“Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance” was one of those books that everybody had on their bookshelves at one stage. Of course, when I say everybody, I just mean people I knew. Some people may have an issue with that, but they’d be the same sort of people who’d have an issue when the current Coalition of Klutzes tell us what most people are thinking.
In the Coalition’s case, though, the logic is a little bit more consistent. They can tell us what people are thinking because if you don’t agree with them, then you aren’t thinking. Of course, many people would dispute this, but as Tony and Barnaby would tell you, they can be ignored because they’re wrong. We know they’re wrong because they don’t think like us.
Anyway, there’s a large section in “Zen…” where the battle between rhetoric and logic is discussed. I can’t help but be reminded about it when I look at today’s politics. To grossly oversimplify, we have the belief that logic won the day and from that time forward, rhetoric is just a pleasant distraction in debating societies. When we learn about Ancient Greece, we learn about Socrates and Plato and Archimedes and Aristotle and naked Olympics and Theatre and Democracy, but, like Plato, we tend to dismiss people like the Sophists. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy describes them thus:
“The sophists were itinerant professional teachers and intellectuals who frequented Athens and other Greek cities in the second half of the fifth century B.C.E. In return for a fee, the sophists offered young wealthy Greek men an education in aretē (virtue or excellence), thereby attaining wealth and fame while also arousing significant antipathy. Prior to the fifth century B.C.E., aretē was predominately associated with aristocratic warrior virtues such as courage and physical strength. In democratic Athens of the latter fifth century B.C.E., however, aretē was increasingly understood in terms of the ability to influence one’s fellow citizens in political gatherings through rhetorical persuasion; the sophistic education both grew out of and exploited this shift.”
Now if you have a look at the way politics works in the Western World, there’s an interesting dual reality going on. There’s the world of Government and then there’s the world of Politics. We expect our Governments to be dispassionately looking at the world, considering possible future scenarios and attempting to use logical thinking to solve the problems. Note I said that we expect “Governments” to do this, and I used a capital “G” deliberately. Because nobody expects our politicians to do this. We just accept that our politicians are modern-day sophists, skilled at mounting an argument and there isn’t a sane person who doesn’t expect them to lie. I’m not talking about broken promises here. I’m talking about the every day, avoiding the question, backing your party, misrepresenting the other parties type of lie. From time to time, we still get upset about the broken promise, which is strange given that we accept that the game of politics is a game of rhetoric. IF a politician ever comes out and actually says something like, “No, I haven’t changed my mind. You know I got rolled in the party room and I have to pretend to like this dog of a policy!” then we’re all stunned.
I guess a reasonable analogy would be to imagine if healthcare was organised in the same way. Doctors all make speeches about which one should be allowed to look after your health for the next three years. You elect to have Doctor Tony. Mainly because he’s told you how bad Doctors Julia and Kevin have been. And how Julia’s insistence that you take your carbon medicine has cost you $500 a year. At your first consultation, Dr Tony tells you that he never promised you better health, he just promised you lower medicine costs, so he’s not going prescribe anything no matter how sick you because you’ll probably be better in a few weeks whatever he does. He tells you that he’s a staunch believer in smaller medical intervention. A few weeks later, you go to him complaining about a pain in your chest. He tells you that it’s undoubtedly caused by either Kevin or Julia. You ask him whether you should have some tests. He tells you that tests are expensive and that it’s probably nothing. Not only that, but you’d need to take time off work to have the tests and the most important thing is your bank balance because without that you won’t even be able to afford to see a doctor. You express the view that your bank balance won’t matter if you’re dead. But Dr Tony assures you that everything’s fine. There’s no proof that chest pains cause death. Besides people have died in the past and that wasn’t linked to a pain in your chest. You express the view to the receptionist that you think that Tony is the worst doctor you’ve ever met. A few weeks later, you go back and discover that he’s been replaced and Dr Malcolm will now be seeing you. Phew, you think. You mention the chest pain to Dr Malcolm. He says that he sees no immediate need to change the treatment that Tony suggested. You point out that Tony hadn’t actually suggested anything. “Ah,” says Dr Mal, “that was probably because he was too busy fixing up the pervious doctor’s mistakes. Just leave it with me.” You do. Dr Malcolm then tells you that you need to re-elect the doctor all over again. You decide to give Dr Malcolm a chance because he’s not Dr Tony. You go back. He tells you that you’re fine and that, if you still have a pain in your chest, it was all Dr Bill’s fault. You say that you still have a pain in your chest and it’s getting worse…
Ok, this could go on forever, so let’s cut to the chase… When you suddenly drop dead, Dr Malcolm will simply tell your loved ones that it was all Dr Bill’s fault and there was nothing he could do. When someone leaves politics, they often admit that they didn’t believe in what they were doing. Rather like the aforementioned doctors telling us, “We didn’t think that the medicine we prescribed would actually save anyone, but we saw it as the only way to win the position of Grand Physician!”
We’d never accept something like that from a real doctor. So why do we allow politicians to resort to rhetoric and sophistry, instead of actually admitting that they don’t have a clue. Take the gas “shortage”. I’ve put “shortage” in quotation marks because it’s hard to accept that Australia has one, when we’re actually exporting gas. It’s like a farmer selling all the food they grow then going to the soup kitchen because they have nothing to eat.
But leaving that to one side, I hear that the gas “shortage” is “three times worse” than was thought. Note the passive voice there. Thought by whom? The government? This is as close as we get to a government saying, “We got it wrong!” But no, we won’t hear that. What we hear is that it’s a result of not allowing “fracking”. Ok, Turnbull doesn’t actually saying “fracking” because that would get him more trouble than if he used another word which sounds like “fracking” and could be used to describe what Tony Abbott is trying to do to the government, but the meaning is clear. He blamed the NSW and Victorian governments for their “failure” to develop gas “Queensland is producing most of the gas on the east coast of Australia. But both Victoria and New South Wales are not doing enough” he told us. Of course, he neglects to mention if they had produced extra gas reserves then these would have, in all likelihood, been contracted to be sold overseas at bargain prices. It’s actually cheaper to buy Australian gas in some other countries than it is here. Which suggests a rather obvious solution to our shortage that doesn’t involve fracking our environment.
Of course, we only have Turnbull’s word that it’s three times worse than was thought. And is he still relying on the same advice that got it wrong? Or did he just decide that if it’s three times worse, he looks three times better when he actually does something beyond have another meeting where he tells the someone else that something needs to be done and if it isn’t, he’ll be forced to have another meeting with them. If the prospect of another meeting with Turnbull isn’t enough to spur them into action, he could threaten to take along Christopher Pyne.
Anyway, as I promised in the title, I’m not going to talk about marriage in any way, because apparently urging people to vote “Yes” is a bullying and arguing with anybody who suggests you should vote “No” is an infringement of their freedom of speech. One could question the logic here, but that would just give our current day sophists more ammunition: “Some guy was trying to force us to think logically. That’s a violation of my rights!”