Category

Society

Three cheers for Pollyanna

By | Books, Climate Change, Economy, Education, Environment, Health, History, Media, Politics, Society | 78 Comments

One commenter to my last essay thought that I had ‘a Pollyanna view of the world’. I didn’t think it was a compliment, but it gave me the focus for another essay, which follows naturally from the last two. What has been most interesting in the Comments to these two essays about progress has been the determination on the part of some readers to continue to see the world as bad, dangerous, awful, unequal, unfair, what you will, in the face of good global data that don’t say the opposite, exactly, but make the point that for the great majority out…

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Why aren’t more people ‘factful’?

By | Books, Climate Change, Education, Environment, Health, History, Media, Politics, Research, Society | 68 Comments

I have written about the Swedish medico and educator Hans Rosling before, and have greatly enjoyed his TED talks, especially this one. He and his son and daughter have produced a book, Factfulness. Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World — and Why Things Are Better Than You Think. I had learned from the inside back cover that he has died, and that his book is a kind of summary of his world-view, and his earnest hope that people will become more optimistic about the future. They should, because his story, based mostly on data produced by agencies of the UN…

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On the virtue of diversity in politics

By | Economy, Environment, Health, History, Language, Politics, Society | 12 Comments

This essay is in part an extension of the one I wrote on ‘diversity’, and in part an exploration of the party system that I’ve been mulling about for some time. One of the important elements of ‘electoral democracy’ (the sort of system we have), is that it allows pretty–well anyone to run as a candidate, and any group of citizens to call themselves a party if they can scrub up five hundred members from the electoral roll and $500. Why do they do it? Partly, because they can, and because to do so is an accepted and honourable way of saying…

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Taxes and transfers

By | Economy, Education, Health, History, Media, Politics, Society | 63 Comments

I seem to be caught up in a variety of conversations and readings that focus on the sort of society we actually have in Australia. An artist preparing a large piece for the Sydney Biennale said, if I remember his words correctly, that our policy with respect to asylum seekers gave ‘Australia a bad image internationally’. In comparison to which country, I wondered (there is more below). Dick Smith wants us to stop immigration entirely, or almost entirely. Another speaker described Australia as one of the last outposts of ‘capitalism’. Again, I wondered where the other outposts were. I came…

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The #MeToo phenomenon and what, if anything, anyone can do about it

By | History, Media, Politics, Society, Theatre | 145 Comments

For those who have somehow missed all this, ‘Me, too’ is what someone wished she had said when a thirteen year-old girl told her she had been sexually abused. #MeToo became a digital movement in 2006, and spread astonishingly in October last year after allegations were made against the alleged sexual predations of film producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein was fired from the company he started, and suffered other losses as well. His career is in ruins. Thereafter came a cascade of allegations about other alleged baddies in the media, Hollywood and television, which you can see here. In the USA…

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On diversity

By | ABC, Education, Health, History, Media, Music, Politics, Society | 64 Comments

In earlier essays I have written about the virtues of optimism versus pessimism,  on multi-ethnicity rather than multi-culturalism (for example, here), and on the nation-state versus internationalism (for example, here). I remain firm in my preferences there, but in this essay I retreat a little from a related past position. I have come to see some further virtues in ‘diversity’, or perhaps some further justifications for it, which had previously passed me by. ‘Diversity’ today is mostly code for people of different ethnic origins, religions and gender. But it can and should apply to cultural styles as well. I start with…

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Whose universities are they, anyway?

By | Books, Education, History, Politics, Research, Society | 25 Comments

The publication of three books about the recent past and possible future of higher education, not to mention articles in journals and on the Internet, suggest that all is not well in academe. While all has never, at least since the end of the second world war, been well in academe (the AVCC first used the word ‘crisis’ in 1947), it may be true that the level of tension within higher education today is notably high. The three books are Glyn Davis’s The Australian Idea of a University, Stuart Macintyre’s No End of a Lesson, and my own Critical Mass….

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Barnaby

By | History, Media, Politics, Society | 101 Comments

At the time of writing it looks as though Barnaby Joyce will keep his positions as Leader of the National Party and Deputy Prime Minister. The Nationals seem to have given him ‘another chance’, as his deputy put it. Quite what would, after this episode, make its members think otherwise is not clear. Throughout this trial by media two thoughts kept running in my head. The first was why the press gallery had decided to run as a pack after him, and who might be the next MP or Senator to be brought forward for public excoriation. For, as I…

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President Trump and climate change

By | Climate Change, Environment, History, Media, Politics, Religion, Research, Society | 111 Comments

Some months ago I agreed to give an address in February this year on the topic ‘President Trump and climate change’. At the time I wondered whether it would be a sensible topic in 2018, but it is, so I’m giving it as asked. This isn’t the address, but it is the sort of mulling around that you need to do before you write your speech notes. It’s not difficult to see what President Trump thinks about climate change, and what he has thought about it. He had said, during the election campaign, that it was a concept dreamed up…

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The power of grant money

By | Climate Change, Environment, History, Politics, Religion, Research, Society | 85 Comments

I have been reading an excellent book by Stuart Macintyre and others (No End of a Lesson, Melbourne University Press, 2017) about the ‘Dawkins revolution’ and what happened in the ten years after it. Throughout that period I was at first part of the group making the changes, and then, as Vice-Chancellor, someone who had to cope with them. My own Critical Mass really stops in 1991, when I went from the Australian Research Council to the University of Canberra. Reading No End of a Lesson brought back so many memories of life after the ARC, and indeed during its…

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