Cardinal George Pell’s acquittal: #HimToo

Cardinal George Pell’s recent acquittal in the High Court of Australia hardly made the news here in New Zealand.  On the face of it, this is strange when you consider how much media attention was given to the Royal Commission’s findings over there, the charges laid against Pell, his trial and conviction and the failure of his appeal to the Victorian Court of Appeal (in the Supreme Court of Victoria).  These events were all big news, reported on heavily, even gleefully.

Of course, it’s only strange “on the face of it”: once you take into consideration the deep and heated anti-Christian prejudice in the New Zealand media, the silence about Pell’s acquittal is hardly remarkable.  Perhaps they hoped New Zealanders wouldn’t even know about the acquittal.  Perhaps they’re right.

It’s been more difficult for the Australian media to squash the story, so the focus has been on such petulant nit-picking as, “They didn’t find him innocent”.  Never mind that courts never find people “innocent”.  They don’t need to.  We are presumed innocent until a court says otherwise.  Pell has been returned to that state of presumed innocence, which is the same legal state that you and I occupy.  In the law, that’s as innocent as it gets.

Petulance is the grief response of the bitter and immature.

Pell was hung, drawn and quartered in the Australian media for several years.  Every time a complainant made a statement or gave an interview, there was a frenzy of reporting.  No analysis, though.  No critique.  Just strident repetition.

The public was not given much of an idea about the strength of the case when charges were laid by the police, when the Magistrates’ court referred the matter to trial, when the Office of Public Prosecutions filed its indictment, when the trial judge charged the jury, when the jury gave its verdict, when Pell appealed the verdict or when that appeal failed.  And now we know why.

The recent decision of the High Court of Australia – a joint unanimous judgment of the Full Bench (7 judges) – is the first time the case against Pell has been laid out in all its dubious glory.  The HCA’s conclusion:

“there is a significant possibility in relation to charges one to four that an innocent person has been convicted”.

This seeming understatement is as damning a conclusion as can be reached in the upper echelon of the criminal justice system.

The HCA decision can be read here:

http://eresources.hcourt.gov.au/downloadPdf/2020/HCA/12

Reading the judgment, you know immediately that whatever drove the Police, the OPP, the trial judge and the Victorian Court of Appeal, it was not the evidence.

The Police and the OPP might be forgiven if it were to emerge that the aggressively anti-Christian (sorry, “progressive”) Victorian Government pressured them into laying charges and launching the prosecution.  However, the members of the Victorian Court of Appeal have no such excuse.  The majority should have been above faddish cultural ideology, and they weren’t: they swallowed it whole.

It’s very disturbing to see just how high the rot has risen in the Victorian criminal justice system.  I say “rot” because a weaker word won’t suffice.  The majority of the Victorian Court of Appeal strayed so far from first principles that it is still hard to believe it happened.

The HCA decision reveals that the prosecution, trial and appeal were wrong at the most fundamental level.  Anyone who’s ever worked in prosecution knows that the prosecution has to prove the offence beyond reasonable doubt.  We know this means that, if the available interpretations of the evidence include one that is reasonably consistent with innocence – if there is, you might say, a reasonable (not fanciful) possibility of innocence – then acquittal must follow.  And we know this analysis applies to the whole body of evidence, taken together.

Here, the onus was shifted, and not just slightly.  It seems that the majority of the Court of Appeal were so impressed with the demeanour of the primary complainant that they decided to accept his evidence as prima facie true, and then looked at the rest of the evidence critically to assess its impact on that truth.  They concluded that the evidence of the many witnesses who gave evidence of the after-Mass movements of Pell and others on the day in question (the “opportunity witnesses”), although also persuasive, still left a possibility of the complainant’s evidence still being true – a possibility of guilt, in other words.

This completely inverts the proper reasoning.  They decided at the outset to rank the evidence (and the witnesses who gave it), rather than analyse and evaluate the whole body of evidence.

Why would they do such an outlandish thing?  It seems that their methodology was very like “Believe the victim” – let’s say, “Believe the victim if he presents as believable”.  They appear to have been powerfully influenced by the ludicrous “Believe the victim” of #MeToo.  I don’t know how else to explain their wayward reasoning.

