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A Few Reflections on Adolf Hitler

I have just finished reading, Hitler: Ian Kershaw’s brilliant, two-volume biography on Adolf Hitler. Over the course of 1432 pages, Kershaw uncovers why Hitler, a man not all too dissimilar from other tyrants in history, has become synonymous with evil.

Kershaw also reveals the gap between Hitler’s public image and private personality. He reveals the difference between the rabble rouser capable of captivating the masses by exploiting their fears, prejudices, and desires, and the lacklustre reality. Kershaw shows how Hitler transformed Nazism into a national religion – complete with its own songs, fables, and rituals – and how he transformed himself into its demagogue.  

Hitler projected a persona that embodied all the ideals of German nationalism. He presented himself as the archetype of German pride, efficiency, and self-discipline. In Hitler, the German people found the living embodiment of their fears and aspirations.

Furthermore, Hitler presented himself as the saviour of a nation on the brink of ruin. This was not entirely his doing, by the early-thirties things had grown so dire in Germany that people were willing to throw their lot in with anyone promising to restore law, order, and honour. Hitler promised all that and more. Utilising what we today would recognise as identity politics, Hitler promised to restore national pride and wreak vengeance on Germany’s enemies. He divided the world into victims (the German people), perpetrators (international Jewry and Marxists), and saviours (the Nazis).

It would be far too simplistic, however, to conclude that Hitler brainwashed the German people. Rather, Hitler and the German people became intertwined in the same unconscious conspiracy. Hitler may have been the one to espouse the kind of murderous ideas that led to Auschwitz and Stalingrad, but it was the German people who gave those ideas their full, unconscious support. As time marched on, Hitler’s sycophancy was taken as political genius.

By telling the German people what they wanted to hear, Hitler was able to present himself as a national saviour. The reality was far different. He was a man with virtually no personality. He had no connection whatsoever with ordinary people. He never held an ordinary job, never had children, and only married his mistress, Eva Braun, the day before his suicide. Albert Speer, the Nazi architect and one of the few men Hitler counted as a friend, described him as a duplicitous, insecure individual who surrounded himself with shallow and incompetent people, laughed at the misfortunes of others, and retreated into “fantastic mis-readings” or reality.

Furthermore, whilst Hitler presented himself as the hardworking political demagogue of unmatched genius, he was, in reality, a lazy, egotistical man whose rise to power rested on the cynical manipulation of national institutions. Far from being the tireless worker he presented himself to be, Hitler actually proved unable to deal with numerous major crises during the War because he was still asleep. He saw his role as being the creator of Nazi ideology. The actual running of Germany he left to his functionaries.

When Hitler toured Paris following the fall of France in 1940, he made a special visit to the tomb of Napoleon Bonaparte. Saluting the Emperor’s marble tomb, Hitler commented, in typical egotistical style that like Napoleon his tomb would only bear the name “Adolf” because “the German people would know who it was.”

He was not entirely wrong. The name Adolf Hitler is remembered today. However, far from being remembered as the founder of a thousand-year Reich, he is remembered as a genocidal fruitcake whose legacy is as inglorious as his life. Hitler and Napoleon may have been similar in many ways (both were foreigners to the countries they would end up ruling, both reigned for a short period of time, and both significantly altered the course of history), but where Napoleon left a legacy that is still very much with today, Hitler failed to leave anything of lasting significance

But perhaps that is precisely what Hitler wanted. Carl Jung has a dictum: if you want to understand someone’s motivations for doing something, look at the outcome and infer the motivation. In his brief twelve-years in power, Hitler led the German people into a war that cost fifty-million lives, presided over a Holocaust that murdered eleven million people, and oversaw the destruction of the old Europe. If Adolf Hitler could be summarised in a single quote, the line from the ancient Hindu text, Bhagavad Gita would prove sufficient: “Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.”

JOHN LENNON, SUNSET BOULEVARD AND THE PRICE OF FAME

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2020 marks two anniversaries. The first is the 40th anniversary of the murder of ex-Beatle John Lennon (1940 – 1980) by the social misfit, Mark David Chapman (1955 – ). The second is the 70th anniversary of the release of Sunset Boulevard. Although they are separated by some thirty years, each event acts as a reminder of what can happen when the desire for fame gets out of hand.

At 10.50pm on December 8th, 1980, Chapman watched as Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono (1933 – ) made their way through the entrance of the Dakota building, dropped into a combat stance, and fired five shots from his Charter Arms .38 Special revolver. Four bullets struck Lennon in the back and shoulder. The fifth missed and shattered a window.

