ordinary Western motorists with Wahhabist oil barons, the basis for targeting average every-day Muslims with charges of responsibility seems incredibly tenuous.

***

As alluded to earlier, you have to consider the risk speaking out would subject Muslims to; consider the distribution of terrorist attacks.

A thought experiment: Would you really demand that a gay Sufi from Şanlıurfa Province in the south-east of Turkey, come out to denounce ISIS, on pain of being tarred a sympathiser by avid readers of The Sun? How would you weigh their responsibility for ISIS against the risks involved?

On the other hand, it would hardly be beyond the pale to argue with some sheltered, never-vilified, can-always-run-back-to-their-parents, with-it white dude from the upper-middle-class suburbs of Melbourne, Australia, over their newly found religious affiliation with radical Salafism. This could hardly be any worse than giving someone an earful for joining Golden Dawn or One Nation. Not everyone is free to toy with their religious identity like this, and not everyone faces the same consequences, nor indeed, the consequences of their own ideological choices.

Between these extremes there is a whole lot of context, and the details matter.

***

During the time I’ve been gasbagging over these things, no doubt know-nothings will have had their egos stroked and their anxieties soothed at their regular pub, no doubt trolls will have frothed in the comments sections online, and no doubt other atrocities will be hypocritically overlooked by too many of those demanding condemnation, as well as those engaging in apologetics.  No doubt more Muslims will have taken to the streets in protest. No doubt Muslims like Tehmina Kazi will have spent more of their time directing their liberal-secularist organisations in light of all the horror and pontificating.

All without thanks or acknowledgement from certain quarters, no doubt. Quarters that require both left and right eyes to see.

~ Bruce

* Spare me the No True Scotsman Fallacy – pretending that All True Muslims read all the same texts, all the same way, is a fatuous observation to make when you don’t use the same criteria in identifying Muslims to hold responsible in the first place.

** Which is probably as good a juncture as any to suggest that people look into the writings of Kanan Makiya, giving special consideration to how he was a darling of the left prior to the collapse of the USSR, and thrown under the bus afterward. Even if you’re not going to go away sold on ideas like interventionist regime change, Makiya’s writing is a necessary challenge to endure if you aspire to be well read on such matters.

Signs of the alien…

hockey It’s been just over a month since the loveable, cuddly, Shrek-like-grump otherwise known as Joe Hockey, apparently outed himself as an elitist jerk through the simple act of smoking a cigar. Apparently, cigars are the hallmark of fat cats, investment bankers and the like.

This narrative isn’t particularly convincing, and seems to me, more like a facile inversion of former Prime Minister John Howard’s out-of-touch remarks about lattes and chardonnay. I found it just about as convincing when Republicans in the US too, speculated about the dining habits of Al Gore and John Kerry.

In order to be petty enough to both appreciate, and to find confirmation in these kinds of damnation-by-commodity associations, people have to first be pretty well polarised for one reason or another. Welded-on party loyalists, haters, the politically humiliated, the desperate and the short-term-angered.

Which is to say, once you can sell this kind of thing to an electorate, you’ve already got them. At best, this stuff’s for shits and giggles, or for preaching to the choir.

At worst, which is often the case, its abject foolishness. (I include in this category, marketing-driven “analysis” that merely capitalises on the political resentment of a target audience in order to sell subscriptions and draw advertisers).

***

Now the budget that Hockey has delivered; that’s doing a lot of the left’s campaigning for it. If there’s anything that screams “Elitist Bastard” louder than cigars, lattes, chardonnay and Perrier ever could, it’s fiscally pummelling the stuffings out of the poor and the aspirational.

This, rightly, has pissed people off. Parents don’t want their kids living with them until thirty, much less are they happy to continue feeding them if fairly paid work isn’t available. Few Australians are willing to be targeted to take the brunt of the current account deficit, much less the many who can’t, or are less likely to be able to afford being weathered by austerity measures.

This is before considering education cuts, and fee hikes, and repayment scams, which a cynical elitist government could conceivably pass off to some extent, as Making Those Educated Folk Pay Their Way. A good raft of the fiscal restraints of the current budget are like this; potentially passable with old-school conservative guile. But a good few also, are clearly not.

At the time of Hockey’s supposed cigar transgression, Australians’ rage over the budget was starting to boil. A month later and it’s now spilling over. But the cigar had nothing to do with this.

