May 19, 2012

Big Ideas 2012

ABC Radio National: Big Ideas

William Faulkner (1897 – 1962):
The past is not dead.
It is never dead.
It's not even past. …

Alan Trounson (1946) [President, California Institute for Regenerative Medicine]:
The returns on the human genome [project —] $3.8 billion last year — is somewhere between $700 and $1,400 for every dollar invested over 23 years.
(Stem cells in medicine: Opportunities and challenges, Dean of Medicine Annual Lecture Series, University of NSW, 12 July 2012)

Paul Barklay:
… 70% of the world's poor are women.
They earn less than 10% of the world's wages [for] two thirds of the world's work.
(International Women's Day, 8 March 2012)


Beneficiaries of History

Witchcraft and Terrorism

Retail Altruism

A Massive Power Grab by the Church?

Dragon's Teeth

Our Mercenary Hearts

Taxing Stupidity

ABC Radio National: Big Ideas

Paul Barclay

  • Coming to terms with past injustices, Lecture 2, 2012 Cranlana Alumni Speaker Series, 13 December 2012.
    Martin Krygier: Professor of Law and Social Theory, University of New South Wales.

    [1997] raised large issues of politics and political morality. …
    Central among them was … white settler relations with Aborigines. …

    [People] like Keith Windschuttle, Patty McGuiness [and Andrew Bolt have] constantly, and noisily … insisted that this was all in the past.
    Nothing bad had happened there anyway.
    Why should they worry about it? …

    My national family is Australia.
    I was born here – lived here all my life. …
    My parents were [Polish] Jews …

    Neighbours: The Destruction of a Jewish community in [Jedwabne, Poland, by Jan Gross, was published in 2000. …]
    It tells of the extermination … of all Jews in a little eastern Polish town, 1600 the author estimates, by the Poles in that town [under Nazi supervision].
    People were beheaded.
    They were killed with hooks, with knifes …
    The rest, most of them, were herded into a barn and burned to death. …

    It caused an extraordinary reaction ‒ bitter, vitriolic …
    [It also] led to a examination of these pained issues in Poland for the first time in any serious and sustained way …

    [There] had been a plaque since the war which said that the Nazi's had killed 1600 people.
    Nobody complained.
    When it turned out the Poles had killed 1600 people then we worked on the numbers.
    Maybe 350, maybe 250. …

    [In relation to Australian colonial history,] our prime calculator [said:]
    John Howard:
    I believe that the balance sheet of our history is one of heroic achievement.
    [We've] achieved much more as a nation of which we can be proud [than] that of which we should be ashamed. …

    Jan Gross:
    The sphere we're in here is one of ethics not of accountancy.

    [Polish Historian:]
    What, then, counts in the general, nation wide balance sheet?
    Heroisim or baseness?
    Compassion, or a lack of mercy?
    Both count.
    There is no way one can subtract one from another, of one can offset one with the other.
    There will always be two separate ledgers. …

    [What] strikes me, is how similar the reactions are to these revelations in Poland and in Australia. …
    They broke a public narrative of heroic … great and positive accomplishment.
    They seemed inconsistent with it.
    They caused pain to people … whose sense of … the virtue of their country seemed tarnished and threatened by it. …

    Suddenly we had do-it-yourself historians all over the place.
    They could tell you what counts as evidence.
    Whether a thumb print is good enough to authorise a child abduction.
    Whether you need to see the corpse to know whether someone has been massacred.
    Or seen someone who has seen the corpse and is telling you.
    All sorts … of arcane points of debate [arose about] what counts as historical evidence …

    {[If] you're putting someone to jail for the term of their natural life, you better be very very sure, sometimes artificially sure, with constrained rules of what's admitted as evidence, and so on.
    [But if] you're trying to come to a human understanding of what went on, you might look a bit more broadly. …
    [Were the 'perpetrators'] ostrasized for what they did?
    Or were they welcomed into the community.
    Were they marginal deviants?
    Or were they leaders? …
    Was it the case … that after the war, they asked for this not be revealed to anyone?
    These are important, indirect suggestions, that this was not … deviant, one-off behavior. …}