Whatever the solution is to the real and significant problems #MeToo has unearthed, “Believe the victim” is not it.  The Victorian Court of Appeal only met #MeToo halfway and still produced a gross injustice.

_____________________________________

Racist New Zealand

In an attempt to introduce some reason into public discussion of racism in New Zealand, Karl du Fresne offers this definition of racism: “the belief that some races are inherently superior or inferior to others” (‘Racial division in New Zealand is permanently built in”’, 28/5).

https://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/comment/columnists/121641531/racial-division-in-new-zealand-is-permanently-built-in

Surely, when we speak of “racism” as something morally repugnant, it is this phenomenon of racial “supremacism” that we primarily have in mind.  This is what must be condemned, as both –

  • false, because human beings are equal; and
  • harmful, because of the injustice and hurt it invariably leads to.

I say “primarily” because there is another kind of assertion which, though less odious, might appropriately be called “racist” for the same reasons.  I’m referring to assertions that assume that all people of any given race have certain attributes in common.  The idea that, once you know that a person is of this or that race, there are all sorts of things you instantly know about them even though you haven’t met them.  Regardless of whether or not these attributes are negative or “inferior” in nature, this kind of assertion still assumes a high degree of uniformity in the race that is almost certainly untrue and that ignores and offends against –

  • the uniqueness of the individual being referred to;
  • the uniqueness of all the other individuals of that race;
  • and, therefore, the richness and complexity of that race.

I agree with du Fresne that the introduction of clear thinking is resented by some of those who are keen to present New Zealand as irredeemably racist.  Many advocates of racial grievance seem to be in such a hurry to condemn New Zealand in this way that they find any clarification of the subject-matter highly inconvenient, and even infuriating.

For them, it seems that any idea or assertion that is in any way displeasing to a race to which they are sympathetic is “racist”, though they never explain how.  Indeed, they often make this claim without consulting the race itself: any assertion displeasing to the advocates will suffice!  And half the advocates are not even members of the race being discussed: their advocacy is entirely presumptuous.

Something else the promoters of grievance tend to resent and ignore is perspective.

When they say New Zealand is “very racist” (and, let’s be honest, they’re only talking about pākehā), they avoid responding to questions like, “Compared with whom?”.  Whatever “racism” means, it exists to some degree everywhere – but it exists in some places more than others.  Are we more racist than, say, the People’s Republic of China, or North Korea, or Myanmar?  More than Japan?  More than Iran?  More than Pakistan or India?  Or, moving west, more than continental Europe or Great Britain?  Canada or the US?  Or, looking nearby, more than Australia?  Chances are, we are less racist than all of these; and, if so, we can and should improve but we needn’t panic.

I’m from Melbourne.  For the vast majority of Australians, who live in cities on the eastern seaboard, aboriginals are simply out of sight and out of mind.  Aboriginals hardly have a voice, and the eastern cities are relatively quiet in this respect.  Here in New Zealand, Māori voices abound and it’s rowdy.  By “rowdy”, I mean animated discussion of colonisation and “White Privilege” pervades public discourse.

What do we conclude from this?

I suggest that it’s rowdy here, compared with Australia, because New Zealand is less racist towards indigenous people.  So far as I can see, as an outsider, the Treaty of Waitangi gives Māori significant standing (despite some of its terms being contentious) compared with a country that doesn’t have a treaty at all.  Māori have things to say and they are encouraged to say them.  They have a large and receptive audience and resources to support their message.  By contrast, aboriginals in Australia have meagre standing; discussion of colonisation happens, but it isn’t common.

If a colonised people have significant legal standing and are able to air their grievances, it will be rowdy.  (How could it be otherwise?)  This rowdiness is not a cause for alarm.  It is a healthy sign because neither information nor emotion should be buried.

The race alarmists must be extremely sensitive to noise.

