Why Tim Wilson is wrong about “n______”

This article on the referential nature of language and our ‘Freedom Commissioner’s’ failure to understand it is excellent. I highly recommend you all read it.

Castan Centre for Human Rights Law

By  Patrick Emerton

A little over a week ago, Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson stated that he objects to current laws governing racially offensive behaviour because they allow members of particular communities to refer to one another using words that outsiders may not:

Asked whether he was referring to the word “n–––“, Mr Wilson said: “I won’t say it, but that’s right.”

Wilson then argued that repealing the relevant legislation – section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) – would restore “equality” to Australia’s discrimination laws.

This objection is radically mistaken. It rests upon a confusion about the nature of language, which on this occasion feeds a misguided political agenda.

Philosophers and cultural theorists have written a lot about the nature of language, expressing different views and coming from different perspectives. Racial, racialised and racist language is a particularly contentious matter. This blog adopts the approach of Hilary…

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Recommended Reading: My Country is a Horror Show

Today’s recommend reading comes from David Simon, the creator of one of my favourite TV series, The Wire. Published by the Guardian, it is an edited version of an impromptu speech given at the Festival of Dangerous Ideas in Sydney. The subject of the speech is the role unrestrained capitalism has played in creating the widening divide between the class of Americans who feel at their society is willing and able to meet their needs, and those who do not. Capitalism, Simon contends, has lost social compact and we are all the poorer because of it.

My Country is a Horror Show is a speech that stands as a stark warning, not only to America but to all the west and beyond.

Do take the time to read it.

Recommended Reading: Australia, Australians and Taxation

Today’s recommended reading is two blog posts that have been inspired by recent debate in Australia about the government’s role in taxing citizens’ savings, especially that accumulated because of our system of mandated superannuation (pension). The main questions have been what rate, if any, these savings should be taxed, and should those who are relatively well off be taxed at a higher rate than those who are not.

One of the posts, by ACTU economist Matt Cowgill, deals directly with these questions. The other, by blogger and policy wonk Greg Jericho, considers the impact the introduction of a form of flat income tax would have on Australian taxpayers as a whole.

I rate these as recommended reading as these are opinions we are not likely to read in our Murdoch and Fairfax dominated daily press.

As a quick matter of context, and to add my own opinion to the mix, I’d also like to briefly consider what passes for economic debate in this country and why I think it is unique to other parts of the world.

First, is the above mentioned penetration of the Murdoch/Fairfax press duopoly. Others have written extensively about this so I will not go into it into detail here. Suffice to say that although as a western nation we reify the notion of the freedom of the press, we do no such thing for the diversity of media outlets. Nor do we adequately hold our free press to the high standards of truth that should be required by their privileged position within our society.

Second, and possibly more importantly, is the somewhat confused state which many of us approach these important public debates. And this, in no small measure, is largely a result of the above.

Australia, you see, is torn between the perennially diminishing power of the British motherland and its similarly diminishing welfare state (not to mention its various European counterparts to which we’ve often looked for inspiration) and the extreme capitalist individualism practised by America; our other ‘great and powerful friend’ from the other side of Pacific.

This leads to a problem where much political (and therefore public) debate is coloured by the cultural, political and economic hegemony of the United States. Whilst, at the same time, our history, institutions and political philosophies—and therefore much of our unselfconscious cultural (or common-sense) understanding of ourselves and the world—are built more upon the British/European tradition of the welfare state, albeit a significantly modified antipodean version.

The result is that Australians, for the lack of a better expression, often want their cake and to eat it too.

That is, we approach debates about taxation, welfare and the role of government believing that we should provided many of the traditional benefits that go along with the welfare state (and, at times, much more) because, hey, they always have in the past. On the other hand, we also have a tendency to believe much of what we’re told about the role of the individual, and more importantly individual wealth, in the economy. Much of which, as I’ve said, is delivered to us via channels controlled by those whose vested interests probably don’t align with yours, mine or most other ‘ordinary Australian’s’

This leaves public debate in a state where we are both demanding that the government make sure we get our ‘fair share’ of whatever subsidies the welfare state provides AND that it keeps its hands out of the pockets of ‘ordinary’—and by ordinary here we include even quite rich—Australian’s pockets.

The problem is, we just can’t have it both ways. Either the government is responsible for raising taxation and spending it upon the services and subsidies we demand of it, or it is not; and we go without many of the aspects of the welfare state with which we have become accustomed.

And here’s the rub, it just does not suit those who are most in a position to influence debate to illuminate this as a problem. That is, it doesn’t fit The Narrative that they are most willing to portray because it suits their interests to keep the public ill informed, and divided. So what we end up with is a situation where, when commenting on the Governmnet’s planned changes to the superannuation regime, the alternative Prime Minister can say something like this:

is a government which is prepared to tax the people to fund own spending.

Without it a) being challenged as seriously nonsensical; b) finding it reported as a legitimate critique of Government policy.

I, for one, look forward to not being taxed by an Abbott led Coalition Government which should miraculously also find itself having none of its own spending commitments.

Recommended Listening: Cory Doctorow on The Command Line Podcast

Today’s recommended reading listening is an episode of Thomas Gideon‘s podcast The Command Line.