    In both countries, people's reactions poured out before anybody had had a chance to even read the books – let alone assess them. …

    [In Australia, Keith Windschuttle's] public line is that:
    Any story, of anything bad, that ever was done, by any person, to Aborigines, [is a product of] orthodox historians, schooled in the 60's, who deny, defy … the detachment required of historians – somebody who takes themselves out of the society, and looks simply at the facts. …
    But he [also says without any] sense of inconsistency …
    Keith Windschuttle:
    The debate of Aboriginal history goes far beyond its ostensible subject.
    It's about the character of the nation and ultimately the calibre of the civilisation, Britain, brought to these shores in 1788. …
    [Its] inevitable that people feel this connection with things done by a nation to which they feel they belong.
    Whose culture [and language] they share …
    [Whose] sense of themselves and their identities in all sorts of ways [attaches to] the history of their country. …

    When we talk about the dispossession of Aborigines, the Windschuttle tactic, the denial tactic, is to focus on specific events.
    Did this happen?
    How many people?
    Was it provoked?
    Often we're not talking about this. …
    We talking about a culture that links people involved in events with us. …
    Edmund Burke:
    [A society is] a partnership, not just of one group, but over generations. …
    Its appropriate that members of culture feel a connection [with] what happened in earlier generations of that culture …
    We're beneficiaries of its history and at the core of its history … was the interaction of whites and aboriginals. …

    Some activists claim that … the dispossession of Aborigines … is comparable to the Holocaust. …
    [Others] deny that it is, with the sting in tail, that if it isn't, we're home free. …
    [The Australian context] was very different from what the Holocaust was …
    [A] systematic, deliberate attempt to wipe all the members of a race off the face of the earth.

    {[Nazi inspired massacre's occurred in] every occupied country …
    Gross happens to be Polish, he wrote about Poland and the documents are good in Poland.
    He started trying to write about Ukraine [but] he couldn't get the documents because the Soviet Union had got rid of them and didn't hold trials. …
    Gross emphasizes … that the killing of citizens by citizens in [all the] occupied territories was marginal in relation to the Holocaust …}

    If you look at the Australian story.
    A great deal was attributable to, simply, civilizational collision. …
    I can't think of a way in which this history could not have been tragic …
    The first settlers, moving out on the frontier, were bewildered, isolated, frightened, and they were on the make. …
    On the make in ways which directly had tragic implications for Aborigines.
    Fences, water holes, treating Aborigines as pests preying on their cattle …

    A tragic normal human story, not hard to imagine.
    Man is a wolf to man. …
    Paul Hasluck:
    That policy of Direct Action [ie killing] on the frontier, did not come from any particular viciousness of individuals.
    It arose out of the nature of contact.
    Men ‒ who had they been in England in those days, or in an armchair in the present day would probably have abhorred the shooting down of natives ‒ were brought by fear, rivalry and exasperation to kill men, or condone the killing by others.
    It was recognized as a means of establishing order and peace. …

    Why is it, was, that men of decent habit and usually of controlled passions, were moved to a tolerance of violence and even of its commission?
    [Demonization] is inappropriate is its too painless for us, who are privileged not to have been there, and not to have been then.
    To imagine that, well, if they were demons, they're doing things we wouldn't do.
    But perhaps they weren't demons, and perhaps we would do, if we were in those circumstances. …

    Why is it that we think that to feel that certain people were truly victimised …
    We have, as a result of that sympathy, to sentamentalise who they are, demonise, who we are.
    Or, in Windschuttles' case, again, do the reverse. …

    Why not think, these are separate issues …
    We do know one thing …
    [If there] were massacre's, there were victims
    If there's been dispossession … there were victims of that. …

    Raymond Gaita [emphasizes that] ethical understanding is a separate question from questions of praise or blame. …

