My very own wing

By Legal Eagle


I have been thinking about the politics of this blog. Is this blog left wing? Or right wing? I don’t think it’s either: it’s my very own wing. As I’ve explained to my friend Cherryripe, the reason I am such a prodigious blogger is that I jot down ideas for posts all the time (usually when the baby is asleep, like now) and I let them percolate until they resolve into a post. This post is an amalgamation of about 5 half-posts. So apologies if it’s a little long.

Now that I’ve gotten into this blogging business, I find the politics of the blogosphere a little scary. Much of it seems so personal, with “flame wars” and “trolling”. Sometimes it’s really hard to get behind the self-congratulatory left wing or right wing rhetoric on other blogs, with everyone slapping themselves on the back and just confirming their views, rather than thinking about them. To be honest, it reminds me of different cliques at high school! I try not to take things personally, to give everyone “a go” and never, ever to attack anyone on a personal basis. I also try to take my own approach, and not get sidetracked by ideas of what I “should” believe. I would like to say thank you to the readers of my blog: as far as I can tell, you all give me a go!

My guiding principles are as follows:

  • Empathy;
  • Factual analysis;
  • Moral consistency; and
  • Disavowal of the politics of fear.

Empathy

I think it is very important to have empathy for our fellow human beings. I always try to think how I would feel if I were in a certain situation. How would I feel if I were the parent of a murdered child? If I were Saddam Hussein facing the death penalty? If I were an indigenous person in Australia? If I were a Muslim woman? If I were a Jewish man who had been racially vilified by a bus full of footballers in front of my children? If one of my family members had been killed by terrorists? If I were a rape victim? If I were a non-legally qualified person with a problem?

As a child, I was bullied because of difficulties I had in walking (later remedied by an operation when I was a teenager). I hate sexism, racism and other forms of discrimination. As a result of my childhood, I can vividly imagine how awful it is to be discriminated against or bullied. This is why I hate anti-Semitism so much. I know what it feels like to be discriminated against because of something you were born with and can’t change. When I hear anti-Semitic opinions, I can’t help picturing my Jewish friends and colleagues in my head and I think, “You are talking about my friends“. It makes me feel extremely angry.

On this topic, I was watching the documentary Hitler and Speer on SBS recently. I also saw Anthony Sher performing Primo Levi’s If this is a man as a dramatic monologue (Levi’s account of his time in the lager). I found these shows really disturbing. How could an apparently intelligent, sane person such as Speer have been taken in by Hitler? Hitler was a classic charismatic bully. People are selfish: they would rather be on the side of the dictator, safe from harm, and ignore the persecuted minority. So they close off their empathy towards those who are being persecuted. I wonder: is Speer a worse person than Hitler? He at least had the capacity to be a decent person, but chose to close his eyes to the truth, and to close his eyes to the suffering of people like Levi.

My mother found it very strange that my first value would be empathy. But I think it’s entirely in character: to thine own self be true! I did a psychological test a while back which showed that I always tend to react to things with emotion and empathy first. Sometimes I’m too empathetic, and end up taking on other people’s problems and trying to fix them. I had to cut that back; it was making me depressed.

However, one of the reasons why I don’t usually publish my blog posts straight away is that I think it is very important not to judge too quickly, and too emotionally. As I have explained to Iain, I chose my avatar with this in mind. His name is Justice Kekewich, and the cartoon of him comes from Punch magazine. The subtitle to the original cartoon is “A hasty Judge”. He looks nothing like me in any way, but he suits the kind of curmudgeonly grumping I like to do on my soapbox. Also, he’s a reminder to me to slow down and not be a hasty judge myself.

Factual analysis

This leads on nicely to my next guiding principle. I also think it’s very important to analyse issues not only with emotion, but also with some kind of factual basis behind me. Of course, as any lawyer knows, establishing the truth of a matter is notoriously difficult. Is the data on which I base my opinion correct? What do other people say? What if it turns out that the information I have used for my opinion is incorrect? I think that one always has to be open-minded and always ready to process new information.

Further, I am always somewhat wary of statistics. It all depends on how one asks the questions, how one defines things, and to whom one puts the questions. I am put in mind of the quote attributed by Mark Twain to Benjamin Disraeli: “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” [When I was looking for that quotation on Google, I found another really nice one by Aaron Levenstein: “Statistics are like bikinis. What they reveal is suggestive, but what they conceal is vital.”]