_____________________________

“Big Brother” is safe

Andrew Gunn derides any concerns that the Ministry of Health’s Covid tracer app is “Big Brother gone mad” (‘The Ministry of Health’s NZ COVID Tracer app is “Big Brother gone mad” ……’, 23/5).

https://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/121586608/the-ministry-of-healths-nz-covid-tracer-app-is-big-brother-gone-mad-

The article is labelled “Opinion/Satire”, which of course is simply a licence to jettison the few remaining constraints on the expression of woke journalistic opinion.  “Can’t you take a joke!?” is what he’d deploy to counter any objection – forgetting how recently woke journalists abhorred this response from men accused of misogyny.  No “satire” on the wrong side of the fence, apparently.

Gunn’s article inadvertently raises another issue.  His blithe acceptance of the Big Brother label reminds me that, for some time, there have been a number of gender-specific expressions that feminists have not tried to gender-neutralise and appropriate – such as middleman, yesman, conman, hitman and boogyman.  Big Brother is another.  I assume there are others.

The feminists’ focus has been on concepts and roles they want to appropriate, like “chairman” and “policeman”.  They are outraged by the “glass ceiling”, which they say thwarts their upward career trajectory towards executive management and the like; but they don’t even mention the “glass floor” that preserves them from doing work that is seriously dirty, damaging and dangerous.  No “empowerment” to be found beneath the glass floor – only work.

That’s why, in the woke culture that is being imposed on us, we are very unlikely to hear of “yespersons” and “boogypersons” etc, even though there are plenty of female practitioners around the place. The reason: the rather self-serving assertion that women are morally superior, they don’t make moral compromises and they cannot be dangerous.  Top this up with “Believe all women”, and all is well: nothing to see here.

And the feminists complain about male narcissism!

_______________________________

Journalism: part of the problem

Hoping for a strong future for journalism, with a “healthy news ecosystem”, James Hollings takes us on an interesting exploration of a range of possible futures (mass vs social, state vs private, monopoly vs diversity) (“A NZ without journalists: The implications of the combustion of our biggest news group”, 17/5).

https://www.stuff.co.nz/business/300013540/a-nz-without-journalists-the-implications-of-the-combustion-of-our-biggest-news-groups

Hollings appears to be one of New Zealand’s journalism gurus.  He has decades of experience and he is “the programme leader of journalism at Massey University”.  He speaks with a high degree of credibility, even authority.

He presents himself as an independent and impartial figure – he even claims to champion free speech – yet the article is saturated with bias, and his bias is with the movement that is throttling free speech:

  • Describing a past era in New Zealand’s history when there were a very large number of very small news outlets – “often two or three to a town” – Hollings tells us that the “small business owners” who ran them were not just “entrepreneurial”, but “voraciously entrepreneurial”. Really, “voracious”, all of them?  Anyway, he prefers “big media”.
  • Describing the benefits of big media outlets, Hollings reminds us that Stuff has taken down “some rich and powerful villains” (emphasis added).
  • He also reminds us that “Big private has the money and independence to take on bad governments – as we saw in Watergate”.
  • Hollings warns us of the risks associated with big private media: it “can be prone to capture by oligarchs with axes to grind”. Looking more closely, however, he tell us “Oligarchs can be reasonably benign, like the Sulzberger owners of the [progressive] New York Times, or arguably manipulative and self-serving like [conservative] Rupert Murdoch” (emphasised words added).
  • Then, considering some of the legal barriers to obtaining information, Hollings asks “Why do we maintain the right of (inevitably rich) individuals to browbeat news media with the threat of ruinous defamation proceedings?” (emphasis added). It is in this context that he decries certain laws as “the barrier to true free speech”.

In this article, Hollings is telling us that journalism is important, not simply to tell us the truth (no matter what the truth happens to be), but to protect us from villainy and the abuse of power – though not all villainy and all abuse of power, only the villainous rich and the excesses of conservative governments.  We are being told here that the only people who have power and are capable of abusing it are the rich and conservative.  Similarly, only the rich and conservative would try to control or censor the news!!  The only villainy we need to be protected from is what you might call “traditional villainy”.