    [Avishai Margalit has defined a] 'decent' society [as one] whose institutions do not humiliate people dependent on them. …
    One can't make full human sense of European life in Australia without reference to the structure of racial relations and the persistent indifference to the fate of the Aborigines.
    In short, without an examination of the Australian conscience. …
    Let's call it, simply, the fact of indifference.
    The destruction of aboriginal society was not the consequence of European development, but its price. …

    [In] Human blindness [unlike actual blindness] the victim is not the person who's blind but the person who is the beneficiary of that blindness. …
    It is epidemic.
    It is contagious …
    Human blindness doesn't go unperson by unperson, it goes by category …

    This has been a great country with many extraordinary achievements.
    Reason for pride.
    Reason for glorying …
    Reason for gratitude.
    But there are other stories …

    Would you like to know more?

  • Australia's New Extinction Crisis, 3 December 2012.
    Tim Flannery: Author, After The Future, QE48, Black Inc.
  • Democracy, Chinese style, 2012 Menzies Memorial Lecture, 18 October 2012.
    Professor Shaoguang Wang: Chairman, Department of Government and Public Administration, Chinese University of Hong Kong.
  • Voiceless — Hunted by Land and Sea, 2012 Animal Law Lecture Series, 17 October 2012.
  • From Botany Bay to Breathing planet: reflections on plant diversity and global sustainability, 2012 Menzies Memorial Lecture, 8 October 2012.
    Professor Stephen Hopper: Director, Royal Botanical Gardens, Kew.

    20% … of the species of plants on the planet are threatened …
    There are 12 crops that provide 80% of the plant food consumed by people.
    [Work] has shown that a minimum of 30 000 of the 400 000 species on the planet are edible.
    [Yet we] continue to bulldoze and burn the marginal lands to grow the mainstream crops. …
    It's destroying the plant diversity that … may be part of our salvation, in a rapidly changing world.
    If … one of the mainstream crops, wheat or rice for example, starts to fail significantly in semi-arid lands or warming lands … there are a number of edible crops … which could be scaled up to become major crops themselves.
    So what do you do?
    Do you continue to clear the native vegetation in such places in the hope that wheat and rice will be modified into a form that can tolerate the changed conditions, or do you focus some of your attention on the native vegetation and the edible plants?

  • On things that matter, 19 September 2012.
    Kevin Rudd: Member for Griffith.
  • Religion: The Next Chapter, 13 September 2012.
    David Marr: Presenter Media Watch, author and journalist.
    Scott Stephens: Editor, Religion & Ethics, ABC Online.
    Richard Holloway: Former Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.
  • Maonomics, 9 August 2012.
    Loretta Napoleoni.
  • Failure of the Elites and the breakdown of meritocracy, Commonwealth Club, San Francisco, 7 August 2012.
    Chris Hayes.
  • Making international human rights law work, 13 June 2012.
  • What is overseas aid worth?, 7 June 2012.
  • Foreign Affairs: Inside the portfolio, 30 May 2012.
    Alexander Downer: Minister for Foreign Affairs (Liberal) 1996–2007.
    Gareth Evans: Minister for Foreign Affairs (Labor) 1988–1996.
  • The end of Ponzi prosperity, 23 May 2012.
    Satyajit Das: Economist and Banker.
  • Re-inventing [business] ethics, 22 May 2012.
    Mary Gentile: Director, ‘Giving Voice to Values’ curriculum, Babson College.

    1. Define what matters to you.
    2. Be yourself.
    3. Recognize that you are not alone.
    4. Practice.

  • What does our technology future look like?, 10 May 2012.
    Genevieve Bell: Anthropologist, Intel Corporation.
  • Planning for Climate Uncertainty, 7 May 2012.
  • Education for the Real World, 2 May 2012.