Lennon was rushed to the Roosevelt Hospital where three doctors, two to three medical attendants, and nurse spent ten to twenty minutes trying to revive him. The doctors even tried opening his chest to perform a manual heart massage, but the damage to the vessels around his heart were too great. John Lennon was announced dead on arrival at 11.15pm.

Lennon had been shot at close range by four hollow-point bullets. Two had passed through his body, one had lodged itself in his upper left-arm, and a fourth had lodged itself in his aorta. The autopsy concluded that Lennon died of “hypovolemic shock, caused by the loss of more than eighty-percent of blood volume due to multiple through-and-through gunshot wounds to the left shoulder and left chest resulting in damage to the left lung, the left subclavian artery, and both the aorta and aortic arch.”

John Lennon’s murder and the plot of Sunset Boulevard mirror one another in many ways. Lennon was murdered by a deranged lunatic who believed he could achieve notoriety for himself by murdering a popstar. Similarly, Sunset Boulevard tells the story of a long forgotten, and equally demented, film star who achieves a return to fame by murdering her gigolo.

Sunset Boulevard was the product of a collaboration between Billy Wilder (1906 – 2002), Charles Brackett (1892 – 1969), and Donald McGill Marshman, Jr. (1922 – 2015). The story was based, in part, on the Evelyn Waugh (1903 – 1966) novel, The Loved Ones which recounted the author’s experiences in Hollywood and the funeral business. Wilder, who had become fascinated by American culture whilst living in Berlin, dreamt up a story about a long forgotten silent film star who resides in one of Sunset Boulevard’s grand houses. Brackett suggested making the story about the star’s comeback, whilst Marshman, Jr. suggested using it to explore the relationship between the forgotten film star and a young man.

Sunset Boulevard’s success was aided by three factors: the writing of Wilder, Brackett, and Marshman, Jr., the direction of Wilder, and the cinematography of John Francis Seitz (1892 – 1979). Seitz gave Sunset Boulevard a dreamlike quality in which fantasy and reality blend together almost seamlessly. The fantasy world Norma Desmond inhabits is shot in deep focus and made to look dark and ominous. By contrast, the real world that Joe Gillis inhabits is depicted as well-lit and filmed in a documentary-style fashion.

Numerous actors were considered to play Joe Gillis, including Fred MacMurray (1908 – 1991) and Montgomery Clift (1920 – 1966). Clift was originally signed to play the part, but withdrew from the project at the last minute. The role eventually went to William Holden (1918 – 1981).

Joe Gillis is a down and outer. Prior to meeting Norma Desmond, Gillis’ situation is so dire that he actually considers returning to his newspaper job in Dayton, Ohio. He is hounded by debt collectors, forced to use the telephone at Schwab’s drugstore because he cannot afford one of his own, and is even fired by his own manager. Gillis believes that he can live the life of an expensive playboy by reading Desmond’s script and entertaining her deluded fantasies. The problem is that he has to make a Faustian pact in order to do so.

The reason Gillis finds Desmond’s offer so tempting is that he has become jaded about the Hollywood system. He represents the writer as just a mere cog in the movie-making machine. He notes the general lack of recognition for the writer and his craft, the writer’s uncertain prospects, the likelihood of executive meddling, and the ever-present risk of plagiarism. He complains that Hollywood will reject your script if it is too original or if it is not original enough.

Norma Desmond, Sunset Boulevard’s antagonist, was based on a myriad of silent film actresses. The name is believed to be derived from the silent film star, Mabel Normand (1892 – 1930) and the film director, William Desmond Taylor (1872 – 1922), who’s sensational 1922 murder has never been solved. Suggested models for Desmond include Norma Talmadge (1894 – 1957), Mary Pickford (1892 – 1979), Pola Negri (1897 – 1987), Mae Murray (1885 – 1965), Clara Bow (1905 – 1965), and Valeska Surratt (1882 – 1962).

Norma Desmond was played by former silent film star, Gloria Swanson (1899 – 1983). Like Desmond, Swanson had been a major silent film star and was known for her beauty, talent, and extravagant lifestyle. And like Desmond, her film career faded with the coming of sound. Unlike Desmond, however, Swanson was able to accept the end of her film career, moved to New York in the early-thirties, and pursued a successful career in theatre, radio, and television.