***

Policy points are squidgy things. Ordinary folk don’t always vote on them, because they often don’t keep the details in working memory for long before something else in their busy lives comes along to distract them.

This budget of Hockey’s may be an exception though, much as was the Work Choices legislation during the last Howard Government. But if we’re talking about signs of elitism, other than in pure policy terms, and if we’re not talking about whether politicians prefer Iced VoVos over Biscuits Roses de Reims, what else can we turn to for a diagnosis?

***

On Wednesday, Treasurer Joe Hockey told The Sydney Institute that “…criticism of our strategy has been political in nature and has drifted to 1970s class warfare lines, claiming the budget is ‘unfair’ or that the ‘rich don’t contribute enough”, and that “…only in a closed economy, based on old style socialism, can a government hope to deliver uniform equality of outcomes”.

There’s a lot you could say about this purely on the basis of policy points; a mixed economy has been part-and-parcel of the New Left since there was a New Left; the Hawke-Keating government opened the Australian economy to the world more than any other, and few-to-none of Hockey’s mainstream critics actually seek to reverse this, or, one could point out that there is a vast multitude of possible fiscal platforms more equitable than Hockey’s that don’t even approach being socialist.

In short, in terms of policy points, you could point out that what Hockey is saying is unequivocally false; that it’s horseshit.

But being tricksy or false hardly signifies that he’s being an elitist dirtbag. Rather, what it does show us is that he’s either or both foolish, or dishonest. This wouldn’t be telling us anything that we don’t already know.

Currently, opposition leader Bill Shorten is hounding Hockey for his dividing Australians into a cynical dichotomy of ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’. With little doubt this is something worthy of criticism, the banal outrage element amongst consumer-reader markets not withstanding. Indeed, if only Shorten could be more the media darling on this, that he was during the Beaconsfield Mine collapse in 2006.

What this particular language doesn’t do though, is highlight the very real division between Joe Hockey, and “Average Joe”; that he is not one of us. Hockey’s divisiveness, in this case, is pure demagoguery of the Alan Jones, or 1990s Current Affair variety, and like the politically dishonest and the foolish, the political demagogue experiences little difficulty blending in with us commoners.

Indeed, wealthy demagogues are particularly adept at passing themselves off as battlers or hard workers; it’s a good part of what makes them so politically dangerous.

***

No, it’s Hockey’s remark about 1970s socialism that does the trick, more than cigars, foodstuffs or demagogic bloviation ever could. Outside of the sheer wide-ranging cruelty of this latest budget, it’s this arcane and somewhat abstract point that Hockey makes that best signifies that he is alien to us little people.

Labor could almost be forgiven for not realising it. Almost.

Oh Labor

Despite the achievements of the Hawke and Keating governments, there’s still a fiscal insecurity lurking at the back of the minds of many an ALP member; The Spectre of Gough. Beating back the Global Financial Crisis under Rudd may have exorcised this anxiety to some degree, but I’m sure it’s still there in no insignificant measure.

So when the Liberals concoct an imaginary “Budget Crisis”, and the Australian public reject a perfectly fiscally competent government, you can expect that folk in the Labor party are going to worry about their party’s (allegedly) long-standing reputation for these things.

Only, outside of the political classes, nobody really gives a rat’s posterior about this anymore. The public’s interest for political history isn’t as great as the average party wonk, and is easily subsumed by urgency and practicality. The “Budget Crisis” was such an urgency, and the in-fighting that made Labor appear impractical, was clear, apparent and immediate.

This had nothing to do with the hauntings of The Spectre of Gough.

Similarly, and to my point, aside from the party faithful, and the welded-on, the Australian electorate couldn’t give two farts about Hockey’s venture into the shortcomings of “1970s socialism”. Aside from being factually dubious, which many a wonk will be tempted to address, and aside from alluding to fiscal ghosts, which many a Labor-type may be baiting into defending, it’s just too alien.

Talk of historically closed economies, and the alleged unattainability of attempts at absolute and uniform equality, are at least for the time being, too far removed from the electorate’s immediate concerns, which thanks to Hockey’s callousness, are now many.

If Labor want to take full advantage of the way Hockey has alienated the Australian public, it needs to jump on the arcane and abstruse qualities of his ideations, and use them to portray him for what he is; out of touch with most Australians, and utterly unconcerned with their welfare.

Hockey is far too busy chasing ideological spectres of his own imagining to be worried about us plebs.