    Serena Steinberg:
    [What] can you do to inculcate your children with good values and make sure they are not negatively impacted by your wealth? …

    Bill Gates:
    One is [by] telling them they won't receive the wealth. …

    Its very interesting, as you talk to kids, how they respond to things.
    I showed my daughter a film about polio. …
    In the next two or three years we have a very good chance of eradicating polio, we're close to the end …
    So I showed this video to my daughter and said
    That's why I'm not at dinner sometimes, because I'm off working on this problem.
    And she said
    But Dad, what about that girl?
    I said
    What girl?
    In the video, there had been a girl, limping, who'd had polio, and whose life was really hurt.
    My daughter Jennifer just wanted to know
    What have you done, for that girl?
    It reminded me that charity is mostly about what you directly experience.
    It's kind of a retail experience.
    I've got into this wholesale mode …
    What she thought about was that girl, and
    What was her life like?
    We found out about the girl, and helped out.
    But we wouldn't have … because I'm not usually retail!

  • Theology and the Good Society, 26 April 2012.
    Scott Stephens.
    Phillip Blond: Founding Director, ResPublica.
    John Milbank: Professor of Politics, Religion and Ethics, University of Nottingham.

    Adrian Pabst [Lecturer in Politics, University of Kent]:
    So what we need is a [House of] Lords that represents society, just as the Commons should truly represent the people.
    So we need change at both levels.
    For the Lords that means introducing the idea of regional representation and also representing professions.
    In addition to that we need a strong representation of all the faiths.

    Scott Stephens:
    Is this not, what the three of you are advocating … a massive power grab on the part of the Church?

  • Am I Black Enough For You?, 16 April 2012.
    Anita Heiss.
  • International law and unresolved issues, 12 April 2012.
    Geoffrey Robertson.

    The present US Solicitor General says that the right of self-defense in war, entitles America to liquidate, to execute summarily without trial, those it believes are terrorists or Taliban. …
    This War Law paradigm, was developed in declared war between great states, it provides no basis for the killings in Yemen and Pakistan.

    Reports at the end of last year suggest there have been over a thousand targeted killings, 385 civilian deaths, 168 of them children.
    Israel too, has its drones over Gaza, 387 deaths, 234 members of Hamas, and 153 civilians who got in the way.
    Russia has its own targeted killings in Chechnia, it doesn't produce statistics. …

    The law has not caught up with asymmetrical warfare.
    The use of drones [armed with Hellfire missiles] flown by operators 12,000 miles away.
    [So called, decapitation strikes.]
    But there are so many civilians who are being killed … at funerals, killed at weddings.
    [Many] terrorists have indeed been killed, but 20% of the casualties are estimated to be innocent civilian victims.

    The parable of the Dragon's teeth, is always with us.

  • Beyond populist politics and policies, 10 April 2012.
  • A new social contract for Australia, 5 April 2012.
    Philip Freier: Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne.

    Saul Eslake [Chief Economist, Bank of America Merrill Lynch (Australia and New Zealand)]:
    I don't think our society would work if we aimed for equality in outcomes.
    [Child and maternal mortality?
    Imprisonment rates?
    Chronic disease?
    Meaningful participation in society?]

    I think we should aim for equality of opportunity. …
    I think that the opportunity to achieve a better standard of living than others around you … is part of the incentives that drive some people to work harder and to achieve more than they otherwise could.
    People want prizes.
    Prizes are often, not always, but often, of monetary value. …

    [The Top 10%]

    In the United States, the top 10% of the income distribution have about 48% of the income. …
    In the Britain, that figure is about 40% …
    In Australia, its about 32 …
    Over the last 20 or so years, the share going to the top 10% has increased
    • by about 15% in the United States,
    • by about 10 percentage points in the UK, and
    • by about 6 percentage points in Australia …

    [The Bottom 10%]

    Ged Kearney [President, Australian Council of Trade Unions]:
    What's happening with these new forms of employment contract that we're seeing; in the name of flexibility, is that all the risk of employing someone [is being shifted] from the employer onto the individual.
    So now the individual bears the risk … of being sick, of being injured, of having to save for their retirement. …
    You are shifting that risk from institutions that can better afford them onto individuals who can least afford them.
    {[Onto those who have] the least ability to be buffered through the volatilities of the economic cycle.} …

    [A business] is more likely to burn to the ground than for an employer to have an employee successfully sue them for unfair dismissal. …

    There are some very basic things, that … are important to the wellbeing of society.
    That people [have] a reliable income from week to week …
    [That] they have minimum hours …
    [That they] have some control over their working lives, whereas right now, they have none. …

    We are seeing volunteering disappear.
    [People] can't commit to volunteer because they don't know if they're going to work on Saturday or Sunday.
    [If they are rung told] 'there's a job for you', they'll take it for fear that there won't be a job next week.
    We are seeing community sporting facilities just die because people can't commit to playing footy on Saturday anymore, or coaching the kid's basketball teams.