Norma Desmond has come to symbolise an entire generation of silent film stars whose were thrust aside by the advent of sound. When her star fell, Desmond retreated into her gothic mansion and built up a fantasy world where she was still a big star. At one stage she tells Gillis that she had the floor of her ballroom tiled at the behest of Rudolph Valentino (1895 – 1926), as though Valentino was still a big star. She speaks in melodramatic tones, acts like an infatuated schoolgirl in Gillis’ company, and engages in acts of emotional blackmail through mock suicide attempts.

Desmond refuses to admit that the “parade has long since passed her by.” Incapable of functioning in the real world, she has constructed a fantasy life for herself. Any attempt to bring her out of her stupor is met with either denial or indignation. Towards the end of the movie, Gillis informs her: “Norma, you’re a woman of fifty, now grow up. There’s nothing tragic about being fifty, not unless you try to be twenty-five.” And just like John the Baptist in Salome (the 1891 Oscar Wilde tragedy Desmond has chosen to adapt), Gillis pays for the faux pas with his life.

When Sunset Boulevard premiered, Louis B. Mayer (1884 – 1957) reportedly shouted at Billy Wilder: “You bastard! You have disgraced the industry that made you and fed you. You should be tarred and feathered and run out of Hollywood.” Mayer had reason to be angry, too. Sunset Boulevard is perhaps one of the most scathing criticisms of Hollywood ever made. The film indicted Hollywood for its treatment of the writer, its obsession with youth, its toxic star system, and cult of celebrity worship.

In a world of social media and reality television, the murder of John Lennon and the story of Sunset Boulevard is more potent today than ever before. Thanks to reality TV and social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, it is far too easy for mentally unstable people to achieve easy fame. How long will it be before society produces another Mark David Chapman or Norma Desmond?

An Ode to the Barber Shop

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Isn’t it amazing just how much of our lives we take for granted? The vast majority of us have never really taken into consideration the organizational effort that goes into running a local library or operating a small business. Like most of us, I have eaten at pubs, borrowed library books, and gotten my haircut without giving a second thought to the little intricacies that make such things possible. Then my barber decided to retire.

If I’m honest, learning that John, my barber of over five years, had decided to retire threw me in a loop. The prospect of finding a decent, skilled barber who could deal with my thick, wavy hair seemed virtually insurmountable. The truth is that the relationship John and I had ran deeper than just mere haircuts. Our friendship was based on a familiarity built over a number of years. John knew my hair and knew how I liked it. And I had the honour of having my hair cut by a man who had been barbering since the mid-sixties, and who was a pillar of his community.

John was one of a dying breed: the traditional barber. They offered men a haircut and, perhaps, a shave (occupational health and safety not withstanding), and little else. These barber shops were usually small and run by only a few men. They had built personal relationships with their clients over a number of years. These barbers knew their customers, knew their backgrounds, and knew how they liked their hair. (Naturally, this was dependent on clients returning to the same barber year after year, month after month).

The traditional barber is a relic of a bygone age. Whenever I think of old-fashioned barber shops, I think of the 1920s to the 1950s, of a world of glamour and sophistication when ladies wore evening dresses and men had neat hair and wore dinner jackets. When I think of old-fashioned barber shops, I think of the Rat Pack and James Bond and the movie stars of the 1930s to the 1950s. For me, the old-fashioned barber shop is synonymous with timeless male style.

Sadly, society no longer believes in style, glamour, and sophistication. The traditional barber shop has given way to a cruder, wannabe variety. These establishments are more masculinised hair dressing salons than proper barber shops. These places think that by offering cheap haircuts in an atmosphere immersed in masculine nostalgia – usually achieved through wood paneling, empty Jack Daniels bottles, and pictures of men doing “manly” things – they can achieve the mantle of the traditional barber shop.

The truth is that they can’t. Gruff looking barbers with arms covered in tattoos are about as far away as one can get from the dapper gentlemen who cut men’s hair in the past. When I walk out of the barber, I want to look and feel like Cary Grant, not like a thug. John made that happen for me. He and his kind are vanishing rapidly. They will be missed.

The Consequences of Coronavirus

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Like most Australians, I have spent the past few weeks isolated in my home. With stores closed and public events cancelled, many of us have had to find new ways of keeping ourselves entertained. For me, this period of isolation has been spent reading, writing, and reflecting. However, when one is relaxing it can become easy to forget about the outside world. And it is easy to forget that the long-term consequences of Covid-19 will far outweigh any short-term inconveniences we may be suffering.

Economic

After its human victims, the first casualty of Covid-19 will be the health and vitality of the global economy. Nations like Australia have decided, quite rightly, that their most immediate priority is to protect the health of its citizens. The lockdowns, social-distancing, and other measures taken to prevent the spread of Covid-19 have certainly been effective, but they have come with negative economic consequences.