A stark, alternative approach, would be for the ALP to continue overlooking openings like these, instead remaining distracted by their own flirtations with the abstract and the tenebrous, thereby opening themselves up to fair speculation that they too, are too busy with other things to care about the little folk. It shouldn’t need saying that I don’t think this is a good idea.

Shake off the fog, the ghosts and the long shadows, Labor. A strong opposition is needed.

~ Bruce

A decade and more of people coming and going in orbit…

StartrailsI first felt the tidal forces wrought by being flung out of social orbit two or three years ago, when silently, both other persons and myself, went our own ways. Their trajectory sent them in professional directions I can’t say I’d endorse 100%, while I may or may not have been relegated to the status of ‘crazy guy they knew on the Internet’.

For my own part in this, I was getting tired. Tired of passive-aggression, of in-jokes (some poorly veiled), and tired of a few people being too egocentric to realise that no, they weren’t dealing with someone who was gullible, they were dealing with someone who was being charitable; someone who was humouring them, not the other way around.

If I regret anything from this particular period, it’s my lame participation in what passed for some of the humour – which often involved my riffing off of someone else’s bad joke.

All the same, while we were friends, I did get something out of some of them, during what was a difficult time for me, mentally. I don’t know if this admission would injure their egos, or comfort them, and I can’t say I’m particularly worried either way.

If there’s anything I’d be concerned about with them, if I hadn’t put them behind me, it’d be the prejudicial assumptions and leading questions; annoying for me, worse for them if it insinuates its way into their journalism.

The greatest imposture in all of this though, comes from my own faculties – particularly my relative inability to forget things, even small things I don’t much care about. Inevitably something comes along to remind me… like goings on over the past few weeks.

At the very least I wouldn’t be recalling all of these details if I hadn’t been reminded.

***

Continue reading

Open letter on The Cabinet of No Credibility

Dear Nick Champion,

I’m writing as a member of your electorate concerned with the attitude of our new Federal Government; its attitude towards climate change in particular, and towards science in general.

Specifically, both the axing of the Climate Commission and the dissection of the science portfolio, signal at an early stage, this new Federal Government’s capacity to treat scientific research and education as expendable casualties of culture war. The composition of Tony Abbott’s cabinet further reinforces this view, with extreme ideologues gaining quite a few choice positions.

That this has occurred shouldn’t surprise anyone. Rather, it’s a reminder to be vigilant. People may have suspected that the election of an Abbott government would see a return to culture war, but the fact that so soon into its first term, with no prior announcement, and with zero debate of the merits, drastic action has already been taken, allows such suspicions to now be treated as confirmed.

Ulterior motives, not grounded in research or scientific consultation, and not subject to due scrutiny, are clearly the guiding lights of The Abbott Government when it comes to science. From where I’m standing, when it comes to science, Tony Abbott has assembled a Cabinet of No Credibility.

There is little doubt we will see talking points from the Australian Right’s cottage industry of gadflies and pseudo-intellectuals elevated to the status of principles-to-be-acted-upon, while also with little doubt, there will be little room made for these talking points to be debated or properly subjected to scientific inquiry. The senate will surely have its hands full.

Not that I want to insult players of the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons, I think your observation about the credibility of the assembly of extremists in Canberra in 2011 is likely to hold true for our new Federal Government; they will treat discussion of science as a fantastic game.

Subsequently, I have enclosed a twenty-sided dice in the hope that you are able to gift it to our new government in protest. Perhaps it could help them roll-up some better policies. I hope this is not too much of an imposture.

Yours sincerely

Bruce Everett

Addendum (1st October, 2013): The twenty-sided dice is used in, and an icon for, fantasy games like Dungeons and Dragons.

Book Review: Freedom of Religion & The Secular State

for-blackfordFreedom of Religion & The Secular State, by Russell Blackford.

Publisher: John Wiley and Sons.

Philosopher and self-styled whipping boy, Michael Ruse, once described Russell Blackford as a ‘Junior New Atheist from Australia’. Ruse fancies himself, amongst other things, as a veteran of secular court battles, and an opener of dialogue between believer and non. Good for him.

I’m not sure, however, that Ruse is being wise in dismissing Blackford.

***

Blackford starts from a tolerant Lockean basis for the separation of church and state, justifying this in a historical context, and comparing it to competing theories, before moving forward to argue how in essence, the Lockean treatment is still applicable to modern disputes.

