One of the striking experiences about being involved in public debate in Oz is how people who have put up their head to disagree with progressivist orthodoxy have common experiences which function as something of a bond even if they disagree about everything else.
Such as awareness of the way the “racism!” abuse is used to attempt to close down debate and punish dissent. Particularly in indigenous affairs and migration matters. When I worked in Parliament house in Canberra, I knew four people who were strongly against immigration. Two had Chinese wives, one an Iranian wife, one a French wife. But opposition to immigration was (of course) a sign of “racism”. When one of the four wrote a paper that pointed out that there is, on balance, no strong economic argument for immigration, he got the treatment. Given his Chinese wife (they have since had children: he is also literate in Chinese and has a deep interest in Chinese culture), implying he was racist was hard, but folk gave it a go. All part of a whispering campaign against him: it was quite vile. And entirely typical of what happens when you put your head up in public against various progressivist orthodoxies.
And, by the way, his argument was entirely reasonable. Mass migration is against the interests of the resident working class*: a major factor in its costs and benefits “evening out” overall. But mass migration is in the interests of landowners and owners of capital (both business and intellectual), such a winning combination that opposition to migration is anathematised. (It’s racist, or at least associated with racists, and that’s all the matters, right?)
Another form of abuse to close down debate is “corporate money!”, That one works for, has worked for, has received a grant from, business “proves” your evil motives and so anything you say must be discounted. Sourcewatch is an online resource for this.
The bias involved is patent. Compare Sourcewatch on the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) with Sourcewatch on the Evatt Foundation. The Evatt Foundation gets treated on its own estimation, with no mention of funding. The IPA gets the full loaded language, with all the implications of illegitimacy.
Apparently, union funding (the Evatt Foundation) is so virtuous, it does not even have to be mentioned. Not that all corporate funding is bad: consider Sourcewatch on the Australia Institute. Clearly, corporate funding for a progressive think tank is also so virtuous, it doesn’t even have to be mentioned. So corporate funding is OK if it’s for a “good” cause.
Just part of the game of trying to de-legitimise dissent from progressivist orthodoxy.
But there are grounds to “follow the money”, just not the ones Sourcewatch is fond of. So, let’s consider three organizations significant in public debate in Oz. Two not-for-profit advocacy organizations funded by private donations—Greenpeace and the IPA—and a not-for-profit government organization mostly funded by taxes, the ABC. (Notice Sourcewatch’s attentive ideological labelling of the “conservative/right wing” ABC Board members and the lack of such labelling in the cases of Greenpeace, the Australia Institute and the Evatt Foundation—it is very important to label the evil ones, after all, so folk know what they’re dealing with: and right wing and conservative bias on the ABC, it’s such a problem. Or maybe it is having the ABC polluted by such impure and unclean folk that is the issue?)
The IPA and Greenpeace are both advocacy organizations. Which means, in both cases, they attract folk who share the values of the organization.
Which is the first mistake the “corporate money!” canard makes. People in such organizations don’t support a particular ideological line because they are paid to do so, they work for such organizations because they share its values. The job attracts the folk, they are not “empty vessels” that funding gives form to. A point no doubt obvious about people who work for Greenpeace but sneeringly reversed for those who work for bodies such as the IPA. (Because, of course, those who work for “right wing” organizations don’t have genuine moral concerns or intellectual principles.)
Bodies such as H R Nicholls Society, Samuel Griffith Society, Bennelong Society, Lavoisier Group are operated by folk who devote considerable amounts of their own time, completely unpaid, because they believe in what they do. And do so at least as much as any Progressivist Ascendancy activist. Indeed, typically probably more, since they have to put up with much more sneering abuse from folk playing status games predicated on the basis that supporting such societies is a sign of moral and intellectual delinquency.
The whole point of the “racism!”, “coporate money!” canards is to make such bodies, and paid-staff institutions such as the IPA and CIS beyond the pale. Which leads to two mutually supporting syllogisms:
Why do folk participate in such beyond-the-pale bodies?
Clearly for evil motives (racist!, corporate money! etc).
Why are such bodies beyond the pale?
Because the folk in them do them for evil motives (racist!, corporate money! etc).
At no point is there any need to consider anything they have to say (except to “prove” their moral and intellectual delinquency). And since “they mounted some good arguments” is ruled out as a possible explanation for any policy influence, one is stuck with buckets of money, perversion of debate or the ignorance and vulgarity of the masses as “explanations”.
Consider the way Sourcewatch treats Australian Environment Foundation and Independent Contractors of Australia. They are both labelled “front organizations” for the IPA, who allegedly founded them. The IPA is far too shoestring an operation to have fronts. But, in fact, both were independent foundings. Yes, there is some overlap in personnel, because they express similar values and it is how folk get to know about each other. But, of course, the notion that such folk might believe in what they do is precisely what is being ruled out by the “corporate money!” canard.