We all know this isn’t true.  We all know about traditional villainy, but we have also come to know “progressive villainy”.  We all know that our principal institutions have been taken over by “progressives”.  We all know that, because one of those institutions is the mass media itself (thanks to people like Hollings who “programme” students of journalism), we only ever hear one side of serious contentious issues.  We all know we are being told and constantly reminded which opinions and people are good and which are bad.  We know the kids are being told the same things in the schools – because the education system is another institution that has been taken over.  We know we are not able or permitted to discuss any of this in public, and that it’s increasingly difficult to discuss it in private.  And we know this is because the “progressives” have found a variety of means of shutting down free speech: they pretty much monopolise the megaphones and they muzzle, intimidate and punish the holders of contrary views.

Does Hollings not know this?  Has he been in the game for decades and emerged naïve and blind in one eye?  It seems unlikely, doesn’t it?  It is far more likely that he is at heart a serious ideological player (not a reporter), and therefore a part of the problem.

Hollings’ “healthy news ecosystem” seems to be the unhindered expression of “correct” views.  Whether or not he personally aims to inhibit the expression of contrary views is unclear, though it seems very likely:

  • media bias is not among the limited range of concerns he feels for the future of journalism;
  • thanks to the programming of journalism students by Hollings and others, very few journalists hold conservative views (and those who do struggle to get their material published).

Some time ago, I greatly admired journalists and considered them essential to a functioning democracy.  Now that they’ve become players rather than reporters, I’m quite ambivalent about them.  They can get by without my admiration.  Nonetheless, for the little it is worth, I will admire them once again when they start telling the whole truth.

Meanwhile, journalism is a critical part of the new power to which truth must be spoken.

________________________________

The kindness gap

I’ve lost track of the number of journalists, DJs and other commentators urging us all to be “kind” during the COVID-19 lockdown and lesser Alert levels.  It seems that kindness will not only get us through the pandemic, but through whatever else the future may hold.

We all know how good and important kindness is.  Its value is especially apparent to people who experience its opposite (malice) or even just its absence (indifference).

Receiving a little kindness can make an enormous difference to a day that is otherwise bleak (or worse).  People who are acutely aware of this include people whose work involves frequent interaction with members of the public – such as workers on the retail frontline, who serve a hundred or more people a day, many of whom don’t bestow a civil word or even eye-contact.  A little kindness has a way of disturbing the ambient greyness and blandness of the day with colour and sweetness.

So, I have nothing to say against kindness: I’m all for it.  However, I do object to urgings that speak of kindness as though it is all we need.

Kindness is the short form of “lovingkindness”, which is how it used to be referred to.  This is presumably because kindness is an element of love.  This is an old association that runs deep in our culture: we are all familiar with a particular passage from the New Testament that begins with “Love is patient and kind” and that is commonly used at both church and secular weddings.  The passage reads as follows:

Love is patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances.  Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth.  It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes.  Love never comes to an end.

Although most familiar at weddings, this passage was not written for married couples.  It was part of a letter written to the early Christian community of Corinth and is concerned with loving behaviour in the community context.  It fills out the word “love” as used in “Love your neighbour …”.

The passage reveals that there is a great deal more to loving your neighbour (and your spouse, of course) than just being kind to them.

Kindness – and, I suppose, patience and being “ready to make allowances” – represent what might be called the nurturing side of love.  Along with qualities like empathy, compassion, inclusiveness – which the proponents of kindness have been urging on us for years now, as though these qualities were the sum total of morality.

I have some objections to this exclusive focus on kindness (or nurture generally):

  1. Nurture is not enough.
  2. The exclusive focus is dangerous.
  3. The message is not even sincere.

Nurture is not enough

Nurture is only a part of a working ethic based on love.  Its focus is quite narrow.

In fact, some of the other ingredients of love are quite unlike kindness and nurture: for example, endurance (plain hard work) and valuing the truth (which can sometimes seem unkind).  All just as necessary as kindness – indeed, all just as loving.

To speak of kindness as all-sufficient is like inviting some people over for a 3-course dinner and setting the table only with dessert bowls.  The table isn’t “set” for dinner – no matter how elegant those dessert bowls are.  It is not fit for purpose, any more than an ethos that is “set” only with kindness (or nurture in general).

These nurturing virtues are the sweets and dessert of morality.  They are not a balanced diet that will sustain life.  Like the elegant dessert bowls, they leave a gap – in fact, an enormous gap, almost the entire dining table.