This fact has been recognised by authorities ranging from the Australian Prime Minister to the World Economic Forum. The World Economic Forum has warned that Covid-19 will keep “large parts of the global economy shuttered” through April. This view was reflected by J.P. Morgan who stated that Covid-19 had pushed the world’s economy into a twelve per cent contraction.

Particularly hard hit will be the tourism and hospitality industries. The Asia Conference stated that the negative impacts of the virus are “likely to worsen as the outbreak continues to disrupt tourism, trade, supply chains, and investments in China.” Likewise, the World Travel and Tourism Council has warned that the economic impacts of Covid-19 could wipe out fifty-million jobs in the travel and tourism industries.

Political

The second casualty will be a change in the way much of the world thinks about its relationship with China. It took the Chinese Communist Party a month to be bothered informing the World Health Organisation of the existence of Covid-19. Thanks to their incompetence, the virus has been able to spread beyond China’s borders. Many people will be left asking: can we really trust a government that has proven itself to be so intrinsically untrustworthy?

The Chinese Communist Party’s reaction to negative press hasn’t exactly endeared them, either. Chinese authorities have been quick to clamp down on anyone who contradicts the claim that the Chinese response to the virus has been effective. In one notable case, a post made by Dr. Li Wenliang on WeChat was dismissed as “illegal acts of fabricating, spreading rumours, and disrupting social order” because it claimed that victims of Covid-19 were being quarantined at the hospital he worked at.

China’s attempts to crack down on negative press outside their borders have been less successful In February, Ivo Daadler wrote in the Chicago Tribune that the Chinese government’s secrecy over Covid-19 made the situation worse than it needed to be. “The fact that China chose secrecy and inaction turned the possibility of an epidemic into a reality”, Daadler wrote in his article.

Daadler’s article has been picked up by several publications, including the Korea Herald and the Kathmandu Post, who published it with an illustration of Chairman Mao wearing a surgical mask. The Chinese Embassy in Nepal dismissed the article as “malicious.” The Nepalese press, however, responded to the accusation by accusing the Chinese embassy of making a “direct threat to the Nepali people’s right to a free press.”

Social

The third casualty of Covid-19 will be the globalist philosophy that has dominated politics over the past few years. People have discovered, much to their chagrin, that the spread of Covid-19 has been facilitated by the ideals of openness that globalism espouses. They are discovering that open borders, mass migration, and crowded housing are harbingers of disease. It is very unlikely that people will be as accepting of open borders and high immigration as they once were.

The ability to share products and ideas is a wonderful innovation. However, people must be willing to accept that the transfer of these things from one place to another also comes with the transfer of less palatable things, like crime and disease. And, truth be told, most people aren’t. This fact has not been lost on many of Europe’s right-wing political parties who are now calling for tighter restrictions on borders during the pandemic.

Although the decline in globalism is sorely needed, Covid-19 has also come with an increase in racism and xenophobia, particularly against Asian people. According to Business Insider, instances of racist and xenophobic attacks, ranging from mere verbal abuse to physical assault, have increased with the Covid-19 pandemic. The sad truth is that discrimination and hatred go hand-in-hand with pandemics. If you associate a group of people with a particular disease and then refuse to associate with them you are much less likely to catch that disease yourself.

Conclusion

The long-term consequences of Covid-19 are going to be far more severe than the current inconveniences it poses. Measures to restrict its spread have caused profound economic penalties, especially in the hospitality and tourism sectors, that will take years to heal. Similarly, relations between China and the world have been tarnished by the Communist Party’s vehement attacks against negative (and richly deserved) criticism and their refusal to be honest about the situation. Finally, Covid-19 will see a decline in the popularity of globalism, open border policies, and mass migration. This pandemic has marked the beginning of a brave new world.

Disability and Sex

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One of the stranger episodes of Hot Girls: Turned On recounts the bizarre relationship between a cam girl named ‘Alice Frost’ and an Australian man named ‘Tom.’ That Tom has problems is apparent almost immediately. A self-confessed nerd, Tom admits that he has turned to camming because his social awkwardness has made it difficult for him to form intimate relationships in real life. Compounding Tom’s problems are his slovenly appearance, unhealthy body size, and low self-esteem.

