Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Peter Costello, Easy Jokes, Climate Change, and the moralizing of a fundie moralist

(Above: Peter Costello tries to hide his shame).

Peter Costello is a wit and a card and something of a lad, no doubt about that.

In his latest comedy routine, in How immoral, to hold the wrong views, he gets in some sharp digs to the ribs, in the form of multiple choice questions, the best being about Belinda Neal's unfortunate outburst in a restaurant, and comrade Rudd's equally unfortunate outburst in an aeroplane. 

Here's a case study for Neal. You are flying on your private jet when the flight attendant brings you the wrong meal. Do you (a) eat it anyway; (b) point out you ordered something else and ask for an alternative; or (c) shout at the flight attendant and reduce her to tears?

Neal should think carefully about this question. At one level the answer appears obvious. But there's a bit of precedent for answer (c). Some powerful people she doesn't want to alienate have adopted approach (c). Better not to show them up.

Costello then does the same for Craig Thomson, in trouble because of issues related to a credit card, and comrade Rudd spending a couple of hours in the company of a News Corp editor in a sleazy New York club. This isn't such a good joke, because (a) the parallel isn't quite as exact, and (b) Costello doesn't drag the News Corp editor into the joke, when in fact the New York Post is always the best part of any joke.

But I did wonder if there were any parallel jokes that could be found that might involve Peter Costello, say comparing Paul Keating's take over of the Labor party versus Costello's drunken rambling to a journalist about how life and John Howard were completely unfair.

Do you (a) talk about how you had a deal, and even produce a note from a wallet showing that the deal was done, sit back and wait for nothing to happen; (b) challenge, take to the back bench, then heroically beaver away to unmount the cad who refused to honor the deal, until you emerge triumphant; or (c) go on doing your current job with a long suffering, pious, sulky air until you and your government get kicked out, because you didn't have the inclination or the guts to go after the ultimate prize.

Malcolm Turnbull might also not be able to answer if confronted by multiple choices: (a) do you mutter how Peter Costello is a wonderful chappie, front bench material, love him to serve in the government, and stare with a fixed, glassy smile at the camera whenever asked about Peter Costello's leadership ambitions; (b) wonder if your poll figures can get any lower than 18% while Costello does nothing except crack easy jokes in the newspaper and mention nothing about the leadership; (c) tell Costello to poo or get off the pot, instead of this slow drip drip of easy jokes and refusal to talk about the leadership situation which doesn't seem to be helping poor Malcolm in the middle.

Poor Malcolm really should take stock of his situation. It's not as if he is accused of doing something really bad, like mocking News Corp's pious April is earth month strategy to save the world from carbon.

It's not as if Malcolm acted like a feral clown sending an Australia Day message to fundie Christians who turned around and blamed the Victorian bushfires on Victoria's bushfire laws. It's not as if Malcolm loves to sing along with that cult Hillsong.

But being associated with religious loonery and crackpotism is it seems a virtue for Peter Costello, and he's recently taken a leaf out supporters of Ian Plimer, and Plimer himself, who seem to characterize all consideration of climate change as involving a belief system, an almost peculiar fanaticism and morality play. A sort of religion roughly equivalent to creationists.

This is an easy flip, whereby white becomes black and vice versa, and religionists can accuse secularists of having their own religion. That way when you do the census, the answer is that one hundred per cent of us have some kind of faith. Non-belief in belief systems will not be allowed! Because it is, after all, a form of belief!

Now you might consider that bringing notions of religion into play when discussing science is a trifle odd. After all, it's best you don't have too fixed a set of beliefs when pondering issues of science, or you might find yourself on the wrong side when it comes to wondering if the sun revolves around the earth, or vice versa. (Myself, I'm working on an antigrav personal getabout, and then we'll see what you nutters have to say about the virtues of the motor car).

In fact I'm not quite sure who benefits by characterizing the issue as a matter of morality and beliefs, unless of course you happen to be a sophist interested in some cheap point scoring, rather than some insight into the issues. You know, like a sophisticated debate on the current flawed Labor proposal for an emissions trading scheme instead of just calling anybody who disagrees with you a crackpot moralist.

Hah, you deluded clowns, you crackpots. This is Peter Costello, and at heart he's still an undergraduate in the university Liberal club baiting Labor clowns trying to take control of the SRC:

Take climate change. The way the argument is being presented you can be for aggressive targets to cut emissions or you are for rising tides, mass drownings, increased heat-related deaths, the destruction of the planet and the death of polar bears.

Characterising this as a moral question allows the high priests of emission targets to actually measure the morality of their opponents. Supporters of a 20 per cent cut are moral, 10 per cent morally inferior, supporters of 5 per cent are grossly immoral, and so on.

If anyone questions whether these targets will be met, if they will make a difference without the co-operation of major emitters, or what will happen to those who lose their jobs in industries affected, they can be dismissed as engaging in moral subterfuge. This is a moral argument, and such people are really in favour of destroying the planet.

While the postmodern world has lost faith in absolutes - rights and wrongs in relation to private behaviour - it has discovered absolutism about the views that are acceptable in modern political discourse. Take the wrong turn and you are not just mistaken, you are immoral. It's not that your views are immoral. You are immoral as a person for holding them.

By adopting the right views you get a wonderful release. There is not much you can do wrong at a personal level as long as you're in favour of a better planet.

Glib, jesuitical, wolf whistling to the flock of loons who think that somehow a scientific issue is best argued as a matter of morality and religious fervor. And somehow he manages to place the debate in the context of a secular post modern world which has lost faith in absolutes.

Such as blaming Victoria's bushfires on Victoria's abortion laws? I won't repeat all of Costello's Australia Day ramble - I've already done it a couple of times - but it really is a cheek for him to be talking about faith in absolutes. Where was his god when he faced the deadly Howard and got faced down?

Anyhoo, just what on earth does he mean about there not being much wrong you can do on a personal level as long as you're in favour of a better planet. Does he mean shouting at a flight attendant, or going to a club, or having fun in a brothel, or does he mean locking up children, or waging war or committing murder? Just WTF does he mean, apart from trying to sound slick and clever dick. Once I've sworn on Darwin's Theory of Evolution that I believe in a better planet, can I go and mount a raid on BrisCon? Can I become a serial killer?

There's irony, sarcasm, and then there's just metaphysical silliness, and very convenient since at either extreme of politics, or religion, or secularism, there's fundies and loons who play the morality card. 

A politician, who is supposed to be able to win adherents to a point of view by logical exposition, is surely at the bottom of the barrel when trying to caricature secularists as fundamentalist religious bigots, a role religious bigots would surely want to reserve for themselves.

And talk about the percentage of emission cuts being used as a moral measurement is such a profound nonsense, I thought it was another multiple choice joke. You know, the way all this idle chit chat about rising tides, mass drownings, heat-related deaths, the destruction of the planet, the death of polar bears, and the burning of Victoria being due to abortion laws was also a fine example of Costello's humor at work. 

I mean I always laugh when I see a polar bear dying, but it's never so much of a cackle as I had when all those people were burned to death in Victoria because god punished them for living in a godless state.

Smirking, smarmy, intellectually bankrupt, and with the humor of a schoolboy wanting to tear wings off flies as an idle distraction, that's our Peter Costello. Smears and a tar brush and vaudeville jokes from the sideline. He really should poo or get off the pot.

There's probably not many who can remember Steele Rudd's On Our Selection and its various sequels about Dad and Dave, but there's a fair argument that Peter Costello is turning into the Dave of federal politics. Well he never seems to look into the mirror.

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