    We are creating a society where people can't [in any meaningful way] contribute their own time to those sorts of things.
    And we are seeing people live ANXIOUSLY.
    They get text messages the night before from labor hire firms [as to] whether or not they have a shift the next day.
    They don't know, right up until they go to bed, whether they're going to have work the next day.
    That is not a good social contract.

    Ratio of average income of the richest 20% to the poorest 20%
    (Wilkinson & Pickett, The Spirit Level, 2009)

    Would you like to know more?

  • Atheist, 19 March 2012.
    Alom Shaha: Author, The Young Atheist's Handbook.
  • World Economy At The Crossroads: European Disasters And Asian Opportunities, 13 March 2012.
    Oliver Hartwich: Research Fellow, Economics Program, The Centre for Independent Studies.
  • Can atheists learn from religion?  6 March 2012.
    Alain de Botton.
  • Australia's Moment, 22 February 2012.
    George Megalogenis.
  • The Transition to Afghanistan Sovereignty: Assessing Progress and Identifying Challenges, 2012 Payne Distinguished Lecture, 21 February 2012.
    Karl Eikenberry: Payne Distinguished Lecturer, Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, Stanford University; Former US Ambassador to Afghanistan; Former Commander, American-led Coalition Forces.
  • Blinded by science, 20 February 2012.
    Thomas Dolby and Peter Vogel.
  • Rollie Busch Memorial Lecture, 16 February 2012.
    Nancey Murphy.
  • Is it possible to obtain justice in a language or dialect that is not your own?  15 February 2012.
  • The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the struggle for Russia, 7 February 2012.
    Angus Roxburgh.
  • The Great Partnership: God, Science and the Search for Meaning, 1 February 2012.
    Jonathan Sacks.
  • Creative Innovation 2011 conference, 31 January 2012.
    Ray Kurzweil.
  • Not Bleeding Hearts Just the Bleeding Obvious, Inaugural Sydney University Red Cross Society Lecture, 21 August 2011.
    Don Palmer.
  • Self Control In An Age of Excess, 28 April 2011.
    Daniel Akst: Author, We Have Met The Enemy: Self Control In An Age Of Excess.

    Paul Barclay:
    [Poker machines have been described] as one of the most efficient systems that humans have ever devised for delivering a dopamine rush to the brain while extracting extracting money from your wallet. …

    Daniel Akst:
    [People] buy lottery tickets and economists call it a tax on stupidity, but some other person said, these guys are like 10 year olds describing sex, they don't understand, it's because it's fun …

    Paul Barclay:
    [There] is a sense … that we need others to help us control our own behaviour. …

    Daniel Akst:
    [We] absolutely need others, we need family, friends, community to reflect back our own behaviour and tell us when we're running off the rails. …

    [The ancient Greeks] had a terror of slavery [and that] to be enslaved to your own desires was just as bad as being enslaved to another person. …
    Aristotle understood [that reason is] very often dragged about by desire and that's the end of story. …
    To them it was not fun to be enslaved by your appetites, that was the worst possible thing that could happen to you. …

    The problem of climate change is really a problem of weighing of short term benefits against long term rewards, the long term reward would be a planet that has not been cooked to a cinder … and the short term benefit is to continue our energy intensive life. …
    What I see among my friends is a strong preference for leading a more environmentally correct life which is completely unmatched by a reduced carbon foot print …
    That's a classic self-control problem, they are not adhering to [their declared] preferences …

    In America alone, [some 430] thousand people die annually from cigarettes … that's greater than the number of American's who died in World War II.

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