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This has to be a fake. Right?

Very droll, Siri.

I stumbled across this piece from 1993 while reading about Singapore on Wikipedia. I asked a Singaporean friend how accurate it was and it’s kind of what you’re expecting: some of it is spot on, some of it is precisely what you’d think a white foreigner would get wrong.

The chart halfway down the page of this post by Horace Dediu blew me away.

A Phony Argument

For reasons that are still a bit of a mystery to me, the Monthly’s weekday newsletter, PoliticOZ, linked to the not particularly good essay Not-so-Phony Tony yesterday.

I actually began reading the piece wanting to like it. The premise of the essay, that people’s dislike of Abbott is primarily an emotional thing, was intriguing and I felt like there could be something to it. But although this premise remains one worth considering, the actual argument laid out in its favour in the essay goes completely off the rails when it starts talking about how misplaced people’s fears are about Abbott’s Catholicism.

In a nut, the argument is that people’s disquiet about Abbott’s Catholicism is rooted in prejudice. That there’s nothing to fear about Abbott being an ultra-conservative Catholic because if he were really an ultra-conservative Catholic he would recognise the distinction between Church and State and not mix the two. Or that at the very least, since the policies of the Catholic Church include a radically more humane asylum seeker policy and since we know he’s not going to adopt that, we can rest assured he won’t implement any of the Catholic Church’s more conservative positions.

As someone who has two Catholic parents, was raised as a Catholic, served as an altar boy in his youth, attended Mass weekly for the first 16 years of his life and studied in Catholic schools for the entirety of his primary and secondary education, I feel in a privileged position to call such an argument specious. It’s evidence that there is nothing to fear rests on the premise that people are ideologically pure beings without any capacity to maintain conflicting thoughts in their head at any one time and to act inconsistently when viewed over the long term. David Marr’s excellent piece on Abbott (which I encourage you to buy, particularly if you want to read more about what makes Abbott tick) discusses the conflict within Abbott especially well. My takeaway from the piece was that Catholicism motivates a lot of the good that Abbott does and wants to do. But it also provides a justification for some of the more negative aspects of his nature.

Dislike of Abbott is not inherently prejudicial. People who fear Abbott’s brand of Catholicism fear the conservative aspects of Catholicism that are part of the religion, or at least its current manifestation (particularly, the submission to orthodoxy, the unequal role of women and the demonising of homosexuality). This fear is not irrational. This is particularly the case in a situation where the person concerned has done so little to lay out a substantive, practical vision of what they would do if chosen to lead the country.1

Now, I can no more deny that there are people who dislike Abbott for purely prejudicial reasons than I can deny that there are people that enjoyed the Transformers movies. However, in my entire life I have never experienced any prejudice on account of being Catholic and an attempt to conflate the strong dislike people have for Abbott with it just seems farfetched.2 I am acutely aware that such prejudice used to be par for the course, and that even in my father’s time, was still prevalent, but complaining about it now feels like an equivalent to the ridiculous charges of ‘reverse racism’ white people make about affirmative action. People who do not appreciate their privilege often consider the removal of this privilege persecution. They’re not the same thing and neither is prejudice and a fear of a Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

  1. The essay also suggests, somewhat halfheartedly, that Abbott shouldn’t be considered lacking substance given that he: (a) holds an economics degree; (b) was a Rhodes Scholar; (c) wrote a book on his political philosophy; (d) was a minister in a successful government; (e) has a family (?); (f) is repaying a mortgage (?!); and (g) helps out in his local community. The argument is that it is a contradiction for Abbott to both be insubstantial and to have amassed these accomplishments.

    The problem with this is that it fundamentally misunderstands the ‘lacking substance’ critique of Abbott. The critique is not that Abbott is unaccomplished (see previous paragraph for why this would be false); it is that he lacks any practical policies he wants to implement in government. Abbott is against everything. That’s fine. That’s step 1 of being an opposition leader. But step 2 is to explain what you would do if you were given the reins. Abbott has failed to do this. This is what people mean when they say he lacks substance. 

  2. I am comforted in this belief by the fact that Gerard Henderson is apparently on the other side. 

If you’re in the mood for more reviews of Batman, this is a very long piece on the Dark Knight Rises (found via the previous reviews by Aaron Swartz). I found the film unsatisfactory for what I thought were a number of reasons but I’m coming around to the idea that these are really facets of the movie’s refusal to properly engage with economic inequality and class consciousness.

Sadly, Aaron Swartz committed suicide on Friday. There are a lot of nice things being written about him but I’d like to remember him with some of his writing.

Between July and November of last year, Swartz wrote three insightful essays on each of Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. He began with the Dark Knight Returns, jumped back to Batman Begins and then concluded with the Dark Knight: the movie he contends is really the final film.


I quit school.

In the last post I said that I planned to do something with a little more impact at the end of the month and that was it. Sort of.

There were two options I was debating: one of them was to quit and the other was to go until the end of the term (which would have been tomorrow) and make a speech at the graduation ceremony criticising most of the students at the school. For reasons of fear and circumstance, I chose to go with the former.

First, some background is in order. Last year, my wife and I decided to get divorced. This wasn’t an easy decision but it seemed like the right one. We had been together as a couple for more than ten years and deciding to end all of that was disorienting in a way that I find difficult to put into words.

