Australian Politics 2019-02-09 15:45:00
Joe Hildebrand writes: The death of truth, how facts have been replaced with feelings
Australia's Joe Hildebrand normally writes in a notably good humoured and even jocular way but he is not laughing over the response to his Australia Day writings. Australia day is a patriotic celebration, celebrating the arrival in Australia of the first British settlers. The Left hate it. The settlers were WHITE! How awful!
Hildebrand was savaged by irrational comments from the hate-driven Left. As Kerri-Anne Kennerley also found out, the Left are quick to allege hate and racism when it is they who are the haters and they are the ones obsessed by race. White Leftists even manage to hate whites in some weird way
Facts have been replaced with blind emotion, usually driving a huge backlash if you dare dive into contentious issues like Australia Day.
A little over a week ago one of my beloved editors at news.com.au asked me if I’d like to write a piece about the Australia Day race debate, which is a bit like a Roman asking a Christian if he’d like to be fed to the lions.
Of course, I said. What could possibly go wrong?
Needless to say I had a fair idea and so I set about writing a lengthy, three-part, background and opinion piece on Australia’s colonisation and our relationship with our first peoples today.
I made every possible effort to provide global and historical context, to be measured, to note the differing perspectives of indigenous and non-indigenous people and carefully distinguish between the impact of events and the intent behind them. I noted many of the crimes and contradictions of colonisation and clearly and categorically stressed that we needed to acknowledge the atrocities of the past. I had hoped to establish some common ground and a common goal in ending indigenous suffering and disadvantage.
Instead, within 24 hours I was being called a white supremacist and an apologist for racial genocide.
This was hardly unforeseen. Online outrage is as utterly predictable as it is utterly pointless. Nor, before the next predictable accusation starts, am I appealing for pity.
No, the truly disturbing part was not how angry or abusive so many of the responses were, but that they appeared to be responding to things I had not said. Indeed, in many cases they were accusing me of saying things I had in fact said the opposite of.
I do not wish to reopen these old historical arguments here but instead demonstrate the disconnect.
One common refrain was that I was denying massacres or atrocities were committed and attempting to whitewash history. In fact, I said this: “It is vital that non-indigenous Australians are made acutely aware of the sorrows and stains on our history; the suffering that Aboriginal people have gone through and the atrocities that have been perpetrated by many of our ancestors.”
Another was that I was wearing rose-coloured glasses or downplaying the suffering of Aboriginal people. In fact, I said this: “Yes, there were unspeakable atrocities committed by some settlers, and yes, disease and grog had a catastrophic effect on the indigenous population. Indeed, there can be no denying that the effect of European colonisation has been devastating for huge swathes of the indigenous population — especially in Tasmania.”
I also presented the view, based on well-known historical evidence, that colonists such as Cook and Phillip did not come to Australia with the intention of wiping out indigenous people — which is apparently how I became an apologist for genocide.
At first I just assumed that these people hadn’t bothered to read the piece they were angry about — which is usually the case in social media debates — but then I realised something more worrying was at play. People had read it — or at least looked at it — but seen only what they wanted to see.
The same was true of many of the supposed sources they produced. Some were as crude as internet memes; others were highlighted passages from various books or documents, when merely reading even the rest of the page would have supported the arguments they were railing against.
But credit to them for at least engaging with some of the facts. Sometimes there is so much outrage over so few facts that people actually need to invent things for their enemies to say just so they can be outraged by them.
One case was when someone said there was “evidence based scholarly research” to prove I was wrong and then accused me of being “ … a bloke from News Corp, with no qualifications …”
I humbly responded that I had in fact majored in history at university and been accepted into history honours before I left to take up my journalism cadetship. This then prompted outrage that I was suddenly now either A) the product of a racist colonial education; or B) not educated enough.
Another was when one of several people dared me to compare colonial Australia to the Holocaust and I replied that colonial Australia was nothing like the Holocaust. Naturally, the response was: I CAN’T BELIEVE HE COMPARED IT TO THE HOLOCAUST!!!!