One does not need to be a psychologist to figure out that Tom is probably suffering from an undiagnosed condition that makes it difficult for him to socialise with others. And one certainly doesn’t need to be a psychologist to guess that Tom may be suffering from an undiagnosed case of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Non-Verbal Learning Disorder (NVLD)

Both ASD and NVLD are neurodevelopmental disorders. Those who suffer from these disorders tend to be tremendously gifted in one area whilst remaining developmentally delayed in others. This dichotomy causes something of a dilemma, especially when such individuals develop a sense of sexual awareness. The traditional answer to this problem has been to ignore it entirely. A sufferer of ASD or NVLD is presumed to be either asexual or incapable of forming healthy sexual identities. Such attitudes regard sufferers as less human than everybody else.

Furthermore, such attitudes create more problems than it solves. Human sexuality is a broad topic with individual, sociocultural, and ecological dimensions. It is hard enough for a normal person to contend with all of these factors, let alone someone who suffers from a disability. Sufferers of ASD or NVLD must also contend with the limitations their disabilities place upon them. Like all adolescents, a teenage sufferer must undergo the changes of puberty, develop their own sexual identity, and form intimate relationships. They are certainly not helped by a society that regards their sexuality as something that needs to be purged.

There are three views on the sexualities of sufferers of ASD and NVLD. The first is that sufferers have no desire for sexual relations whatsoever. The second is that they are childlike and therefore dependent. And the third is that they have difficulty in controlling their urges. Aside from being wrong, these attitudes have very real consequences. One is that sufferers are often ignorant of much of human sexuality because they have received inadequate sex education. Their difficulties in socialising with others, compounded by awkward social situations, means that sufferers often fail to develop the skills that would help them form intimate relationships.  More darkly, such attitudes also mean that suffers are also more vulnerable to becoming victims of manipulation, exploitation, and sexual abuse. A 2012 study by Shandra and Chowdhurry found that girls suffering from mild disabilities were more likely to lose their virginity to a stranger than to a regular partner. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that much of their vulnerabilities arise from a lack of education on human sexuality.

The biggest hurdle sufferers of ASD and NVLD must overcome when trying to form intimate relationships is a lack of social grace. This deficiency hinders sufferers on three fronts. First, many of the features of ASD and NVLD can make it difficult for sufferers to initiate dates, remembers plans, and maintain relationships. Sufferers can be inflexible, self-centred, and emotionally dysregulated – hardly a recipe for a good relationship. Second, many sufferers have received negative social judgement from others because of their social awkwardness. Sufferers often fail to grasp to subtle intricacies that govern social interactions. This can lead to odd behaviour. A sufferer may attempt to overcompensate for their social grace by staring too long, speaking on unrelated or inappropriate topics, or by avoiding social situations altogether. Third, many sufferers lack the experience necessary to discover their own sexuality. Sufferers often find themselves socially isolated. Under such circumstances, it is unlikely that they will be granted the opportunity to explore and develop their sexuality like other people.

Attitudes on the sexualities of sufferers of neurodevelopmental disorders need to change. Our current attitude makes sufferers of disorders like ASD and NVLD more vulnerable to victimisation, hinders their sexual development, and prevents them from forming meaningful, intimate relationships. Sex education needs to be broadened to include all aspects of human sexuality, sufferers need to be taught how to recognise potentially dangerous situations, and better educational and therapeutic services need to be provided.

The Problem with Actors and Actresses

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Like many people, I was cynically amused to learn that the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge were “leaving” the Royal Family. According to an agreement they reached with the Palace on January 18th, they would be free to pursue business opportunities around the world and would “no longer be working members” of the British royal family, though they would lose the right to be referred to as His or Her Majesty.

It’s hardly surprising. Acting, like many art forms, has always attracted the insecure, sociopathic, and the just plain crazy. And Meghan Markle is an actress. One psychological study found that actors showed significantly higher rates of disordered personality traits than non-actors. The study, which compared 214 professional actors to a cohort of North American non-actors, also found that there was a high prevalence of anti-social personality, borderline, narcissistic, schizotypal, and obsessive-compulsive traits among actors than there was among the general population.

People become actors because they like being the centre of attention. They crave the spotlight because it makes them feel validated. The Royal Family, by contrast, performs public service by diverting attention away from themselves and onto the British nation and people. (A fact greatly contradicted by a news media who treat them as news stories in and of themselves). Poor Meghan Markle has found herself in a situation where she is not the centre of attention, and she doesn’t like it.

So, what does someone like Meghan Markle do when the spotlight is not on her? Well, the answer in Meghan’s case seems to be: leave the royal family. I will not at all be surprised in Meghan announces some kind of return to acting over the coming year. You cannot turn an actress into a princess anymore than you can make a leopard change its spots.