Sometimes I feel that I don’t have enough facts or information to come to a concluded view. Readers of this blog will know that this is how I feel about “climate change” or “global warming”. I think I could safely describe myself as a “climate change agnostic”. As I’ve said in a previous post, I’m just not convinced yet that climate change is a result of human agency, but I could be convinced if further information was presented to me in a proper scientific fashion by someone who was relatively objective. I know objectivity is not de rigeur these days, but I think one should at least try to be objective.

It annoys me when people parrot a “left wing” or “right wing” point of view because they think this is what they should believe, without thinking about it more deeply or looking at facts which may suggest their point of view is mistaken. I don’t mind what a person’s beliefs are, as long as the person at least thinks about their opinions and is openminded about facts and the other side of the story. I also like it when people raise questions which make me think about why I believe as I do. All the blogs in my links have made me think, and I enjoy reading their opinions.

Moral consistency

I try to remain morally consistent. Sometimes I think there’s not much of that in politics these days. Let’s take the Iraq War. The Left love to hold Bush responsible for leading to the death of thousands of innocent Iraqis, the Right love to hold the Islamists responsible for the death of thousands of innocent people as a result of terrorism (Iraqis, English, Americans, Australians, Spanish, Israelis and more). It seems to me that if one is morally consistent, one must abhor the death of innocent people however caused (whether by the actions of Bush or Islamist terrorists). My own position is that there may be political reasons behind the actions of both Bush and the Islamist terrorists, but that’s no comfort for the innocents who have died as a result. It’s not like being a solider: no innocent people who died had a choice as to whether to they would get caught up in another’s battle.

I also believe that when I decry the comments of Sheik Hilaly about rape and I support White Ribbon Day, I am expressing the same basic principle: a strong belief that women have a right to be safe and free from violence.

Here’s an interesting example of moral consistency (thanks to a loyal reader for alerting me). According to this article, Mormons who believe in polygamy are using the same consultants as those who want to promote same-sex marriage. If you believe that marriage is more than just the union of a man and a woman, and that consenting adults are entitled to conduct their relationships in a number of legitimate ways, then logically you must support both polygamous Mormons and same-sex marriages. (I like to think about the logical consequences of a moral stance in this way.)

Disavowal of the politics of fear

I read a book called The Gentle Art of Persuasion by Chester Porter QC a while back, and something Porter said really resonated with me. He said that using fear to get your point across is not an intelligent way to put an argument.

There is so much “politics of fear” at the moment. Fear doesn’t make for intelligent, reasoned decisions: people make panicked, knee-jerk reactions based on prejudice rather than fact. Let’s have a look at two examples of the politics of fear.

On the Right, there’s fear of terrorism and, related to this, fear of Islam. I reject this fear. Now, as I’ve argued previously, this doesn’t mean that one should deny that there are Muslims who advocate terrorism or jihad, but it’s important to remember that these people are in a minority in Australia. As I have said before, I take each person as I find him or her, and I try not to base my opinion of a person on generalisations about religion, race or sexuality. Also, fear is exactly the emotion terrorists want to engender. If you fear them, you let them win.

On the Left, there is a fear of global warming and/or climate change. The message I’ve been getting lately is that we have to do something about climate change right now because otherwise the whole wo-o-o-o-o-orld will collapse! I reject this fear too. Even if the climate does change, humans are amazingly versatile and adaptive creatures and have withstood a number of massive climate changes in the past. When I was at high school in England, my best friend was a neo-Marxist. I am afraid that I made her very angry one day by joking that global warming would be the best thing to happen to England in the last million years, and that perhaps it would mean I could get decent tropical fruit rather than horrid mangos shipped in from the Philippines. I was thoroughly sick of the weather and the food in the North of England by that point! But jokes aside, is the end really nigh? I think it’s important to think about it logically and not just make knee-jerk reactions based on emotion and fear.

Perhaps part of the reason why the politics of fear has such a hold these days is that the media thrives on fear. I admit that I generalise here, but the media loves a good scary story. Saying that “The Sky is About to Fall on Our Heads!” is a whole lot more punchy than “It seems that there is a small risk that the sky will fall on our heads, but it is not clear what the ramifications of this will be or whether we can actually do anything about it…” I don’t like scaremongering of any stripe. So when I read something which is attempting to scare me, I try to dig in my heels, remain unscared, and think logically.

Conclusion

Well, that’s an explanation about this blog, and where I’m coming from. I haven’t really got much else to say, except thank you for reading and/or commenting on my posts.

P.S. Oh yes, the artwork is mine too. The eagle was done with my Japanese marbling set and a Japanese brush pen. The cartoon was done quickly in my Moleskine. An idea for another post is the synergies between law, art and history…but that’s for another day.