Whilst The Command Line is an excellent podcast and comes highly recommended in its own right, this episode is particularly recommended listening.

On this feature cast Thomas’ guest is writer, geek and activist Cory Doctorow, speaking to an audience in Washington DC about the themes his latest novel Homeland: information, freedom and networks.

Drawing upon his relationship with internet activist Aaron Swartz, Doctorow discusses the connection between personal liberty and access to information. Individual freedom, he says, relies upon a healthy access to the information we need to make informed decisions about the future of our lives and our polity.

Whilst historically, the ready flow of information has constrained in a number of ways, such access becomes even more constrained as we move into a networked world. A phenomenon that is exactly the opposite of what we have come to expect.

Today, says Doctorow, we are all constrained by the digital locks upon the devices we own and yet further by laws that make the investigation and removal of such locks a criminal offence.

For Doctorow, the best defence against regimes that seek to lock us out of control over the devices we own and the networks upon which we rely is an informed public working together though grassroots organisations to ensure government officials are aware of the danger of ignoring constituents in favour of corporate interests.

Here, Doctorow is one of the most important thinkers of our generation. His ability to look not only at the past and the present but also towards possible futures gives him an extraordinary ability stitch together a compelling narrative of how an existence the majority of us take for granted (individual freedom) is routinely curtailed by the very devices that promise to further unlock it. His in-depth views on the subject are well worth a listen.

Almost more importantly, however, is the rider to Doctorow’s presentation and the promise he made the the parents of Aaron Swartz; to speak of the danger of depression that many of us face every day.

In an age of connectivity it is easy to believe the perusal of a Facebook, Twitter or other social network stream means as much as a message, an email or phonecall when the truth is it isn’t.

The message here is clear, if you take enough time to watch from afar, take also the time to touch base for real. It may just make all the difference.

Like my page, The Command Line Podcast is released under a Creative Commons License, meaning you are free to download, share and remix the original work.

Recommended Reading: A diet of media diversity.

Today’s Recommended Reading is a double-header. The first comes from the Powerhouse, The Global Mail‘s Parliamentary Press Gallery folk and is, in part, a response to the hysterical reaction of the Murdoch press to the Federal Government’s proposed new media laws. The second, is a Crikey post on roughly the same subject.

Let’s, just for a moment, set the scene. Yesterday, the Communications Minister, Stephen Conroy, announced that the Gilliard Government would introduce new media laws as a result of the Finkelstein Inquiry completed last year.

In part, the legislation is aimed at ensuring media organisations of reasonable size are able to be held properly accountable for what they print or say and at ensuring any future mergers between Australian media organisations are in the public interest. By all reports, the substance of legislation is reasonably benign with the more contentious issues being delayed and possibly completely shelved.

Now, given I know little about the laws themselves having not had a chance to read them, let’s put aside the issue of their content. Instead, I’d like to focus on the predictable response of the press. Most importantly, that of the Murdoch press and of its CEO, Kim Williams.

Yesterday, Williams characterised the legislation as a “gun to the head” to the “notion of free speech” and Conroy as attacking the fundamental “democracy of our parliamentary system” while the Daily Telegraph, News Ltd’s Sydney focussed tabloid, likened the Minister to Stalin, Mao and Castro. The Australian, I’m sure, had a crack too but since it’s behind a paywall I’m saved from being assaulted with their views as well. All in all, the response was just a little bit over the top.

Most interesting for me, however, was this interview that Williams gave on Lateline last evening, especially in light of the Global Mail article to which this post is a response. In the interview Williams spoke of the diversity media coverage contained within the News Ltd group of newspapers, claiming:

the Australian, the Herald Sun, the Courier-Mail, the Adelaide Advertiser, the Cairns Post, the Townsville Bulletin, the Hobart Mercury, the Geelong Advertiser, the Northern Territory News, all… ran diverse coverage about this announcement in quite different ways, reflecting a diversity of opinion, quite fundamental to the operation of a free press.

Given the extraordinary density of media ownership within Australia; the unparalleled penetration of News Ltd owned newspapers throughout Australian cities and the singular voice with which News Ltd outlets, be them print or online most often shout, WIlliams’ claims to internal diversity of opinion is laughable.

Or it would be if more people relied on a diverse enough set of media outlets to be able to see it for the pure bald faced bullshit that it is.

So please, join with me and read both the article by Mike Seacombe in the Global Mail and the one by Bernard Kene in Crikey. Because hey, a diversity of media diet might just go some way to staving off the senility that is often the outcome of too much Murdoch and little variety.

Recommended Reading – Rights of Asylum Seekers.

Today I start what I hope to be a new series, that of adding links to news, editorials and blogs that I find interesting and/or thought provoking.

Today’s recommended reading comes from Melbourne’s Saturday’s Age published on 2nd of March. It is an editorial defending the right of refugee’s to seek asylum in Australia without the threat of indefinite detention.

I just wish Fairfax, and The Age more specifically, would follow it’s own advice when it comes to reporting upon the he said/she said politics of of the asylum debate. When it is dogwhistling, racist or a race to the bottom, call it so.

You can read the article here: http://www.theage.com.au/opinion/editorial/speaking-up-for-those-who-cant-20130301-2fbt2.html