As part of a strategy to reorient myself as it were, I decided to quit my job as a lawyer and try to become proficient in Japanese. While I didn’t have a lot of money saved up, I figured I had enough to support myself if I were to study full time. I’ve been learning Japanese in an on again/off again fashion for almost as long as I’d been together with my wife and clearly that hadn’t worked. I wasn’t sure that formal schooling was necessarily the answer but, in contrast to it seems every creative person to ever give a magazine interview ever, I’ve always enjoyed structured learning environments. My plan was to try to get to a very high level of proficiency in 12 months. I told everyone at the time that I recognised the plan was unrealistic but I was concerned that without an ambitious goal, I wouldn’t work as hard as I could.

So, in January of this year, I began studying at a language school in Osaka run by the Japanese YMCA. The school fees weren’t as expensive as those of a university and from what I could tell, most of the students would be from non-English speaking backgrounds. In my few experiences of studying Japanese in a classroom environment, I had come to the conclusion that it was too easy to fall back into English if you knew the other students understood it. Surrounding myself with people with whom I would have to speak Japanese seemed like the perfect solution.

Initially, things went well. My first class had two students from South Korea, one each from India, Brazil, Hong Kong and mainland China and a smattering of Taiwanese students. Plus me. It was an eclectic bunch and, as I had hoped, Japanese was the lingua franca of the classroom.

In addition to the level of the fees, one of the things that had attracted me to the school was its flexibility. It was possible to enter the school at the beginning of any term (terms lasting approximately 3 months) and to come in at any level. What this meant was that as the year progressed the composition of the class changed as old students left, new ones join and some continued on. By the last term of the year, of that original group, only I remained.

Unfortunately, the balance of students didn’t stay quite the same. By the end, the students were mostly from Taiwan with a couple from Hong Kong, mainland China and Korea. While everyone’s proficiency was much higher than it had been in that first term, it felt as if Japanese was rarely used. The Chinese-speaking students spoke to each other in Chinese and the Korean students spoke to each other in Korean. When communication between people who didn’t speak each other’s native language was required, Japanese was the fallback, but that seemed reserved primarily for in-class activities rather than anything else.

All of which contributed to a growing sense of frustration I felt. To be fair, this was but one component of that frustration.1 But a component it was nonetheless and I resolved to say something about it. I decided that, as awkward as it might be, I wanted to do it at the graduation ceremony. Usually during the ceremony, the students who are finishing in that term stand up and thank their teachers and their fellow students. I didn’t feel honest thanking my classmates when I was frustrated at them and so I started thinking about using my soapbox to remind all the students that it was in both theirs and their classmates’ interest to speak Japanese as much as possible.

I was nervous about using what a thank you speech to lecture other students on their behaviour. But, as awkward as it felt, I kept telling myself that doing anything of any significance was always going to feel awkward and that, in the broader scheme of things, this was hardly that radical a suggestion (indeed part of my frustration came from the fact that the students were told not to do this when they entered the school).

As I said at the top, though, I didn’t give that speech. Despite getting divorced, for this year I have continued living in the same house while I studied. However, with a full-time job beginning in January of next year, I had the means to move out and have been endeavouring to get that done before the end of the year. Moving house is a time consuming task, moreso in a country where you don’t speak the language perfectly, and as I looked at the time it was going to take to hunt for an apartment, organise the paperwork once I had settled on one and then get everything packed up to move, I decided I just wouldn’t have the time if I kept going with the course. That and I really was afraid of giving that speech.

And so, last week, I quit. I did still want to say something and so while it was not to the entire student body, I gave a little speech to the students in my class. It was gently chastising. I don’t know if it had any effect. I’m not even sure I said it in a way that was intelligible.

And so now I’m getting read to begin a new life. I will have a new place and a new job. I don’t quite speak a new language yet but I guess two out of three ain’t bad. I’m hoping I don’t have to quit anything more for a while.

  1. The major cause is my own frustration at failing to reach my goal (unrealistic as it may have been). One of the things I feel this course has given me is the experience of not succeeding at something I put my mind to. Indeed, I have begun to understand why all those creative people giving all those magazine interviews said they hated school. 

The entirely non-fictional Julie Koh pointed me a couple of weeks ago to the Good Men Project, a ‘community of 21st Century thought leaders [discussing] the issue of men’s roles in modern life’. In an email to Julie today, I was struggling to explain what it was about the site which I didn’t like.1

What does this have to do with ‘Nice Guys’ of OK Cupid? I suppose only that reading the Tumblr (which, I will be the first to admit, I did purely for schadenfreude) made me cognisant of just how necessary things like the Good Men Project are. There are a frightening number of men out there that don’t understand how to create non-platonic relationships with women, live in a fantasy land where they are the ideal man and then direct their frustration and bewilderment at being alone back at women in general.

The Good Men Project feels a little too self-helpy for me (which is the reason I think I don’t like it) but I can see how something like this is terribly necessary for a great many guys out there.

  1. In addition to their use of the term ‘thought leaders’. 

I think on the wanker scale this post might be off the charts, but as a self-confessed wanker that makes it right up my alley.