Thus the new definition of proof in online debate is to say something untrue of a person and then when the person says it’s untrue cite that as proof of them saying it. It’s just like Monty Python’s “Jehovah” sketch from Life of Brian except without the intelligence or humour.
And then there is the third and laziest response, which is to simply ignore all facts both real and imagined and dismiss the argument based on the colour of the person making it. Thus whatever a white man says about history is inherently racist and wrong and if such an argument is championed by a brave indigenous woman like Jacinta Nampijinpa Price she is dismissed as a racist enabler.
And of course if you are accused of being a racist you cannot deny being a racist because racists don’t get to decide whether they are racist or not. This logic is straight from the Salem Witch Trials, although again without the intelligence or humour.
And of course if none of that works anyone the hard left disagrees is simply told to “shut the f*** up”.
And so this is the world we have become. A world where people comb through texts for something to be outraged about or try to force people to say things that they can be outraged about or just call people racist and then get outraged by how racist they are.
The facts don’t matter in public debate anymore. All that matters is whether something fits within a pre-constructed “correct” narrative; if not it is deemed offensive. If something upsets somebody then it cannot be true.
Is this really the new standard of public discourse in Australia? Is this really what we are now going to call scholarly debate? Is this really what activists think is the most pressing issue facing Australia?
Apparently so. This is the death of truth. History has been replaced by ideology. Facts have been replaced by feelings.
And maybe there is more than one truth. It’s true there were a great many atrocities in our history and it’s true there are a great many atrocities happening now.
There are also different “truths” for indigenous women and children. When domestic violence happens in the rest of the country it is described by activists as a “national emergency”. When it is highlighted in Aboriginal communities it is dismissed as a “distraction” or “whataboutism” or cloaked by bulls**t academic buzzwords like “intersectionality”.
I believe in clear words and clear truths. We must confront and acknowledge the sins of the past but we must also fight for the future of those who are suffering today. People say we can do both but I don’t see many marches or Twitter hashtags for the indigenous women being assaulted at a rate dozens of times higher than everyone else.
And there’s no escaping the truth confronting them.
Australian university introduces 'all gender' bathrooms in a bid to make trans and intersex students feel 'safe and welcome on campus'
At the expense of making a lot of women feel unsafe. Isn't feminism great?
Sydney's University of Technology has introduced 'all gender' bathrooms in a bid to make 'students feel safe and welcome on campus'.
The toilets at UTS had previously been designated as 'unisex accessible', but members of the UTS Queer Collective urged the university to go further.
Their calls were heard, with UTS last week announcing the move and acknowledging many of its students 'don't identify with traditional binary genders'.
'Others don't feel comfortable using a bathroom designated by gender, sometimes because they've had a negative experience using a single-gender bathroom due to their appearance or gender identity,' the university posted on its website.
'We have taken a step to improve the on-campus experience for people who prefer not to use single-gender bathrooms, with the establishment of all gender bathrooms in 10 of our buildings.'
Queer Collective members hailed the move on Monday, praising it as a 'big win' for LGBTQI students. 'This is an important step for trans and gender diverse individuals to feel safe and validated on campus,' they posted on Facebook.
A former queer officer for the University Of New South Wales' Queer Collective called for other univeristies to follow suit.
'It's a huge step towards acknowledging and including trans, intersex and gender non-conforming students and staff,' Alex Linker told Nine News. 'I am disappointed, however, that it was not my university that was the one who initiated this change. 'I hope that UNSW introduces gender-neutral bathrooms soon.'
The problem with 'hate speech' laws
When Facebook posts lead to Federal Court proceedings, a parliamentary inquiry, and a bankruptcy, something has gone seriously wrong with Australia’s ‘hate speech’ laws.
This is made clear by the news that Cindy Prior — the plaintiff in one of the most infamous Section 18C cases — has been declared bankrupt after failing to pay $250,000 of legal costs to the students she sued.
To recap: in 2013, three Queensland University of Technology (QUT) students were asked to leave an ‘Indigenous only’ computer lab by (then) staff member Prior.
Two of the students subsequently posted about the incident on Facebook; and three more became involved after they commented on the posts.
