Clangers in current political debate

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I originally released this article in late January 2014. Mid March, I added the sections crisis, not a problem, we know better and mind reading,. In July I added the It's legal excuse and also Conflicting interpretations of the same event. This latest ( October 2014 ) version includes Dubious identity claims, Conceptual abuse and confusion, extreme and disproportionate, Ooops - did we say that? and also incorporates a few more examples.

Between "The Left" and "The Right", different sides specialise in their own form of distortions and abuse. But, equally some is common to both. I used to read a left wing commentary which had its own clangers and ongoing problems. But, then I read some right wing material and found the clangers to be even worse. That was reassuring, I was worried that I might start reading it, and then it would make sense, and then I'd become a right-winger. Whew. In any case, I think it is a good thing for everyone to "try things out" with that experience.

I've drawn several examples in; I've drawn a lot from my own secular experience, but they do appear too in Australian politics generally.

Here's the list :

  1. 1. Something must be perfect, else it is completely worthless
  2. 2. Worry more about someone's motives than the ideas under discussion
  3. 3. Worry about someones' history; ignore what they are saying now
  4. 4. Oops ... did we really say that?
  5. 5. Claim that the other side is "extreme" and "disproportionate"
  6. 6. Labelling, thinking all are alike
  7. 7. Mind-reading - We know what your real motives are
  8. 8. Leaving it off the table
  9. 9. Conflicting Interpretations of the same event
  10. 10. Conceptual confusion and abuse
  11. 11. Straw men misrepresentations 
  12. 12. The 'Elite' are manipulating people's views
  13. 13. The Slippery Slope
  14. 14. Ideological Rocket Booster Packs
  15. 15. Dubious identity claims
  16. 16. It's legal!
  17. 17. It's not a problem anymore
  18. 18. It's not a crisis
  19. 19. We know something you (or they) don't

1. Something must be perfect, else it is completely worthless

Anything can have its negatives, but the more interesting question is whether something is worth doing overall. For example, much as I'm against the Israeli barrier wall, one criticism is that it does not stop all suicide bombers. But it does not have to for it to be useful in the minds of its makers. It only needs to reduce the number of suicide bombings to make the exercise worthwhile. It does not have to be perfect to be worthwhile - at least in principle.

Somewhat less controversially, I've seen this sort of criticism about the Bourke Street Cycleway - it has problems, so don't do it at all ( ignoring that you've a vested interest in it not going ahead - but see the next item). Then you have Carbon Taxation vs. an Emission Trading Scheme vs. doing nothing - though 'second best' ( assuming you can actually figure out what that is ) may be more politically practical. Then you have different forms of the NBN, NDIS and so on ...

2. Worry more about someone's motives than the ideas under discussion

Much debate is about who the people are who are putting stuff forward, rather than the ideas themselves. In the hands of the left, it becomes a way to dismiss the right - they psychoanalyse them, saying they're not really believing x-y-z, but rather it's about their vested interests and how they benefit. In fact, something that I find disconcerting are claims that right wingers have different brains. I'll disagree with people - but I'll never undermine their sovereignty to dissagree with me. It seems a strange line of thought. Now, yes, sometimes it is strange how the advocates of one position completely ignore any points others make ( see later ) - but that's a separate issue. By all means identify these glitches if you can find them. But they're separate to motives in themselves.

3. Worry about someones' history; ignore what they are saying now

I think it is unfair to assume that someone has consistency in their views going back all the way to their birth. They could have changed their mind in the meantime. Keynes said: "When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?". However, even if they've not changed their minds, they could be saying something valid now- regardless of what they've claimed in the past. You see this criticism of Chomsky, which I've written about here. As it happens few people put any contingent qualifiers in what they say - "I'm making my assesment based on what we understand things to be at present" - and while I don't bore people with repetition, I do say something like that from time to time.

4. Oops ... did we really say that?

Now, as I've noticed, talking about someone's past statements can be unfair. First, just because you've made one mistake ( as difficult as that would be to assess) - that does not mean that everything you say is wrong. Second, you might be talking about something different. Now, if at times someone has spoken about exactly the same sort of thing and it is still revelant now and you can't see a good reason for them to have changed their mind you might then be justified in criticising them based on past claims.

For example, Tony Abbott's views on abortion. That's still a contemporary issue, and what Abbott has said in the past can still be relevant now. Abbott has said he'll submit to the views of the party; OK, that's something. But it's like having something with a single-point-of-failure. It would be better if you had some redundancy.