13 Comments

  1. iain
    Posted December 1, 2006 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

    I find that Blogging is very addictive especially if you are a person like me who takes a great deal of interest in the issues of the day and the human condition in general. When I first started out a little over a year ago I was to put it mildly, crap at it. I hope my writing has improved since then. But what I like is the process and how you never know what will actually come of something when you start exploring a topic (my exploration of WRD is a good example) There is a good measure of serendipity in blogging.
    You are right about trying to be morally consistent though it is something to be aimed for but sometimes I find I just have to step back and say well that is what I think would be the morally correct thing but in the real world what is possible? This seems to be more the case in terms of intractable disputes like the Israel Palestine issue.
    I think though what ever your position on the political spectrum that you must be prepared to take your ideas to those with contrary opinions, or invite them to your place because just talking to like minds only will never achieve any thing.

  2. Posted September 18, 2007 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Compelling. I forgot that one of the advantages of WP is the static pages. I’m thinking of migrating… anyways, as to what you’ve said above, I offer the humble opinion that your personal wing dangles to the centre left, while acknowledging it is probably not reflected in any of the currect crop of parties.

    Your emphasis on “empathy” compels this conclusion more than anything.

  3. Posted May 27, 2008 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

    I believe that axioms that form the basis of any belief system are in themselves individual beliefs’ . Thus my Philosophical bent is rather utilitarian, and empirical in character. I am also a suscriber to logic theory, which you would do well to Google.

    Thus my view on Iraq, Afghanistan /Pakistan is shaped from my families’ (over the last 300 years) history, which is marked by the steady departure at regular 2 generation intervals of approximately half of all of my ancestors to that region of the world. Some returned, some dont. for various reasons. To fight for the empire , pax brittainnia, to stop the kidnapping of people from villages off of the english coast (people forget about that, but it happened) and it finally appears that my people are succeeding, but if this success does not eventuate, rest assured that those currently there will wither and die from cumulative radiation poisoning, from the Depleted Uranium weapons or they won’t, either way I think that my cousin (who drove APC for Army) did the right thing by going and assured the society that is formed by that environment there that any action by them to affect negatively the anglosphere is not wise, which short of the Anglosaxon sphere advocating wholesale destruction of those MIddle eastern societies whom are causing said sphere trouble is the best thing that can be done about that whole spot.

    Bit extreme isn’t it? But you have to take a realist view of the world. Any challenge to the security of the OECD countries or specifically America -England – Canada (with Australia – New Zealand an afterthought) cannot be countenanced.

    The plain fact of the matter is with out oil, and lots of it, the military of America is 1 /10 the strength of China, and that means that China is suddenly calling alot of shots.

    If all of the poor people in these countries were suddenly purchasing at the same pricing power per person, as in developed countries you would be alot poorer. This is fact. There are only so many million tonnes of Iron / Gun powder / Oil / Food produced each year.

    And I believe that minorities don’t do so well, so I am supportive of anything that keeps me in the majority of the money.

    Sometimes we forget about simple truths (ie ultimately the authority of the law is derived from officers of the law ( ie men willing to risk their lives to enforce a certain number of rules, determined by another group, or more basically a group of thugs holding the deadliest personal weapon available about their person).

    The problem is that thugs can have consciences too, this creates the need for fairness, and equal treatment of different parties. Thus law is created to deal with societies inability to reconcile its natural tendency to bully, with its natural tendency to empathize.

    So professional arguers, with a trained (or natural) ability to empathize are the result, leading to a very interesting evolution of legal principles throughout history.

    I think that the current generation of developed people being raised is being done a great disservice by having many things made easy, and also, as a pet peeve, this current preoccupation with trying to prevent people who want to commit suicide from commiting suicide, I say let those who feel that they cannot go on not go on. It frees up resources for those who want to live.

    The strength of the law derives from its adherence to making good judgements, and the quality of a judgement affects the power and reach of the law. So where a power vacuum opens, it is poor law, or poor argument (law = argument codified) that leads to its creation.

    Thus poor arguement is responsible for the creation of new power vacuums in australia (illegalisation of mind altering drugs) which will continue to weaken the judiciary, as there is now an ongoing economic incentive to do so (no body would take on existing power structure without reason) Even to the extent that there is a special force which polices the local bikies (The Nomads). Its a shadow state. writ small.

    There are sometimes good reasons to fear, as often there is no bigger teacher or kind classmate to save you from the bullies.

    In the Real World, the bullies kill you.