The comments were removed after Prior complained to QUT, but she subsequently complained to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) — then sued, alleging the five students breached 18C, and QUT and their employees violated section 9 of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Two students settled, paying Prior $5000. The other three won their case in court, and Prior ultimately dropped her action against QUT.
Those who support repealing or amending 18C might welcome the news of Prior’s financial distress as rightful comeuppance. But there is no good news out of this situation.
Prior should not be absolved of responsibility: she was ultimately the one who decided to pursue court proceedings that always carry the risk of a financial loss.
But if not for the existence and current terms of Section 18C, Facebook posts would not be able to be turned into a legal weapon that landed university students in years of legal strife and has now left a woman bankrupt. One of the students even filed an affidavit denying he was the author of the posts attributed to him.
Some argue 18C and other hate speech laws are necessary to prevent racism and ensure multiculturalism is a success. In his book Don’t Go Back to Where you Came From, Tim Soutphommasane argues, “Prejudice, bigotry and racism thrive in the absence of public policies that affirm the freedom of citizens to express their different cultural identities.”
But given the disastrous outcome for all involved in the QUT case it is absurd to suggest such laws are justified to prevent racism and bigotry taking hold in Australia.
The trivial nature of the original complaint, compared to the ultimate havoc wrought in the lives of all involved, demonstrates what a damaging law 18C is.
Latest forecast: climate of fear
Weather and climate used to be different things, but the capture of weather by climate change advocates is now all but complete. Wild weather is a political statement worldwide. A fear-inducing drumbeat of broken temperature records is constant, and nightly reports of extreme weather somewhere in the world are the new normal.
Wildfires, an unstable polar vortex, freezing temperatures, boiling hot days, too much rain, not enough. All routinely are cited as evidence of a changing climate. Fine print be damned.
The catastrophisation of weather is clickbait: an easy sell that plays heavily into primal fears and seamlessly into domestic and international politics.
It is a cornerstone of UN climate talks, at which everyone “knows” the “weather has changed”.
The emphasis has been premeditated, as was the shift from global warming to climate change.
It is being legitimised by a new branch of “attribution science” that links climate change influence to what were otherwise weather events.
Scientists use computer models to build virtual worlds, one with and another without carbon dioxide emissions from human activity. Thousands of model simulations are run and the outputs from the “pure” world are compared with those of the virtual world as it is today.
Over several years the public has been softened up to accept that weather is climate, but the key message has been that no single event can be attributed to climate change with any certainty. Things are about to shift gear.
The next step globally is to include references to the climate signal in daily weather bulletins.
Once normalised through public agencies, attribution study results will be used in court cases seeking compensation payments from big oil, bad government and wealthy nations for the damages caused by climate change.
Throughout the week, as floods swamped Townsville in north Queensland and fires ravaged swaths of Tasmania, there was a chorus of claims that extreme weather events, including these, were evidence of climate change.
Scott Morrison was denounced for not making the link publicly when he visited Townsville flood victims. The Climate Council issued a special report on extreme weather; the Australian National University released its climate update for 2019; and a new GetUp front group was launched, Bushfire Survivors for Climate Action.
Extreme weather events now are confidently projected by lobby groups and vested interests as evidence of a changing climate. The punchline is always the same: government is not doing enough on climate. To fix the weather, more must be done to stop burning coal, build renewable energy plants and suck carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
The Climate Council says all extreme weather events are being influenced by climate change, as they are occurring in an atmosphere that contains more energy than 50 years ago. The extreme weather events of last year, it says, are the latest in a long-term trend of worsening extreme weather, both in Australia and globally, as a result of climate change.
“The frequency and intensity of many extreme weather events — heatwaves, bushfires, floods, and storms — have increased over the past several decades, mirroring many of the trends that have been observed globally,” the Climate Council says. “The evidence is clear that climate change is influencing the global trend of worsening extreme weather.”
The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on 1.5C warming is slightly more measured. It says there is “medium confidence” that trends in intensity and frequency of some climate and weather extremes have been detected over time spans during which about 0.5C of global warming occurred.
