Culture of victimhood: The rise of argumentum ad victimam


Now that argumentum ad hominem has become a bit old hat, (unless of course said hominem is in a category utterly beyond the pale, such as old white males), clearly there is a need for another form of argument which;

(a) doesn’t require an analysis of the issue at stake,

(b) has the firepower to shut down the opposing view, and

(c) provides an opportunity for ‘virtue signalling’.

Luckily the authoritarian, censorious and would-be virtuous among us can call upon what I would label argumentum ad victimam. Habitually employed by the opponents of any reduction in government spending, it is commonly heard at budget time. Indeed, it sometimes seems that the only examination of the budget that matters is an ad victimam one. Should an incumbent Treasurer propose, for example, to reduce the public spend on childcare by 0.5 per cent over the next four years, the Opposition and press will, in the blink of an eye, produce some benighted parent whose life will be made intolerable by their child no longer being eligible for subsidy.

The victim naturally has to elicit our sympathy, so welfare recipients need to be chosen with a little care. However, now that most of the population is in receipt of other people’s money by way of various ‘benefits’ it isn’t difficult to find personable victims for any planned curb in public spending. Children are a pretty sure bet, but even aged pensioners lacking obvious sex-appeal can enjoy their 15 minutes (or less) of fame.

This partly explains the curious phenomenon of the rise and rise of welfare expenditure in Western democracies, because it is both difficult to feel sympathy for the rich people (most of whom, let’s face it, are old white males) forced to cough up a few more tax dollars every week, and easy to feel sympathy for the children who will probably end up on drugs if they don’t get subsidised childcare.

It is not only in the arena of welfarism however, where we see the ad victimam technique employed; during the term of the previous federal government footage of a mistreated bullock in an Indonesian abattoir brought about the shutdown overnight of the entire live cattle trade to that country. A senior member of the same administration lamented, after a failed attempt to regulate the Australian press, that it might have succeeded had they had the cunning to parade a victim of Big Press (also known as Rupert Murdoch) before the Australian people.

Similarly, when Mark Steyn spoke in support of repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act on Q&A recently, the response from a Labor politician on the panel was to tell the story of a child called a “half-caste” by a neighbour, in order to convince us of the critical need for the existing legislation (which incidentally did not prevent this allegedly happening).

However shallow its ethical and intellectual basis, there is no doubt that ad victimam can be a very effective technique in debate. There is a nice illustration of this from the field of public health, where the anti-vaccination movement has gained considerable traction by emphasising the harm done very rarely to individual children by vaccines, whilst failing utterly to acknowledge the enormous benefit of vaccination to countless children and the wider community.

So what is one to do for example, if invited onto the Q&A panel and served up an argumentum ad victimam? Well, as in the case of an ad hominem attack, if one is alert to the technique, at least one can recognise it for what it is. I would suggest pointing out that good intentions are not of themselves a sufficient basis for government action (and indeed if used as such almost inevitably result in unintended and unfortunate consequences).

The making of sound law requires sound principles, so that rather than focussing on individual cases, however appealing that may seem, we ought to be looking at the underlying principles as they apply to the population as a whole – but I acknowledge that these arguments are not easy to make in a public forum where issues are adjudicated by soundbite (and that is most of them).

There is a saying amongst lawyers that hard cases make for bad laws; perhaps we might borrow that concept and assert that pitiable victims make for bad laws.


University of Queensland Union cupcake stunt perfectly illustrates progressive hypocrisy


The University of Queensland has been thrown into spotlight by a ‘Feminist Week’ bake sale stunt.

The UQ Union is charging people different amounts for cupcakes depending on their gender, race and sexuality. The UQ Union website explains the principles of the bake sale:

Specific to each faculty, each baked good will only cost you the proportion of $1.00 that you earn comparative to men (or, if you identify as a man, all baked goods with cost you $1.00!).

For example, if you are a woman of colour in the legal profession, a baked good at the stall will only cost you 55 cents!

Ironically, as one student commented on a student Facebook group page, the union may be contradicting state and federal anti-discrimination law in the process.

The very people who are usually the most stringent supporters of anti-discrimination laws are themselves discriminating. The hypocrisy never ends.


First they came for the Evangelicals, now they’re coming for the Catholics

The University of Sydney Union is at it again, this time targeting the 88-year old Catholic Society over the requirement that executive members are Catholic.