It does matter, but not in the way suggested
But, regardless of ideological bent, advocacy and fundraising do have their incentive effects. First, working within an advocacy body is likely to have reinforcing effects. That is, members are likely to reinforce each other’s views in ways that can distort perspective: the “echo chamber” effect. The more folk do not have to genuinely grapple with alternative views, the worst the effect will be. This does not de-legitimise the body, but it does give a clue on where to look for weaknesses in their output.
The sources of funding will also affect what the advocacy body concentrates on, what it emphasises. Greenpeace has an obvious incentive to play up environmental dangers and concentrate on those one that are “sexy” to the middle class Westerners who are its funding base. The IPA has an obvious incentive to concentrate on private sector solutions and play up fears about regulation, taxes and government action. Again, it does not de-legitimise either body, but it does give a clue on where to look for weaknesses in their output.
An approach that views advocacy bodies as “moral” or “corrupt” based merely on their ideology or funding is playing a status game. Even looking at how open an advocacy body’s funding arrangements are, how dispersed their funding is, only gets you so far. Ultimately, their arguments stand and fall on their own merits. But, of course, the point of the “corporate funding” canard is to define folk out the ambit of legitimate debate so one doesn’t have to bother to consider the merits of their arguments. (See previous comments about echo chambers.)
A fairly clear subtext of the “corporate money!” canard is that “tax-paid is good”. Which is simplistic nonsense. Funding something via taxes has its own selection and incentive effects.
Consider the ABC. An organization funded by taxes is probably going to have folk working in it who are in favour of the politics of funding things via taxes (consider Canberra’s federal voting patterns). In favour of the politics of “society needs fixing, and fixing by people like them”. (After all, what is the point of public broadcasting if there is not something inherently wrong with private media that only having public media will fix?)
Which is, of course, the problem with public broadcasting: over time, it is very unlikely to be representative of the opinion of the society that pays for it; as the ABC clearly is not. With all the “echo chamber” effects that has. Effect that are the more intense the larger the organization since size provides insulation. A particular problem when folk in the society are compelled to pay for said organization. So unrepresentative, and under-examined, perspectives get a massive (and coerced) institutional advantage.
If one wants an example of how noxious that can be, it is hard to go past the IMF. The specific content of the ideological bent selected for is different, but the deeper issues are the same. I am in favour of closing down the IMF as well as the ABC and the BBC for exactly the same reason: they are insular, inadequately accountable and destructive organizations that have outlived their usefulness.
The “corporate money!” canard also operates on a highly selective notion of conflict of interest. For example, having your preselection being dependent on specific unions is a far more disastrous conflict of interest than any amount of private shareholding, precisely because no real attention is paid to it. If one thinks that union (and other) preselection power was not a factor in the Cain-Kirner Government’s fiscal debacle, or in Kim Beazley’s screwing up of telecom policy (which we are still paying for), you’re dreaming.
Simply having the regulator also being a producer is a major conflict of interest: if the regulator is the major producer, then you have a compromised regulator. As the history of public education provides ample examples of. But defining “conflict of interest” in narrow “only private business generates conflict of interest” way has its own biasing effect.
Not that “racism!” and “corporate money!” are the only sticks used to deny legitimacy to dissenters. There has been something of a multiplication of thoughtcrimes. Such as “denialism” for folk who don’t accept a particular set of predictions about the future.
Orwell’s 1984 was supposed to be warning, not a how-too manual.
Rarely acknowledged at the time—and almost never since—is that there were grounds to be sceptical about whether significant warming was occurring at all. For the satellite, balloon and rural ground station temperature data simply did not show warming. The debate has moved on, but it was not a ridiculous position.
But, again, we come back to the “corporate money!” canard. The suggestion that the climate debate is “of course” distorted by a (at most) a few million in corporate and foundation money but not at all by at least equivalent sums from environmental advocacy groups, or the billions of dollars in climate research grants which would dry up if humanity was deemed to be little more than spectators in the climate, is simply magical thinking. Or status thinking—bad people (denialists/sceptics) are easily bought, but good people (catastrophists) are decent, righteous folk.
Consider this LJ comment (I won’t link because it is not a personal shot) “political correctness” (a right-wing perjorative name for giving a shit about other people). Any criticism of political correctness is because you don’t care. The commenter is an honours humanities graduate of Melbourne University and has apparently taken away from an education in its Faculty of Arts a dissent-is-defined-as-malign moral casuistry whose closed-mindedness a Counter-Reformation Jesuit would be ashamed of.
The game, in all its forms, is simple intellectual thuggery which functions to de-legitimise dissent and narrow the range of debate motivated by a shared sense of moral and intellectual superiority. (Which is what is really being sold.)
The framing in terms of motive is precisely because it is a status game, but a status game which adversely affects the health of public debate.
This blog post is from http://erudito.livejournal.com/585968.html a great journal.