But in testimony to the US house natural resources committee hearing on climate change this week, retired climate scientist Judith Curry said: “Based on current assessments of the science, man-made climate change is not an existential threat on the timescale of the 21st century, even in its most alarming incarnation. If we believe the climate models, any changes in extreme weather events would not be evident until late in the 21st century. The greatest impacts will be felt in the 22nd century and beyond.”
Curry says extreme damage from recent hurricanes plus billion-dollar losses from floods, droughts and wildfires emphasise the vulnerability of the US to extreme events. “It’s easy to forget that US extreme weather events were actually worse in the 1930s and 1950s.’’
But ANU Climate Change Institute director Mark Howden says recent extreme heatwaves, rainfall and bushfires emphasise how important it is to maintain a safe and stable climate.
“Climate and atmospheric changes are accelerating, leading to more and more unprecedented climate-related events, whether these are land or ocean-based heatwaves, fires, floods or biodiversity losses such as fish kills,” Howden says.
The new GetUp group says “the government can no longer ignore the way their climate change denial is hurting our communities and putting lives at risk”. “They must take Australia beyond coal projects like Adani and move to 100 per cent renewable energy for all,” it adds.
Award-winning Tasmanian author Richard Flanagan made an eloquent contribution to the debate, penning an essay decrying the Tasmanian fires and saying they signal a “terrifying new reality, as disturbing and ultimately almost certainly as tragic as the coral reef bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef”. “Another global treasure in the form of Tasmania’s ancient Gondwanaland remnant forest and its woodland alpine heathlands are at profound and immediate risk because of climate change,” Flanagan wrote.
He is no stranger to the history of fire in Tasmania. In the climax to his novel Gould’s Book of Fish, set in a Tasmanian island prison, he writes: “Watch the whole island transforming into a single furnace, one flame as infinite as Hell, an eternity of suffering in which nothing existed except to fuel the fire further, and then the fire finding its way into the heart of the settlement.’’
Fire records for Tasmania are clear. The state has faced a series of devastating fires from early settlement in 1803. The worst were in 1854, 1897-98, 1913-15, 1926-27, 1933-34, 1940-42, 1960- 61, 1967, 2013 and 2016.
The current concern is whether a new threat is posed by dry lightning strikes to areas and species that are not likely to recover. A 2015 review by the Tasmania Parks and Wildlife Service found that data from the past 20 years suggests the fire regimes in the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area are changing. Fires lit by arson had decreased but “fires started by dry lightning now appear to be the main threat to the TWWHA”, it says. “However, it is too early to know whether a shift in climate may be contributing to a long-term increasing trend in dry lightning activity in summers.”
Aynsley Kellow, professor emeritus of government at the University of Tasmania, tells Inquirer politicians have quickly laid the blame for the latest fires on climate change because of dry lightning strikes. “I always find it a bit distasteful to try to make political capital out of misfortune,” he says. “Here people say areas of forest that haven’t been burnt in millennia are now under a new threat, but that is clearly nonsense.
“The wet sclerophyll forest, for instance, is largely the result of substantial wildfire 200 years ago. It is the case that most sclerophyll forests, wet or dry, are fire adapted.
“Where it is an issue is with some of the rainforest species such as King Billy pine and so on — you could say it is the eucalypts versus the rainforest species, and the eucalypts tend to win.
“I have got no problems trying to preserve some rainforest but when fire comes from a natural source like a lightning strike, if you have a naturalistic view of the environment, who is it of us to intervene in that process?
“I don’t mind intervening because I think humans should be managing the landscape. But I think it is a fairly long bow to say this is unprecedented. It suggests there hasn’t been dry lightning strikes in the past.
“Part of the problem is that with the technology that is available these days you can count lightning strikes. That facility just wasn’t there in the past and it’s partly a reflection of the improvement of monitoring technology of climate science.
In Townsville, work is still under way to understand the magnitude of this week’s flood event.
The cause of the heavy rains is easily explained in meteorological terms. A large monsoonal trough stretching into the Coral Sea dragged in moisture and dumped it on its southern front. The front stayed almost stationary for six days, producing rainfalls of more than 2m in some areas.
Andrew Gissing, from risk management and catastrophe modelling group Risk Frontiers, says it is not uncommon to see severe rain causing flooding in Queensland alongside simultaneous fire weather in the south.