In a repeat of the situation facing the Evangelical Union, the Catholic Society is facing deregistration because of their “discriminatory” policy.

The Australian reports on this latest attack on freedom of association on campus:

“It’s a surreal situation,” ­society president Francis Tamer said. “We have been told we are discriminating against people ­because you have to be Catholic to be on the executive. Of course you do — we are the Catholic ­Society.”

One of the university’s best known Catholic alumni, Tony Abbott, agrees, saying “it seems like a hell of a double standard” given that Sydney University has long offered both a “women’s room” and a Koori Centre for ­indigenous students…

Similarly, Liberal and Labor clubs on campus have pointed out that they would expect their members to be Labourites and Liberals.

In the other ongoing case at Sydney University, the Evangelical Union voted 71-1 to not remove their requirement that voting members identify with Jesus Christ.

In response, the Union has delayed the decision to deregister the Evangelical Union, stating that the final decision is yet to be made due to legal complexity.


Political correctness rampant at Australian universities


From the Daily Telegraph today, which reported on a damning study authored by Matthew Lesh, into free speech at Australian universities:

RAMPANT political correctness is stifling free speech on Australian university campuses and students’ feelings are being prioritised over academic debate, according to a damning investigation by the Institute of Public Affairs.

Some campuses have banned the use of gender-specific words including “Mr”, “Mrs”, “man” and “sportsmanlike”.

And Western Sydney University has gone even further by outlawing the use of sarcasm.

IPA research fellow Matthew Lesh said the bans have led to many students being accused of sexism and others persecuted for their political views.

… Mr Lesh called for university guidelines and policies restricting intellectual freedom to be abolished…

“It is impossible to develop and discuss ideas in an atmosphere where certain concepts are restricted.” Cases highlighted by the IPA include: Students at Macquarie University will be accused of harassment if they say something regarded as “not welcome”.

Don’t dare say “man the offices” at Newcastle University or commend someone for being “sportsmanlike”, as anything with the word “man” is off limits, along with “Mrs” and “Miss”.

The University of Sydney’s Union has threatened to deregister an 86year-old evangelical society because it requires members to declare their faith in Jesus.

Mr Lesh also said a bid to set up a Men’s Shed group for male students to support each other at Sydney University was blocked for being “too masculine”, but was allowed to go ahead after it appointed a Queer Officer, a Women’s Officer and an Ethno Culture Officer.

The paper’s editorial also had this to say:

Politically correct excesses now dominate thinking at our universities, leading to a call from Institute of Public Affairs research fellow Matthew Lesh to abolish university guidelines and policies restricting intellectual freedom.

“We have policies that now forbid sarcasm and making people feel ‘uncomfortable’,” Lesh told The Daily Telegraph. “We need to have a public debate about this.

“Universities depend on free and open intellectual debate. It is impossible to develop and discuss ideas in an atmosphere where certain concepts are restricted.” But how is a debate over these issues possible given so many severe limitations?

The moment debate participants feel awkward or unwelcome, or if a point is made that may contain dangerous levels of sarcasm, the whole debate would be called off.

We need a debate on a better name for our over-protective institutes of tertiary learning. Maybe kinderversities?


Bikes, banners and fanciful sanctuary


The current state and influence of Australia’s churches are perhaps at their lowest ebb in our nation’s history. The statistical evidence points to a decline for some churches where recovery is becoming impossible. Anglican’s admit that 6 of their diocese from a total of 23 are currently unviable and all but one or two are in deep financial chaos. Reviews over why this “new reality” has occurred are unable to move beyond superficial laments over the rise of secularism and commercialism, which have distracted believers into a variety of other activities, where it is all too easy to slip away and never return.

Naturally, all organisations have a tendency to attribute decline to outside forces and are reluctant to consider responsibility as resting with their own internal behaviour. Yet, the acute disconnection between Australian churches and “ordinary” Australians is at the heart of this loss of influence and demands a deeper and more honest appraisal.

The decision of St John’s Anglican Church in Brisbane to offer “sanctuary” to refugees affected by a high court ruling that their detention on Nauru was lawful is a case in point. The support for this move from some other denominations and groups is nothing but a deplorable and frivolous chase for a headline. The Australian public deserves better. Where are the refugee centres established by this church? Where is the purchased property that would allow refugees to live in proper facilities befitting their dignity? Where are the “refugee workers” established by these churches to nurture and care for refugee individuals and families? Unfortunately, morality lies in expensive long-term actions not in superficial gestures. When a church has no skin in the game, yet is determined to vigorously criticise others, the central element of church decline is revealed: hypocrisy.