The CIS (Centre for Independent Studies) have been celebrating the virtues of the "free market" in the pages of their Policy magazine for quite some time. Back in 1980s there was a controversy over whether the intense takeover activity - a consequence of the "free market" - was a good or a bad thing. An article in the May 1987 issue by Bishop, Dodd and Officer claimed that :

The evidence presented in this study lends strong support to the pro-takeover theory presented in the earlier study in this series. Large increases in shareholders’ wealth are generally associated with takeovers. This evidence is consistent with the view that takeovers on average, lead to more profitable uses of company assets, and as such they play a vital role in the capital allocation process. ...

The public policy implications of these results indicate that efforts to restrict or reduce the level or frequency of takeovers will be costly to the Australian economy. Whatever ills are believed to associate with takeovers, the economic benefits are so large that there is a strong onus on critics to identify substantial economic costs to support their proposals for reform. Moreover the clear benefits generated by takeovers suggest that reforms are better aimed at ensuring the incentives for firms engaging in takeovers are enhanced and not reduced.

According to Peter Davies:

Five years on, Adelaide Steam, Bell Group, Bond Corporation [ the firms which were claimed to have "benefitted" from this activity ], were all consigned to history’s dustbin. Industrial Equity, Elders and News were on the ropes. FAI survived - or, more correctly, struggled on, for a dozen years or so - to an inglorious and contrived reverse takeover which took down HIH.

Johan Norberg, writing in the Spring 2005 issue of Policy, talks about how "Rapid liberalisation, foreign investment and information technology doubled Irish GDP per capita in ten years", and that "Today, Ireland is one of the world's happiest countries."

Needless to say, things did not go so well for Ireland after that.

But of course, maybe I'm cherry-picking. Maybe people writing in Policy have made a lot of "good calls" that history has since validated. Still, these examples don't paint a positive picture. Further, looking at things from the other side - maybe Government policy initiatives and projects go awry, with people singing the praises of this new project, without acknowledging past failures. But hopefully any advocates of new grand projects will take the time to explain how they won't go wrong for similar reason to how the batts went wrong, or for other reasons. Of course, I'm happy to believe that government projects can go right - and maybe the batts installation saved a few lives that would have otherwise died of the heat.

5. Claim the other side is "extreme" and "disproportionate"

At various times, the Atheist/Humanist "movement" has been accused of focusing on Islam excessively. My own view on Islam is less critical. Then there's been times when they've been accused of focusing excessively on Catholicism. Well, actually it is religous abuse generally. Yes, there's a degree to which there's a comment on contemporary issues. And if you talk about them "focusing" on Islam, you forget that at other times they've considered Catholicism. And vice-versa. And there's many other issues that we worry about.

One recent article by Joe Dolce in Quadrant talks about an "excessive" focus on Catholicism. This seems to me an article which is in its own way "extreme", claiming the other side is "extreme". Dolce writes:

Julia Gillard, under enormous pressure, has announced a royal commission into institutionalised sex abuse. Tony Abbott said he would support the inquiry if it was broadened to include all churches and institutions for children. Gillard agreed.

Gillard ... under enormous pressure. Well, why not say that it was a valid concern that was being responded to. We already see slanted words at work. Dolce talks about how he was not abused during his Catholic upbringing. Let me be clear. I'm sure a lot of people look back fondly on their Catholic upbringing. Separately to this, there are also gross abuses and evasions within the Catholic Church. It is wrong to think just because you've had your experience, contrary to other measures out there, everyone else must have also had your experience. ( Of course, it is also wrong to think your experience is unique when everyone else does go through the same shit as you, but that's a separate issue. )

Dolce claims that Catholic Priests are being "scapegoated" by a hostile media and public. I think he's grabbing hold of the wrong end of the stick. We don't want to "scapegoat" Catholic Priests. I'm sure that priests who abuse are in the minority. Nevertheless, how the Catholic Church has reacted to the actions of that minority in the past is a genuine issue, not one to be avoided through claims of an "excess" or "scapegoating".

6. Labelling, thinking all are alike

Some in the right claim all lefties are unredeemed apologists for Stalinist Communism. Someone once met a bunch of (presumably) thoughtless lefties at University and now everyone is irrevocably tarred with the same brush. How very enlightened of you. This ignores that there was a sizeable contingent within the Sydney Push who were left but anti-Stalin - or that even now many lefties ( myself amongst them ) are willing to acknowledge the past crimes of the Soviet Union.