“I don’t necessarily think that is unique,” he says. “We are doing some work on how extreme the Townsville floods have been. A colleague is saying it is a one-in-200-year event. You do have uncertainty associated with the length of the record you can look at to work out how extreme some of this stuff is.’’
Newspaper accounts testify to the flooding that is the old normal in Townsville. A report from January 30, 1892 speaks of what “seemed one prolonged thunderstorm, thunder and lightning prevailing the whole time”. “Half the population cannot reach the city and business is at a standstill,” it says.
In 1953, The Queensland Times reported that year’s Townsville flood was the worst since 1881. “The stench of dead animals along the river bank is almost unbearable,” it says.
Research by Griffith University using sediment records says floods in southeast Queensland during the past 1500 years rival the size of floods in recorded history (1893, 1974 and 2011).
The Climate Council says extreme weather is costly. Insurance companies in Australia paid out more than $1.2 billion in claims last year. But research by Risk Frontiers has so far not picked up a climate signature in insurance losses. Losses at the moment are being driven primarily by development in at-risk areas.
“Having said that, insurance losses may not necessarily be the best place to pick up that (climate change signal) because they are not capturing the full extent of the loss,” Gissing says. “Certainly, with the various climate projections we have got no reason to believe we won’t see one in the future.’’
Scientist Jennifer Marohasy says Australia is still a country of drought and flooding rains. “We still see in the record for rainfall and temperature that you have these dry periods and wet periods,” says Marohasy. “Often the more significant and longer the drought, the bigger the flood that follows.”
The contest lies in the accuracy of a new branch of climate science that attempts to attribute the contribution of climate change to extreme weather events.
A landmark report in 2016 by the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine says attribution can answer questions about how much climate change influences the probability or intensity of a specific type of weather event.
On July 30 last year, Nature journal declared that “extreme-event attribution — the science of calculating how global warming has changed the likelihood and magnitude of extreme heat, cold, drought, rain or flooding — is ready to leave the lab”. The journal says research has advanced to the point where public agencies can take over the task.
This year, Germany’s national weather agency will start posting instant findings on social media to “quantify the influence of climate change on any atmospheric conditions that might bring extreme weather to Germany or central Europe”.
The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says attribution research can be used by courts “to settle questions of liability for the costs or harm caused by an extreme event that may have been influenced by global warming and climate change”.
Marohasy’s view is that rather than existing climate models, which are unable to predict events such as the Townsville flood even weeks beforehand, climate science should pay more attention to artificial intelligence systems that can include cycles.
AI research is being taken up by the weather authorities of China and other Asian nations.
“We have now got AI to allow us to understand relationships in historic data,” Marohasy says. “AI is central to the fourth industrial revolution in things such as driverless cars and medicine, but climate science refuses to move away from general circulation models. We are aware there have always been extreme rainfall events but no one wants to look at the raw historic data. They want to remodel data and strip cycles from data because the concept of cycles is alien to the theory of anthropogenic climate change.
“It wants to take everything back to CO2 so that it has policy relevance,” Marohasy adds.
Indeed, a common feature of reports on extreme weather is a demand that government do more to stop burning fossil fuels and move to renewables. But Curry told the US house committee it was misguided to assume current wind and solar technologies could power an advanced economy.
She says there are two options on the table. One is to do nothing and the other is to rapidly deploy wind and solar plants with the goal of eliminating fossil fuels in one to two decades.
“Apart from the gridlock engendered by considering only these two options, in my opinion neither option gets us to where we want to go,” Curry says. “A third option is to re-imagine the 21st-century electric power systems, with new technologies that improve energy security, reliability and cost while minimising environmental impacts.
“Acting urgently on emissions reduction by deploying 20th-century technologies could turn out to be the enemy of a better long-term solution.’’
It’s an idea that finds it difficult to compete in the atmosphere of fear generated by the urgency now being injected into a narrative as old as time: there’s something strange about the weather.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.). For a daily critique of Leftist activities, see DISSECTING LEFTISM. To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup of pro-environment but anti-Greenie news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH . Email me here