Australian society faces a number of core problems in its short to medium future. Each of our major cities now have neighbourhoods where individuals and families find no jobs and little hope of improving themselves. These suburbs are marked by high rates of unmarried mothers, absent fathers and total dependence on welfare. Nevertheless, some churches continue to call for increases in welfare provisions and constantly fail to understand the central failings of the system. It is government regulation such as minimum wages which make it impossible for low-skilled individuals to find work. How is it reasonable for these churches to continue calls for increased welfare and yet totally fail to call for the abolition of the impediments that are barriers to entry level work.

Australian youth unemployment stands at 13 per cent. This is a blight on all of us, but yet again these churches no have real commitment to this issue. Surely the promotion of employment is the foundation of the whole social justice agenda. Employment is the rock that provides for marriage and family, the ownership of a home and the resources to raise and educate children. Churches that continue to attack free markets and call for restrictions on job creation fail to understand that broader notions of wealth include the physical, physiological and spiritual benefits that stem from the world of work.

This is the kind of initiative that Australian churches should happily embrace. The days of inane interventions such as banners on cathedrals supporting David Hicks or bishops blessing pushbikes in parks, or sanctuary in cathedrals for fancifully oppressed refugees needs to end. The cost of such actions has led to the mainstream abandonment of these churches, who are revealed as organisations not serious about the issues that confront Australia.


Religious freedom is under attack at Australian universities


The University of Sydney Union has threatened to deregister the Sydney University Evangelical Union over the requirement that members have faith in Jesus Christ.

The University of Sydney Union, a student-led multi-million dollar organisation responsible for the provision of services and management of the university’s clubs and societies program, considers the requirement that members of a Christian club be Christian as “discriminatory”.

Deregistration, in practice, would starve the Evangelical Union access to funding, orientation week stalls, and room bookings, making it very difficult for the society function.

This move comes from the same University of Sydney Union which has spaces exclusively reserved for queer, female and international students.

Bible Society, which has previously reported on discrimination against Christians on campuses across Australia, reports on comments from Sydney University Evangelical Union president George Bishop:

The Executive believes that it is necessary, to maintain our identity as a Christian group, to maintain a faith-based declaration as part of the membership process

The Executive believes that individuals who wish to join any society need to be able to ascribe to the core beliefs, objects and aims of the society – which for a Christian society necessarily include faith in the Lord, Jesus Christ.

The University of Sydney Union, which all students fund through a compulsorily levy, the Student Services and Amenities Fee, is supposed to equally represent all students. However, it appears some students are more equal than others.



Are students finally starting to wake up?


The Australian student left has already begun advocating for trigger warnings and more safe spaces on campus. However, the news is not all bleak. Two new articles, both written by students, show there is still reason for some optimism.

Josh Koby Wooller, a University of Sydney student, has written an insightful piece for his student newspaper, Honi Soit, about the campaign to expunge all mentions of Cecil Rhodes at at Oxford University:

Dealing with the past through our current understanding of society requires no nuanced or contextual understanding and undermines the study of history. Tearing down a statue does nothing more than impose our values upon the past, therefore creating an impossible standard for figures in history. We are in effect engaging in historical revisionism…

No figure in history lives up to the standard of the present, simply because they were not surrounded by the contextual values of our era. Cecil Rhodes is a racist, but the image of the Rhodes scholarship is not. Many Rhodes scholars have campaigned against the colonialism and racism championed by Rhodes himself. His legacy to the university has changed since colonialism.

Meanwhile, University of Queensland student John Slater has written an opinion piece for the Brisbane Times condemning the safe space movement, and the recent cases of racial segregation at QUT:

Campus activism used to be about liberating individuals from being defined by their gender, race or sexuality. UQ student Merle Thornton made history in 1965 when she chained herself to Brisbane’s Regatta Hotel after being told women wouldn’t be served a drink…

If discrimination or bullying is a genuine issue for Indigenous students – or for women, queer and disabled students for that matter – why not root out the rot at its source? Why not deal with the bigots and bullies before construction began on race-selective study rooms?


It’s a no-brainer: smart teachers mean smart children


If you’ve had the feeling that your child – or you – might be brighter than the teacher, you may not be wrong.