Charles Fort said words to the effect of The distant and the unfamiliar seem homogenous. Well, things can sure seem that way, and if you can't be bothered to look at the detail, I hope you get the criticism you deserve. In the movie "Fog of War", Robert McNamara, US Secretary of Defence, spoke of the need to empathise with your opponent. It seems a lot of people don't even bother trying to understand their opponent, let alone try to empathise with them. Sad when the opposition doesn't even live up to the low standards you set for them.

One example is the accusations of the NSW Greens past connections with communism. Look. That doesn't bother me. I'm impressed with the NSW Greens stand on Voluntary Euthanasia, abuse in Churches, access to abortion and so on, and that record seems more important to me (though, yes that's more enlightened policy that green environmental issues as such). Accusations of "communism" are not a trump which means that nothing else matters thereafter, though clearly some people have that mindset. I'm sure not impressed with Stalin. It does not stop me from recognising the good things the NSW Greens do.

7. Mind-reading - We know what your real motives are

You see something like this when the left says to the right "you're not really interested in what's best for Australia, you just want to improve your finances". But this sort of thing happens all over the shop. People's motives are impugned, and other motives posited.

8. Leaving it off the table

If someone puts one point of view forward, it may make sense - till you talk to their opponents who make some points which seem perfectly valid, and were totally ignored by the first advocate. I give credit to anyone who does make a genuine attempt to work through the opposition's views - even if just to say that your own concerns are more important in comparison or similar - as compared to ignoring them or fighting a straw man. Sure, sometimes people are writing a short piece, and there may not be room to go through the opposing views. However, so often I've read a long considered piece which completely ignores the fact that the opposition has some points which seem quite credible on the face of it. You just shake your head. Either the author is so blinkered they're not aware of such counter-arguments - which is bad - or they're aware of them, but are deliberately ignoring them to make a better impression - which is even worse. In my analysis, sometimes I try to "put it all on the table at once" - and it can be quite amazing to put these ideas side by side and compare them. Few people do.

9. Conflicting interpretations of the same event

There's many events where each side puts out a strictly one-sided view of the event, not even considering that there might be another interpretation - perhaps because it won't hold up. Some examples :

We had a referendum on whether Australia would have a republic. It was defeated. Some monarchists say this was because "Australians did not want a republic". However, others say "Australians wanted a republic, but they did not like the model on offer". Now, I do recall the monarchists running campaigns against the referendum, encouraging people to not vote for "the politician's republic" - rather than not voting for "the republic" as a more general concept. Strange how so many monarchists now forget that ...

Gillard made her misogyny speech. Some say it was a wonderful statement, one that echoed through the internet. Others that it was some sort of puerile stupid gesture. You know, I'm reminded of the line from Dire Straits "Industrial Disease" - "Two men say they're Jesus - one of them must be wrong". Anyway, you figure it out.

Palmer changed his vote on the carbon tax just as the vote was coming up. Diferent people saw this as "disloyal, two-faced, manipulative and fickle" or "strategic and principled". Go figure.

10. Conceptual confusion and abuse

Abbott claimed Gillard "lied". In fact, there's a difference between being mistaken when you assert that something is true which is in fact not, while you think it is true - and lying when you assert something is true while you know it to be wrong. And Gillard did not claim something was
true she made a promise. Now, sure you can say she broke a promise, but in order to say she lied, that's a further step up the ladder - you need to be sure that she made the promise, never planning to carry it out. That's a much stronger claim and involves mind reading. So, basically - yes - say Gillard broke a promise - but no need to say she lied.

Gillard claimed Abbott was "misogynous" and/or "sexist". Now, as an unfinessed claim, I think Gillard was making a distortion. To my way of thinking this would mean you "hate all women". But, we do know that Abbott is married and does take advice from women on his side. Sexist? Well, it logically possible that at the same time Abbott could well intimidate women who are not on his side, using sexual differences as a lever. The most we could then perhaps say is that Abbott is "situationally sexist", with the unfinessed claims of "misogyny" and "sexism" being a distortion at best.

Still, that's the nature of language. Words often have an "all or nothing" feel to them - either someone hates all women or gets along with them all. But the real world is often more complex than the black and white categories we try to force it into. And people do try to "claim" the full force of the unfinessed word for their own ends - be it the concept of "lying" ... or the concept of "misogyny".