Those moral moderns (the “woke”, or whatever they call themselves after another fortnight or so) who urge only kindness and other sweets don’t appear to have heard of “tough love”.  Nor of the constraint of doing right (rather than “rejoice at wrongdoing”); nor of integrity, even though some truths can be painful and seem unkind; nor of endurance, which is critical because, after all, serious love is for the long haul.

Nurture alone is dangerous

On its own – unaccompanied by the other ingredients of love – nurture can actually be dangerous.

We are warned by our culture’s wisdom that you can “kill with kindness”.  Consider parents who can only say Yes to their child and the disastrous impact this has on the child who is, in effect, trained to be entitled.  Consider how much worse it is when teachers have to indulge students in the same way.  This pampering and indulgence create narcissistic entitlement and unrealistic expectations: today, we see its product all around us.

Too much nurture is bad for you.  Being held too tight can stunt growth.  Some embraces smother.

All good things can “toxify”.  We know masculinity can, for example, when an over-reliance on physical strength (a good thing, when properly managed) can lead to brutish domestic tyranny.  And I suggest anything else can toxify, too, even nurture: consider the perverted and lethal nurture involved in Munchausen by Proxy.

The advocates

So telling people just to “Be kind” is both silly and dangerous.

If the message must focus on kindness, it should be “Be kind when kindness is what love calls for. In the present situation of upheaval and uncertainty due to COVID-19, kindness may be called for more often than usual”.

It could be said in defence of the moderns that this is all they mean by “Be kind” – that they are just being succinct instead.

This claim on their behalf might be believable if their ethos included the range of loving qualities that are necessary for life, but it doesn’t: their moral itinerary is very limited.

I don’t just mean their broadcast itinerary, I’m also talking about their behaviour.  Our woke role models routinely behave in a way that is the very opposite of loving.

Some examples:

“joy in the truth”: Integrity is nowhere to be seen in the new moral order; it is not even mentioned. Instead, we see untruth, selective truth, bias, blatant inconsistency (“Believe the science” for some issues, “Ignore the science” for others), the silencing of many who wish to speak truth and falsely accusing those people of hatred.  This is all dishonest.  It is the opposite of love, and therefore morally wrong.

“love is not boastful or conceited”: The popular pastime of virtue signalling is pure bragging and narcissistic posturing – the new self-righteousness. The opposite of love, and morally wrong.

“love does not take offence”: We see the woke taking offence so eagerly that they often exaggerate or even manufacture the offence (untruthful) or presumptuously take offence on behalf of others (untruthful and boastful). And some encourage others to take offence instead of helping them recover from their hurt (unkind).  Again, morally wrong.

As it turns out, though, work behaviour even lacks the qualities of nurture, especially kindness.  Consider:

  • the degree of control and muzzling that we see and experience;
  • the treatment of people who hold “wrong opinions” – falsely accusing them of hatred; directing hatred at them; punishing them unjustly, for no wrongdoing, including by extra-judicial trials online;
  • the selective focus of nurture on certain victim groups, and the pointed ignoring of others;
  • the perverted nurture of the groups selected – by keeping their pain stirred up – eerily resembling Munhausen by Proxy;
  • the use of sympathy and blame to divide society, setting groups against each other.

Unkind, therefore unloving, and therefore morally wrong.

Another aspect of nurture – patience – also seems to be missing from the woke moral itinerary.  It is clear that the moral and cultural revolution is in a headlong rush, quite willing to ride roughshod over any idea, opinion, person or group that gets in its way.

All this is the opposite of love, and much of it is even the opposite of kindness.  This leads me to conclude that, when they say “Be kind”, they don’t even mean it.

Why this insincere sermonising about kindness?  Consider:

  • it maintains the sermonisers’ moral ascendancy and social control; and
  • it takes our focus away from those aspects of love that make us stronger, and perhaps a little less easy to control.

Conclusion

So, while kindness (or nurture generally) is necessary and wonderful, it is nowhere near enough; and, on its own, it’s dangerous.  Preaching it as an ethos is just soft-sell.  And the failure of its preachers to practise it (along with the rest of love) reveals their deep insincerity, and should make us curious about their actual agenda.

______________________________________________