Contemporary Arrogance is the Perfect Fodder for Human Evil

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At this present moment there are three Australians sitting in Iranian prisons. Kylie Moore-Gilbert, Jolie King, and Mark Firkin have all been charged (and, in Kylie Moore-Gilbert’s case, convicted) with espionage. Jolie King and Mark Firkin have been accused of flying a drone over a military installation without a permit whilst the charges against Kylie Moore-Gilbert remain unclear.

To say that Jolie King and Mark Firkin were naïve would be an understatement. The couple, who raise money for their global adventures on Patreon, stated on their vlog that their ambition is to “inspire anyone wanting to travel and also to try to break the stigma of travelling to countries which get a bad rap in the media.”

Some countries have a bad reputation for a reason, a fact Jolie King and Mark Firkin seemed unwilling to comprehend. Iran, in particular, has a bad reputation for political repression, human rights violations, and corruption. Iran has been noted for using excessive violence against political dissidents, suppressing the media, carrying out arbitrary arrests, and using inhumane punishments.

No wonder Amnesty International has stated that the human rights situation in Iran had “severely deteriorated.” Iranian prisoners lack access to adequate medical care, trials can hardly be described as fair, and confessions obtained using torture are freely admitted in court. It was even reported in June 2018 that defendants accused of breeching Iran’s national security laws were being forced to choose from a list of just twenty state-approved lawyers.

There is nothing new about Jolie King and Mark Firkin. History is filled with people who deny the existence of evil. And many of them have paid the ultimate price. Jay Austin and Lauren Geogehan claimed in their blog that “evil is a make-believe concept we’ve invented to deal with the complexities of fellow humans holding values and beliefs and perspectives that are not our own.” This beautiful sentiment didn’t stop them being stabbed to death by Islamic State jihadists in Tajikistan.

A large part of this problem comes from the social disease of moral relativism. We have lived with peace, prosperity, and freedom for so long that we’ve forgotten what it is like not to have them. Our complacency has led us to believe that all moral beliefs are equally valid. And it has led us to believe that there is no such thing as evil.

The problem with moral relativism is that it is not true. Actions have consequences and some consequences just happen to be bad. Saying that all moral beliefs are equally valid is no different than saying that one cannot make judgements about the behaviour of others because there is no absolute standard of good and evil. It’s a rather convenient argument when people are doing the wrong thing and know it.

There are two fundamental problems with moral relativism. The first is that it is a self-defeating argument. By saying that there is no absolute morality you are, in fact, making an absolute claim. The second is that hardly anyone actually believes that morality is relative. If they did, they would regard rape and murder as being equally acceptable behaviour as charity and kindness.

Rather, people use moral relativism to justify their own immoral behaviour. It gives people an easy way out by allowing them to behave in whatever manner they please without moral justification. And this, when you think about it, is precisely what people want: the freedom to do whatever they please without having to feel guilty about it.

Socially progressive people like to see themselves as so sophisticated that they can do away with good and evil. Jolie King and Mark Firkin bought into such a worldview. They now find themselves sitting in Iranian prisons for their troubles. Such is the price of modern arrogance.

The Celebration of Ignorance

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One of the great joys of my life is watching speeches and interviews given by great intellectuals. It was in pursuing this pleasure that I happened upon an episode of the ABC’s panel discussion show, Question and Answers. Coming out of the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, the four people on the panel – the traditional conservative, Peter Hitchens; the feminist writer, Germaine Greer; the American writer, Hanna Rosin; and the gay rights activist, Dan Savage – spent an hour discussing tops ranging from western civilisation to modern hook-up culture.

It became quickly apparent that the intellectual stature of the four panellists was not evenly matched. Hanna Rosin and Dan Savage were less rational, less mature, and more ignorant than Peter Hitchens and Germaine Greer. By comparison, Hitchens and Greer gave carefully considered answers to most of the questions asked. Hitchens, in particular, gave responses based on careful consideration, rational thought, fact, and wisdom. (This is not to say one is required to agree with him)

It was the behaviour of the audience that proved the most alarming, however. Like most Questions and Answers audiences, it was comprised mostly of idealistically left-wing youth. Their primary purpose for being there was to have their ideological presuppositions reinforced. With no apparent motivation to listen to the answers to their questions, these youngsters would clap and cheer like trained seals whenever someone makes an ideologically-correct statement.