11.Straw men misrepresentations

Elements of the right portray the Greens as having an "anti-human" agenda, or say those in the Occupy movement believe in the "Money Illusion". These claims are completely well off the mark if you have even a passing familiarity with the groups and their views - one obtained by listening to people other than their critics. And, even assuming that, for example, the Occupy movement believes in the Money Illusion - they have a range of views, including ideas about injustice in society, which stand or fall independently of the "Money Illusion".

12. The 'Elite' are manipulating people's views

Whenever someone disagrees with you, it’s easy to look at their motives rather than acknowledge genuine disagreement. Or, you can say that they're the result of "an elite", rather than the general population. In fact, you can always say that the views you're disagreeing with are "not representative" of the broader population. Indeed, they might not be. And it might be worth knowing. But it is totally separate to whether the ideas are correct or not ! This notion is much abused. And, strangely, you can get two different groups with opposing views who each think that the other's view is an "elite" view. It is reminiscent of two opposed political parties both thinking, at the same time, that a media outlet's coverage was biased against them. I just shake my head at this sort of argument, but it is strangely in quite frequent use. In fact, this is a known thing - it is called the Hostile Media Effect

You can see this sort of thing all through the pages of Policy, with talk about the "cultural elite" "usual rag-tag battalion of socialist academics" "opinionators" and it just goes on and on ...

13. The Slippery Slope

It is not what we're doing now, but what this might lead to in the future, that makes us concerned about this current change. This is nonsense. If something is a concern now, why would it suddenly stop being a concern in the future? If we don't want this "bad thing" happening now, we wouldn't want it happening in the future - and in the meantime, it is worth correcting problems and injustices. Emotionally, this argument has "fear and loathing" built in and dominating. It has the emotions of "you shouldn't do anything ... for fear of what might happen".

However, you can have scope creep, which is a real example of 'the slippery slope' at work (something pointed out by Tim Josling). For example, the Tax File Number got an expanded use after it was introduced. If people were concerned about the TFN in terms of where it would lead ... well those fears were indeed validated - we did indeed slide down "the slippery slope". If you were not concerned about where it would lead, well not an issue. You can wonder wonder how it was originally justified - did they say we're only doing this with it or just we're doing this now because it's a good idea - with no claims about future developments.

14. Ideological Rocket Booster Packs

 You'll find some right-wing stuff that is so polemic, so full of distortions, you can smell it a mile off. But not all right-wing writing is so full of distortions. You'll also find some considered stuff out there, which often has its own other problems. You have some analysis of the statistics, of the outside world, and some intermediate conclusions. In fact, those intermediate conclusions can be good stuff ... well grounded and intriguing in their way. But then, suddenly, about three quarters of the way through the article, the author(s) use ideological rocket-booser packs to leap the yawning chasm between analysis and desired conclusion, an ideological validation which makes the author ( and many of the readers ) feel better, but is not in fact justifiable.

An example - Saunders and the Poverty Wars

Back in 2005, there was a conflict over ideas about poverty, with the CIS Peter Saunders writing in Policy (Vol. 21 No. 4) about the other Peter Saunders, who wrote "The Poverty Wars".

The CIS Saunders made a few good points. We can define poverty as being in particular states of hardship, and also as being a particular fraction of the Average Weekly Earnings (AWE). However, just setting it to some fraction of AWE is silly; as AWE goes up, the same number of people remain in poverty. This is in fact a reflection of the fact that there's the difference between a measure of something and a definition of something. This issue is considered in more detail in a talk broadcast on RN's Big Ideas. In this particular case, though, the question is: if AWEs go up, how do prices change? For some things, where there's "genuine market operation", we can expect prices to remain the same or even drop. But, where both the rich and poor compete for the same thing ( eg property ) increased AWE can make things worse, depending on the overall inequality.

There's inequity itself. Pareto noted that the proportion of people with a given level of wealth followed a power law. To me, the presence of such a geometric curve makes a mockery of assertions that the ability to ascend through the social strata. This is not really about poverty, though, but rather the justice or otherwise of inequity, and how we might justify it. It is a separate-but-related issue, and not recognising it can lead to confusion.

CIS Saunders mixes in comments about behaviour and responsibility. Are we analysing what is - or what we should do - or how people are responsible? Sure, some people who seem to drink and smoke their money away, and OK, there's a connection of responsibility there. And further, it does seem that people's skills in coping on lower incomes does vary. Yes, we don't want to dismiss this factor - but I don't see why its mere presence would invalidate concern about environmental poverty.

