Features Australia

Cashed-up bogans can take a hike

Not all opinions are, or should be, of equal value

19 January 2013

I love free speech as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is Nicola Roxon, of course). I subscribe whole-heartedly to its underlying principles: that the criminalising of thought and belief is wrong, that dissent and debate are vital, and that censorship is counter-productive. People should be free to offend and be offended, whether in thought, word or action.

But we should never fall into the trap of validating all speech or thought as equal, or even valid. The problem with Terry Barnes’ defence of the ‘cashed-up bogan’ (The Spectator Australia, 5 January) was not that it sought to reclaim a pejorative word, but that it sought to recast the ‘bogan’ ethos as something worth aspiring to and celebrating.

An unfussed Mr Barnes describes bogans as ‘loud and brash’ people who ‘don’t care overly about what others say or think of them’ and are not ‘much interested in the wider world’. Well, volume and temperament are of little consequence. An indifference to the judgment of strangers is problematic but not altogether objectionable. But lack of interest in the world around you — well, actually, that’s not an attribute worth celebrating. It’s not worth defending. It’s not even OK. That sort of selfish, unthinking existence is something to be called out and opposed at every possible opportunity.

The example proffered by Barnes — those ostentatious Christmas lighting displays that adorn so many suburban mansions throughout December — is something of a case in point. Apparently some residents of Patterson Lakes decided to cut back on the extravaganza and were ‘very, very unhappy’ about having to do so. The rather juvenile insinuation of the whole column was that the Gillard government’s carbon tax stole Christmas.

Well woe is me. I can’t believe I’m being asked to feel sorry for a bunch of waterfront-dwelling, Harley-owning, plasma-watching ingrates who, by Barnes’ own admission, have decided to double their yearly power bill by desecrating their front yard with Christmas lights. It is one thing to have families on $200,000 crying poor on the front page of the Australian because the government took away a fraction of their Howard Bribe. But to have ‘successful’ people, people who ‘score high on household income’, people with ‘home cinemas capable of being seen and heard on the moon’ (these are all Barnes’ descriptors, not mine), moaning about the cost of their Christmas display… well, that is unconscionable.

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It would be bearable if we were merely being asked to tolerate this selfishness. But we are being asked to change national policy because of it. Barnes and Abbott argue the carbon price should be abolished because Christmas lights are under threat. Australia should forego a market mechanism for lowering carbon emissions so that Yuletide enthusiasts in south Melbourne need not sacrifice a few fluorescent baubles.

Anyone is free to believe this thesis. Anyone is free to agree with the inhabitants of Patterson Lakes. Anyone is free to shout from the rooftops that climate change is a CSIRO conspiracy. But people who are not ‘much interested in the world around them’ should not expect the world to show much interest in their parochial views. Nor should they expect their opinion, backed up only by self-interest, to be judged equal to the verdict of scientists, economists, policy advisers and other people whose job it is to study evidence, consult widely and consider our collective welfare. Ah yes; those opprobrious university graduates who dare cast their minds beyond the white picket fence.

In October, one such educated upstart — Patrick Durley, a philosophy lecturer at Deakin University — wrote in the Conversation about an important lesson he imparts to his students. ‘You are not entitled to your opinion,’ he tells them. ‘You are only entitled to what you can argue for.’

It’s not actually a radical proposition. But this country is coming dangerously close to accepting the equality of opinion as gospel. Much of our media has fallen under the false spell of defining objectivity as giving equal airtime to both sides, rather than seeking out the truth or forcing people to rationalise their opinions.

Indeed, Arthur S. Brisbane, former public editor of the New York Times, asked early last year: ‘Should The Times Be A Truth Vigilante?’ Many readers misunderstood his question, seeing it as an admission that the Times had been failing in its Fourth Estate duties. But Brisbane was actually asking: should his newspaper add corrections and clarifications to the partisan half-truths of its sources? Should journalists use their own intellect and resources to dispute claims in news reports, rather than using quotes from vested interests?

Such an editorial philosophy would actually represent a significant departure from the view that the media is there merely to report on the actions of others in a world where all opinions are equal. The courts have always recognised this principle: only the opinions of credentialed experts are admissible — everyone else can take a hike. And so it is that mothers who think vaccinations are evil should probably go to medical school, men of faith who oppose abortion should try getting knocked up, and the residents of Patterson Lakes should book a flight to the Pacific Islands to see the real effects of climate change and poverty.