How has our society become so stupid? Why do we no longer see being wise and knowledgeable as virtues in and of themselves? Part of the answer comes from a culture of self-hate and contempt promulgated by left-wing intellectuals. Accordingly, Christianity is regarded as archaic (unless, of course, it promotes left-wing beliefs), inequality is caused by capitalism, and the problems of women come as the result of the “patriarchy.” Even the Killing Fields of the Khmer Rouge are rather conveniently blamed on “trauma” emanating from the Vietnam War (rather than the actions of Pol Pot and his band of murderous, communist brutes).

This continuous, unrelenting assault on Western civilisation has led to a general estrangement from Western culture. The common people have been robbed of their inheritance because scholars and intellectuals have reduced their culture into a caricature to be dismantled at will. As a result, they are no longer exposed to the great works of art, architecture, literature, music, philosophy, poetry, sculpture, theology, and theatre that the Western world has produced.

The modern proclivity for ignorance and stupidity comes out of a very special kind of arrogance. It is the kind of arrogance that makes people believe that all those who came before them must be dumber than they are. It does not acknowledge that our modern “enlightenment” is built on the works of those who came before us. Our forebears would be dumbfounded to find a world where, despite having greater access to information than anyone else in history, people have closed their minds to learning.

What all this boils down to is a rejection of wisdom. If you believe that all those who came before you are dumber than yourself you are unlikely to believe they have anything worthwhile to contribute. As such, you are unlikely to believe in wisdom as a universal good. As Neel Burton over at Psychology Today pointed out: “in an age dominated by science and technology, by specialisation and compartmentalisation, it [wisdom] is too loose, too grand, and too mysterious a concept.”

We have made phenomenal advancements in all areas of human knowledge. Sadly, our successes have also made us arrogant and self-righteous. If we are to take full advantage of our potential, we need to reignite our cultural past and find the humility to learn from those who went before us.

Is Our Lifestyle Killing Us?

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The biggest health crisis facing the modern world is obesity. According to the World Health Organisation, obesity rates have tripled since 1975. As of 2016, 650 million adults, 340 million children aged between five and nineteen, and 41 million children under five were obese.

And it’s affecting Australia, too. Between 1995 and 2014/15, the number of obese Australians rose from 18.7% to 27.9%. The Sydney Morning Herald even reported that nearly a third of all adult Australians can now be considered obese. According to the Heart Foundation, approximately 42.7% of adult men and 28.8% of adult women are overweight. More alarmingly, 28.4% of men and 27.4% of women are considered obese.

We are poisoning ourselves and we don’t even know it. Among the health problems caused by obesity are diabetes, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, gall bladder disease, a multitude of cancers, fatty liver, and arthritis.

We are poisoning ourselves in two distinct ways. Firstly, we are eating far too many carbohydrates. Carbohydrate-rich foods like bread and pasta cause blood sugar levels to rise. This creates an excess of sugar that causes the body to crave more carbohydrates. The result is that the body stores fat.

Whether or not bread is good or bad for us is up for debate. Lynid Polivnick, the so-called “nude nutritionist”, has defended bread stating that “it’s much healthier than people make it out to be. It’s often demonised as being a cause of weight gain but in truth, bread does not actually make us gain weight.” And she’s probably right. There is nothing wrong with bread provided that it is eaten in moderation. The problem is that many of us don’t eat bread in moderation.

Many health experts do not share Lynid Polivnick’s view. The website Healthy Simple Life claims that bread is mostly devoid of any real nutrients. Bread tends to be ‘fortified’ with vitamins and minerals because its original nutrients have been stripped from it and added back later. These nutritional elements are unlikely to be absorbed by our bodies.

Secondly, we are consuming far too much sugar. This is a relatively new problem. Our ancestors had little access to refined sugars. If they were lucky, they were able to enjoy a tiny amount of fruit during vanishingly small periods of the year. Otherwise, they were relegated to a diet rich in vegetables with a small smattering of meat.

By contrast, people in modern, wealthy society have access to seemingly endless amounts of sugar. Added sugar accounts for seventeen-percent of the average American adult’s diet. Sugar is now present in everything from cereal to chocolate bars.

Over-consumption of sugar is a leading cause of obesity and its related illnesses. It has been found to increase the risk of certain types of cancer – namely, oesophageal, pleural, small intestine, and endometrial. And it has been linked to the doubled prevalence of diabetes over the past three decades.

Over-consumption of sugar has also been found to correlate positively with an increased risk of heart disease. A study involving thirty thousand people found that those whose diets were comprised of seventeen to twenty-one percent added sugar had a thirty-eight percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than those whose diets were comprised of only eight percent sugar.