Anyone familiar with Blackford’s small-l liberal leanings, will not be surprised by his arguing against burqa bans, while those looking for black-and-white posturing will be disappointed; Blackford doesn’t deny there are situations where secular contractual obligations may reasonably require, say an employee, not to wear the burqa in a certain space.

Similarly, against ‘New Atheist’ type, Blackford doesn’t treat the religious establishment’s arguments with categorical derision, notionally agreeing that defensible arguments can be made to indefinitely postpone various secular reforms. This especially where the social costs of reform could exceed the benefits of implementing them.

(This kind of utilitarianism may upset more radical secularists – but at least there’s room for difference in this debate.)

Of course, there are various religious privileges that don’t fall into this category, and it is here, after consideration, that Blackford takes a stronger stance. The idea that Catholics can’t become a head of state, in any modern democracy (or for that matter, any modern soft-theocracy), and ridiculous orthodox notions like these, are given the (admittedly polite) rebuke they rightly deserve. (Malcolm Turnbull, and an Australian Republic, appear in-mind whenever I encounter issues like these in Blackford’s work).

The book is incredibly concise. It doesn’t tarry, taking time to make quips – the necessary technical detail is raised, and in a manner amenable to us laypersons.

(Although I wouldn’t have minded a little needling of Alister McGrath, the respect he’s shown in the section on the history of religious persecution, is more in fitting with the rest of the text.)

Again, against ‘New Atheist’ type, Blackford’s effort isn’t remotely populist, at least in as far as populism is a negative – it’s intellectualism accessible to members of the lumpenproletariat such as yours truly (making it a valuable addition to any public library).

Only the most precious could find the tome objectionable. Blackford for example, doesn’t outright dismiss the possibility of justifiable persecution of religion X, by a hypothetical secular state. Those with persecution complexes will perhaps convince themselves, ‘he means me’, whereas more sensible readers will think more along the lines of ‘sarin-gas-death-cult’.

In being concise, the reader isn’t treated like a dolt – ridiculous interpretations aren’t endlessly qualified against, and this does at some points leave the text open to spurious readings. No doubt at some point, somewhere, a close-reading paranoid, working away in their bunker, will uncover in Blackford’s little tome, the kernel of a ‘New Atheist’ conspiracy to enslave the religious, and crush human flourishing.

Most of us however, should be able to sleep soundly, all the more for not having had our time wasted or our intelligence insulted.

***

I’m left wondering, because I’ve never seen anything like it, how Michael Ruse has made a contribution to the secular public debate at anything approaching this quality. Correct me if I’m ignorant.

More importantly, the Australian discourse on secularism seems wanting. The history of debate surrounding the issue of federally funded school chaplains, erecting their ministries (under a different name) in public schools, seems impoverished after reading Freedom of Religion & The Secular State.

I’m left wanting yet again better justifications from politicians, and much more challenging counter-arguments from the beneficiaries of the current arrangement. It’s not just that I think people have been wrong, I think the debate has suffered from low expectations – the media has been especially compliant in allowing tripe pass as informed comment.

Freedom of Religion & The Secular State will raise your expectations.

This shortfall in discussions of secularism is framed against a bleak political backdrop; Lindsay Tanner’s Sideshow, and George Megalogenis’ essay, Trivial Pursuit, can meaningfully lament the dumbing-down and privileged insularity of Australian politics of the age, without resorting to populism, all with the general approval of political wonks. For its part of the broader political debate, Blackford’s treatment of the secular state is met with a needing polity.

I doubt that this is significantly less true in most other modern democracies.

I want for people to read this important book.

I want the Greens to read it. I want the major parties to read it. I want Bob Carr to read it it to see if he thinks it could be a worthwhile subject of discussion in the training of Young Labor members. I want to see the moderates in the Young Liberals to read it to see how it could inform their politics.

I want unionists to read it to see how their views on workplace discrimination are influenced.

I want secular Jains, Jews, Muslims, Catholics, Anglicans, Unitarians, Buddhists, and all the other colours of the theist rainbow, to read it.

I want you to read it.

Rating: 5/5

~ Bruce

Note: For those free in Melbourne, this Thursday night, the 12th of April at 6:30pm, Russell Blackford will be appearing at Embiggen Books with Meredith Doig and Graham Oppy to discuss how Australia can move forward as a secular nation. Secularists of all stripes are welcome – theist or non – and I’m planning to be in attendance myself, which means I’d better get back to packing!