The Australian sense of entitlement which Laura Tingle so expertly scrutinised in her recent Quarterly Essay has taken reason and rationality as its prisoners. It has poisoned people with the idea that their personal interests are of equal weight to anyone else’s. It is an unfortunate quirk of egalitarian Australia, where ‘tall poppies’ are cut down and ‘too much’ education is regarded as mildly suspicious and unnecessary.

If we fail to respect educational qualifications, scientific evidence and familiarity with the issues, then public policy becomes an impossibility. Cheap Christmas lights are not more important than global warming — they’re just not. One perspective is not equally valid with another just by virtue of existing. All opinions are equally free, but when it comes to substance, some are more equal than others, and that’s as it should be.

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Show comments
  • Terry Barnes

    Young Mr Koziol is pasting me from one side for my characteristion of fellow Patterson Lakes residents, and some Patto people themselves (not to mention my Greens-voting wife, who thinks the carbon tax is a gift from God) are pasting me from the other for calling the place “Boganville” and accusing me of writing specifically about them. But apparently unlike Mr Koziol, most Patto people have not had an irony bypass and those residents who read my 5 January article saw it as intended: observation and humour making a point.

    My message was that the steepling cost of electricity, topped by Julia Gillard’s pointless and destructive carbon tax, has opportunity and social costs. The reluctant dimming of the Patterson Lakes Christmas extravaganza itself is an simple but eloquently graphic illustration of policy madness doing needless collateral damage in a community where politics is normally low down the priority list.

    I respect the undoubted sincerity and passion of Mr Koziol’s opinions and his right to hold them, although I strongly disagree with him: those so young can also be forgiven for simply assuming that their opinions are more equal than others simply because they hold them. We were all young once! But seeing that The Guardian’s starting an Australian edition soon, perhaps we can also assume that this is young Mr K’s audition piece?

  • http://www.facebook.com/tomhb Tom HB

    Terrance, aside from a modest increase to electricity prices (which are insignificant compared to other increases caused by state government policy failures), what has been destroyed by the carbon price?

  • shaft120

    ” But people who are not ‘much interested in the world around them’
    should not expect the world to show much interest in their parochial
    views. ”

    “we are being asked to change national policy because of it”

    I’d expect their views to be heard as much as the next person and for policy to change based on them if enough share those views within a democratic society.

    “Nor should they expect their opinion, backed up only by self-interest,
    to be judged equal to the verdict of scientists, economists, policy
    advisers and other people whose job it is to study evidence, consult
    widely and consider our collective welfare. ”

    Laughable statement. In one fell swoop you are without justification stating that there opinion is based purely on self interest and all the empirical evidence is on the side AGW proponents.Yet you offer no citation or example of this reasoning. You then ironically declare how annoyed you are that the layperson – Joe Sixpack – doesn’t just accept that some un-named, and again without citation, “scientists, economists, policy advisers” know what’s best for them and shut up!

    Who were you in a former life, Chairman Mao?

    As it happens there is a wealth of empirical evidence to back up the supposed self interested opinion you declare as null and void out of hand. As opposed to the theoretical models and projections which the AGW activists rely upon and which are consistently proved incorrect ass future becomes present.

    If you would really like to have a grown up debate about the subject and you think you have enough understanding of science to contribute or read the words then you might want to visit ‘Watts up with that’ or other scientific discussion forums which don’t censor debate on the subject. Until then you rant is the equivalent of a playground regurgitation of something you ready on your iPad, while drinking coffee in Starbucks, basking in your glow of self attributed compassionate smugness. Happy that you are so much better than those horrible self interested knuckle draggers, who must get up every morning wondering where the nearest poor person to kick is, before they tuck in to some giant panda marmalade on their polar bear toast for breakfast.

    I hear the Guardian is being launched in Oz as part of a vanity project, just as it falls spectacularly into obscurity in the UK. I always used to say that Australia used to be about 20 years behind the UK, and 30 behind the USA. Well enjoy your hysteria while it lasts the big argument has already been settled in the rest of the world, and let me let you in on a little secret… The Communists lost again.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kylar.loussikian Kylar Loussikian

    Yeah Michael, if you prefer the opinion of people who spend years of their life considering effective economic and environmental policy over those who think climate-change is a giant scam based on a blog-post or two, can you please do it elsewhere, like this Guardian thing?

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