The modern western man is living in the most prosperous times in history. There is less abject poverty and less starvation today than at any other period in history. The downside of this has been an increased proclivity for greed, sloth, and, as a consequence, ever-expanding waistbands. The answer to the obesity crisis is to improve our lifestyles.

ISRAEL FALOU’S BATTLE WITH RUGBY AUSTRALIA IS A TEST FOR ALL AUSTRALIANS

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Where does society end and the rights of the individual begin? That is the true question that lies at the bottom of the Israel Folau controversy. The courts have been given the unenvious task of determining whether an organisation has the right to punish those members who don’t share its views, or if the rights of the individual should be upheld.

Former rugby player, Israel Folau and his lawyers are seeking up to AuS$15 million (including Aus$5m for the irreparable damage done to Folau’s reputation) from Rugby Australia. Folau had had his contract with Rugby Australia terminated after he was found guilty of a high-level breach (the only kind that can result in termination) of their code of conduct. This high-level breach came from Folau’s decision to post a picture on Instagram stating that hell awaited “drunks, homosexuals, liars, fornicators, thieves, atheists, and idolaters.”

Having failed to reach a settlement with Rugby Australia at a Fair Work hearing, Folau and his lawyers have moved their case on to the Federal Court. Folau himself has merely expressed his desire for Rugby Australia to admit they terminated his contract because of his religious beliefs. In a video, Folau stated: “Hopefully, Rugby Australia will accept that my termination was unlawful and we can reach an agreement about how they can fix that mistake. First and foremost, I am hoping for an apology from Rugby Australia and an acknowledgement that even if they disagree with my views, I should be free to peacefully express my religious beliefs without fear of retribution or punishment.”

According to Rugby Australia’s, Folau’s contract was terminated on the basis that he had violated their requirement to “treat everyone equally, fairly and with dignity regardless of gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, ethnicity, cultural or religious background, age or disability.”

Of course, what really lies at the centre of the Folau case is not homophobia, but freedom of speech and freedom of religion. It is really a question of whether Israel Folau should be allowed to express his religious views without suffering economic or judicial penalty.

Both the US Supreme Court and the Australian Law Reform Commission have placed a special emphasis on freedom of speech. The US Supreme Court has noted that all other rights and freedoms are put in peril when freedom of speech is not protected. Similarly, the Australian Law Reform Commission has stated: “freedom of speech is a fundamental common law right. It has been described as the ‘freedom part excellence: for without it, no other freedom can survive.’

Likewise, the Australian Magna Carta Institute stated:

“Freedom of speech is an essential aspect of the rule of law and ensures there is accountability in government. People must be free to express their opinion about the content of laws, as well as the decisions of government or accountability is greatly reduced. Freedom of expression is a boarder term which incorporates free speech, the right to assemble, and other important ways of expressing ideas and opinions. The balance the law of Australia strikes between protecting and restricting freedom expression generally is very important to understand the health of the rule of law in Australia.”

It is remarkable to note, however, that freedom of speech is protected by neither the Constitution of Australia nor by Federal Legislation. In fact, there is a wide array of laws and regulations that place legal restrictions on expression. One cannot publish military secrets, incite criminal activity, or defame or libel another person.

Rather, freedom of speech is considered a common-law right adopted from the Westminster system. It is a feature of our political and legal traditions. The Australian High Court has stated that there is an implied right to freedom of expression embedded in the Australian Constitution (they did not say anything, however, about non-political expression). Likewise, Australia is also a signatory of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which lists freedom of expression as a fundamental right.

Freedom of religion is a natural extension of freedom of speech, expression, and association. It is derived from the simple fact that the government has no right to dictate what my beliefs should be. The government has no right to force me, a Christian, to accept gay marriage, abortion, or anything else I find incompatible with my beliefs.

Unlike freedom of speech, freedom of religion is a right guaranteed by the Australian Constitution. Section 116 of the Australian Constitution reads:

Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.”

Similarly, freedom of religion is protected by Australian case law. In the case of Church of the New Faith v. Commissioner for Payroll Tax (Vic), the Judges Mason ACJ and Brennan J. commented: “freedom of religion, the paradigm freedom of conscience, is the essence of a free society.” Similarly, in the case of Evans v. New South Wales, the Federal Court decreed that religious freedom as an “important freedom generally accepted in society.”

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. A decision that favours Rugby Australia will give large organisations the legal mandate to bully and intimidate those that don’t agree with their views. If Australia’s Federal Court truly believes in freedom, it will uphold Israel Folau’s right to freedom of speech and religion, and rule against Rugby Australia.