At one end of the scale, we have skid row poverty - a combination of drug addiction, homelessness and mental illness. Here, we can say that there's a genuine mental connection, but probably not a moral one. There may well be a environmental element - that the world is rough and you can easily come unstuck. And maybe a market connection too - maybe the market generates unfullifillable aspirations in people that promote mental illness. Certainly, though many people cope without developing mental illness, too.

So, I think it best to distinguish various forms of poverty : skid row poverty, dysfunctional life poverty, and also environmental poverty - with the last, environmental poverty, one where we can talk about circumstances rather than the individual contributing significantly to that poverty. It seems that neither Saunders really engaged with this subtlety.

Saunders also made some valid criticisms of the differences between the indicated incomes and spending of those on the low 10% of incomes - concerns which were reflected by the ABS. Now, there's an issue on how many households have "serious hardship", Saunders at the time estimated 3% of households, the Smith Family claimed 13%, ACOSS 23%. Now that's households - valid, but as noted, there's skid row poverty to also consider.

The proportion of poverty is an issue, but it to my way of thinking indirectly related to what you would do about it. Regardless of the number, logically speaking, income redistribution or market based approaches might be equally appropriate. However, for reasons that don't in fact seem that strongly related to the amount of poverty, the CIS favour market based approaches, while the Smith Family, ACOSS and others favour income redistribution and other interventions.

It is here that we see the Saunders CIS strap on the ideological rocket booster packs. It may well be that there have been definitional confusions. It may well be that past statistics have been flawed. It may well be that ACOSS and others have used flawed reasoning, and developed misleading statistics. It may well be that moral issues are important and make things more complex. It may well be that the CIS are sympathetic about those in poverty and are genuine in their desire to reduce poverty. But that does not make the CIS prescription valid. Just because the other side has problems with their argument does not automatically make yours valid. That's where the CIS Saunders uses ideological rocket packs to breach the chasm and come up with a politically comfortable conclusion.

Well, Prof. Saunders, do remember to arm the booster before you press the "fire" button <runs away>.

15. Dubious identity claims

Sometimes people will claim an identity, which can suggest they are part of a group. But when you look at the details of what they're claiming, a lot elements clang, or are at least contestible.

Take Melinda Tankard-Reist, who claims to be a "feminist". Now, I'm still a bit old school, the most I'd claim to be is pro-feminist. Some of the things Tankard- Reist worries about are in their own way legitimate concerns - like how girls are sexualised, women are portrayed, and how men relate to them. She is also concerned about pornography. I can understand a desire that women feel comfortable in the world. Still, I understand that where there is less censorship of pornography, there is also less violence against women - and that woud have been something to prioritise. Further, men's view of women in western societies has improved over the last few decades.

Tankard-Reist also claims to be against abortion - or at least, women being "forced" into abortion. However, access to abortion is a significant issue for many women who identify as feminist. While I've not done the maths, I'd expect that only a small proportion of women who identify as "feminist" would recognise Tankard-Reist as "feminist", while they would recognise each other as feminist.

Another interesting data point would be Wendy McElroy. I wonder what her "recognition coefficient" would be?

Another author, Frank Furedi, writing in "Policy" in 2006 about "The Curious Rise of Anti-Religion Hysteria", claimed to be a "secular humanist". Now, on the one hand, he did have a point that, at the time, that people were getting strangely steamed up about "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe". Yes, there was some over-reach. If Furedi's analysis is to be believed, he did identify some unwarranted criticisms of religious expression. However, anyone who identifies with the "secular humanist" movement would have also criticised other influences religion has which are of definite concern - its influences on law, its use by practitioners to support human rights abuses, and its inclination to look the other way on pedophillia and sideline victims within the legal system - at the same time as you might recognise some criticisms of religious expression as unwarranted. It's not like one eliminates the other. But Furedi is strangely silent in not even mentioning that religion has its own problems.

But of course, everyone can make whatever claims about identity they want to. However, a lot of such claims are made in the context of these words being used by a movement who recognise certain things as significant; it can be misleading to make such claims, without recognising how this particular usage of the word differs from how "momements" normally associated with word would use it.