In a Herald Sun piece, Melbourne teacher Christopher Bantick slammed the ‘intellectual heft’ of aspiring teachers, enabled by the failure of universities to enforce a high standard:

It’s a no-brainer that if you put a thick teacher in front of kids, then they will not achieve… I am in my fourth decade of being a secondary teacher and I have seen academic standards decline in teachers.

In the last seven years, the required ATAR score for teaching courses in Victoria has been falling, from 75 in 2009 to 60 in 2016. In fact, an ATAR score of just 34.80 – out of 99.95 – can see someone become a teacher.

You can hardly argue that this results in the “best and brightest” teaching our children.

Bantick argues the blame falls squarely with our universities:

The reality is this: universities, especially not premier league performers, set low ATAR scores or no ATAR scores for teaching to ensure they get enough students. Teaching is their milch cow.

There is a direct correlation between high-performing ATAR scores and academically sound teaching.

High-quality teaching is the single most important in-school factor influencing student outcomes, according to research from both the OECD and AITSL Chair John Hattie. And the best teachers are also discipline authorities with deep knowledge of their subject matter, as educational psychologist Lee Shulman contends in his seminal paper, ‘Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform‘:

To teach all students according to today’s standards, teachers need to understand subject matter deeply and flexibly so they can help students create useful cognitive maps, relate one idea to another, and address misconceptions.

It should be a no-brainer. Smart teachers results in smart students. It’s really that simple.


Brendan O’Neill on the violence of the safe space


In case you missed it, these remarks from Brendan O’Neill (editor of Spiked Online) at a recent debate about free speech on campus at the University of California, Irvine, are well worth reading:

In many ways [campus censors] are the products of a culture that has been growing for decades: a culture of diminished moral autonomy; a culture which sees individuals as fragile and incapable of coping without therapeutic assistance; a culture which treats individual self-esteem as more important than the right to be offensive; a culture that was developed by older generations — in fact by the forty-somethings and fifty-somethings now mocking campus censors as infantile and ridiculous.

Yes, we should mock these little tyrants who fantasize that their feelings should trump other people’s freedom. But we must go further than that. We must remake the case for robust individualism and the virtue of moral autonomy against the fashion for fragility; against the misanthropic view of people as objects shaped and damaged by speech rather than as active subjects who can independently imbibe, judge and make decisions about the speech they hear.

The Safe Space is a terrible trap. It grants you temporary relief from ideas you don’t like, but at the expense of your individuality, your soul even. If you try to silence unpopular ideas, you do an injustice both to those who hold those unpopular views, and also to yourself, through depriving yourself of the right and the joy of arguing back, taking on your opponents, and in the process strengthening your own mental and moral muscles. Liberate yourself—destroy the Safe Space.

Continue reading here.


January 25: Australia Day? Almost

“The First Fleet in Sydney Cove, January 27, 1788”, by John Allcott

On this day, 251 years ago, Great Britain established its first settlement in the Falkland Islands, at Port Egmont. If not for the weather, the 25th of January would also be known as Australia Day.

Precisely 23 years after the Port Egmont settlement, a British fleet was in the process of establishing another settlement, this time in New South Wales. Captain Arthur Phillip arrived in Botany Bay on the 18th January, but having found the conditions unsuitable, looked elsewhere.

Sydney Cove was selected by Phillip as the place of settlement, and on the 25th January immediately prepared to make the journey.

While Phillip arrived that evening on the HMS Supply, Captain John Hunter, who was following in the transports, was irrevocably delayed. The wind was blowing too strong for them leave the bay, leaving the transports to arrive on the following evening instead.

There, the British flag was unfurled, toasts were drunk and volleys of musketry fired. Meanwhile, Australia’s destiny was forever changed.

The First Fleet brought with them British institutions of justice, the rule of law, and constitutional government. With these foundations, later generations would federate the Australian colonies into one of the most successful, stable continuous democracies in the world. This is why we rightly celebrate Australia Day on the 26th January.

And it appears Australians overwhelmingly agree. A new poll conducted by Research Now found that 91 per cent of respondents are “proud to be Australian”, while 85 per cent believe that “Australia Day is a day for celebrating”. (My colleague James Paterson has more here).

While Australia is by no means perfect, we get a lot right – and the world is a much better place for Australia being a part of it.

There will much distress from predictable quarters on what Australia Day means: Ignore this elitist agitation. Be unashamed in celebrating our heritage, and for that matter, don’t let bad winds from 228 years ago stop you from doing it a day “early”.


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