  4. Posted October 13, 2008 at 10:32 am | Permalink

    Hi Legal Eagle,
    My name is Tim Elliott, and I am a journo at The Sydney Morning Herald. I am doing a story about what is increasingly being labelled Our Sub Prime Crisis, ie, the blow up over low doc and no doc loans. I noticed you said you had worked for a lender… Can we have chat about your experiences? My number is (02) 9282 1926 , or 0419 370 651.

  5. Posted October 15, 2008 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Well L’eagle, Chick Brick here.

    We were considering you for a top job in Bastard Inc or the Democratic Party for Evil Cronies but there’s a glitch.

    Empathy

    Now our analysts are busy trying to figure it out. We’ve got the definition of this ’empathy’ and apparently it means that you feel bad when other peoples feel bad.

    And.. um, no we just don’t get it.

    Factual analysis; Moral consistency; and Disavowal of the politics of fear.

    No sorry. We want professionalism. Let us know when you start making Kitten Smoothies for breakfast. Have a nice day. 🙂

  6. Posted October 15, 2008 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    In politics no wings is best because it increases the probability you will keep your feet on the ground.

  7. Posted October 16, 2008 at 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Wings are for turkeys John that’s why politics has wings.

  8. Posted October 16, 2008 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been reading a bit of Hannah Arendt. She narrowly escaped the Nazis and fled to the States. Most famous for her long tome The Origins of Totalitarianism.

    One of her ideas is that certain categories of being suggest problems that remain unsolved. So when we look at nationalism, and in particularly the uber-nationalism of the Nazis, we do well to think not just of the obviously appalling but of the not-so-obvious:

    The Nation is an answer to the question: Who Are We? Empathy, as has been noted by various experiments both controlled and unintentional can have limits drawn where ‘We’ end and the ‘Other’ begins.

    The ultimate expression of this is the routine dehumanization of the enemy in wartime. A milder form of this is the dehumanization of the opponent in an election. I was in the local electoral booth at counting time last state election and was amused to hear a senior ALP hack explaining to her younger charge why each member of the Howard government is ‘not human’ – her words.

    It’s a simple matter to theoretically extend ones’ empathy to everyone but in practice few of us can really do it. So throughout history we have built for ourselves larger and larger communities of imagination to extend empathy beyond our immediate circle of acquaintance. The Nation is as far as we’ve gotten. Arguably we’re now extending this to the Region – there’s a lot of talk about ‘we’ in the ‘west’ and what ‘we believe’ these days. Apparently we believe in Reason and Tolerance. Ironically many who believe this most fervently are most intolerant and irrational in adhering to the required Western doctrines.

    But notice that when we say we we always exclude someone else against who we define ourselves. That’s the rub. The problem of universal empathy is the problem of universal identification. And the problem there is that we’ve become to accustomed to building our ideas of self in opposition to our ideas of the other.

    This is particularly true of politics where the will to crush enemies is the fuel that drives the machine.

  9. Andy McNABB
    Posted April 26, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

    This is one of the best blogs I have visited and do hope you can keep the wings clipped. I do not know what guard I belong to – left guard, right guard or mud guard, and it has never particularly worried me.

    Well done, and keep up the good work.

    Andy

  10. Andy McNABB
    Posted April 27, 2011 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    LE, I was not of course referring to your wings, rather the wings of the site itself, and my apologies if I conveyed any personal wings.

    I am centrist not because its the easy, comfortable and non-threatening line, but the rabid right and the bedwetting left seem to be hell bent on destroying each other.

    I listen to both and do quite a bit of cherry picking, simply because each has some sweet ripe cherries.

    Keep up the superb work you do.

3 Trackbacks

  1. By Five blogs that make me think « missv on May 1, 2007 at 10:31 am

    […] The Legal Soapbox makes me think about all sorts of things: the law, parenting, the environment, religion, current affairs in Australia … And although Legal Eagle delves into many contentious areas she makes her points clearly, logically and with great honesty and originality. Not willing to get sidetracked by blogosphere debates along party political lines, Legal Eagle even has her own wing. […]

  2. By Skepticlawyer » The Worm on July 26, 2010 at 9:45 am

    […] play on fears to get policies through, and fear shouldn’t the driver behind decisions. As I’ve said long ago, I decry the politics of fear: Fear doesn’t make for intelligent, reasoned decisions: people make […]

  3. By Skepticlawyer » The Hunger Games on March 28, 2012 at 7:39 am

    […] I think this is why I deeply distrust groups, and why I follow my very own wing. I’d hate to be caught up in groupthink. I just don’t do groups well. Unsurprisingly, […]

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