Lastly, there's Kath Crosby, who identifies as "progressive", and has been the driving force behind the "Australian Progressive Party". This party has the core values of Freedom, Progress, Community, Equality and Openness. These may well be worthwhile; that's something for consideration. However, at the same time, Kath Crosby is known to be in favour of live animal export and is a keen supporter of Israel. There's nothing wrong with supporting these causes - each to their own, after all. However, what clangs is that the strident support for these causes is seen as part of a "progressive" stand.

Ummm ... so, what exactly does "progressive" mean? Tell me and we'll both know. Still, I suspect that if we did an "identification and recognition" analysis, we'd find that being "progressively" pro- live animal export and pro- Israel would have a low "recognition coefficient". I suspect that a lot of people may identify with words that they like, but be ignorant of just what those words get up to out in the wild when they're not looking ( though other people might well stand on tippy-toes so they can see ).

16. It's legal!

I tend to see this excuse as the first refuge of the scoundrel. When you criticise a company for doing something, they'll say "We have operated within the law", as though that's a free pass. In fact what's legal is not necessarily ethical - being ethical is a higher bar. But the distinction seems lost on most companies. Still, keep in mind that there is the notion of the "triple bottom line", and some companies do seem to be engaging with the notion. At times, it can indeed be a rod you can beat them with.

Examples of this include tobacco and gambling. I don't want prohibition. Sure, you don't want organised crime. But there's a big difference between something being "available" in a technical sense as compared to it being available "on every street corner". And then, people who try to make it available on every street corner say well, its a legal product. Now, there's something wrong with this picture ...

17. It's not a problem anymore

On pointing out something, defenders say "we've sorted it out". First, it's a bit of a knee-jerk assurance. In addition though, often you'll find that before anyone noticed this problem, they were previously assuring us there weren't any problems. Sort of the reverse of the boy who cried wolf. Why shoud we believe them now? And now maybe there's other problems that have not been pointed out yet. So, there's a difference between saying "we don't have that problem" and the broader sentiment that "we don't have any problems at all"; perhaps the underlying problem that was behind all the issues so far ... is still there.

18. It's not a crisis

In reality, of course, things are more frequently shades of grey. Nevertheless, there's a real fight over the binary, the on/off, the is-it-a-crisis-or-insn't it? And really, a lot of the time an objective observer would look from the outside and see there's a real problem if not a crisis. At the same time, it's a loaded word that people frequently pile on just for the emotions that go along with it. But, the obvious question you could ask in reply is "if this isn't a crisis, what would things have to be like for there to be a crisis"? Most of the time, the answer is: I'm not going to get drawn into answering hypotheticals. Well, there you go ...

Most recently, there's been the discussion on whether youth unemployment of 9% is a crisis, with Christopher Pyne refusing to engage with the issue. He claimed the coalition is doing something about young people's situation. Heck, maybe they are. But it is a different issue to whether or not there's a crisis - you can have a crisis and be doing something relevant, or you can have a crisis and not be doing anything about it - and that's quite separate to whether there's a crisis or not. And equally, whether there's a crisis in youth unemployment or a crisis in the education system are two distinct questions. In fact you have four distinct possibilities. Of course, this detail was ignored ... as was the issue of exactly what a crisis would entail in either case ...

19. We know something you (or they) don't

A lot of the time, you can just attack your target. Like, just make out the greens have an anti-technology, anti-people agenda and are unredeemed apologists for Stalin. Eaaaasy. However, some of the time you can't directly attack the target, because they're either fellow-travellers to some degree, or their overall moral standing is unassailable. Then, what you do is say that they're doing the wrong thing or have come to the wrong conclusion because they've got wrong information - which we have, cause we know what's going on and they don't.

You've actually been able to see this progression with FIRIS, or Fairness In Religion In Schools. Originally, they called the Victorian Humanist Society the "so-called" Humanist Society, putting "Humanist Society" in quotes, clearly ridiculing them. That's right, the same society that spearheaded women's reproductive freedom, voluntary euthanasia, civil celebrants, an enlightened approach to family law and other human rights issues decades ago. Wonder, if they actually did some research, would FIRIS be more or less dangerous?

But, their tune has since changed. In NSW we had FIRIS representatives telling us in NSW who had watched Ethics education develop here, and made a submission to the Government inquiry - that FIRIS in Victoria knew what the real motives were (!) of the Christians when they relented and allowed ethics education, something that we in NSW were ignorant of, even though we had watched it all happen around us. They'd realised by this stage that a direct derogatory attack would not have worked, but it was still pretty patronising in any case.