Alt-Right: Gavin McInnes and his Exhibitionism

Some people would do anything to get attention. They navigate the social system to find an opportunity to whore themselves to an idea that would generate enough controversy to attract the surveillance of a bored and angry cohort thirsting for dissension. While the internet provides access to a repository of information that can inform and enlighten, a byproduct is a cesspool of toxic and debauch trolls devouring reason and common sense.

Gavin McInnes is one such exhibitionist with his cliche tattooed sleeves and Ned Kelly beard that pattern the popular and fashionable punk signature, but how effective has this provocateur been in reigniting far-right tensions?

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My Soul Aches For Bethlehem

I always wake up before sunrise, no longer needing any alarm and I rug up in my warm clothing and wander the quiet gardens as the morning beams of light penetrate the atmosphere and colour the clouds with a scarlet glow. It is a time of quiet for me to gather my thoughts, to solidify my disposition and prepare for what is often a long day at work full of meetings and people and reports. Read More

Nicaragua: Pigs In Suits?

It seems like a classic Orwellian situation. The Somoza family dictatorship in post-Colonial Nicaragua that led to the communist revolution headed by Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN), the civil war lasting between 1979-1990 with additional violence led by the Contras rebels, the latter funded by the United States despite such funding becoming illegal as the Reagan administration facilitated foreign arms sales in Iran to launder funds to Contras. Read More

Is It Possible To Be Pro-Palestinian Without Being Anti-Israel?

There is a great deal anti-Semitism around, even today. A great deal. A quick peruse through social media and you’ll find scores of people posting theories and postulates that iterates previous systemic racism against the Jewish community (i.e. taking over the world), some doing it so well that you have to read between the lines to realise the embedded racism that methodically attempts to generate fear and hatred (‘we give to them and we care for them, but what do they do for us?’). It is no wonder Benjamin Netanyahu’ diplomatic antagonism against the world is so believable and indeed endorsed by the Likud Party that it has penetrated deep into the executive and legislative divisions within Israel. Read More

The Ethics of Nature

 

I remember as a child being completely overcome by the beauty of the Dandenong Ranges, the rain hitting the large ferns that danced to the ambience of the meditative bird sounds echoing from the colossal trees above, the smell of the moisture from the earth below that pirouetted with the scent of plants and wood of the forest and it kindled such joy within me that this emotional affinity continues today. I now often find myself retreating into the cool, forest enclaves across Victoria that ignite the same speechless feeling that I experienced many years ago. There are a number of sources that indicate that our time spent out in nature can improve our physical and mental health, from reducing blood pressure, stress, fatigue and even inflammation that lowers the risk of early death, as well as improvement of mood and even self-esteem that alleviates the symptoms of depression and anxiety and enables improved cognition and increased concentration. But, what is this therapeutic benefit, this strong bond or relationship humans have with nature? Like a person who smokes cigarettes, conscious that this is a major health risk but indifferent to the destructive nature of this pointless habit, humanity has become indifferent to the environment, and the ecosystem – like our body – is slowly being poisoned by the damaging effects of greenhouse gases. Do we have a moral obligation to ensure the preservation of our ecosystem and if so, what does the future of this discipline look like?

Several years ago, I went with friends to the Botanical Gardens to watch a movie at an outdoor ‘moonlight’ cinema they created and the noise from the fruit bats living in the surrounding trees brought to light the reasons for their controversial culling. The colonies of flying foxes are migratory and are both a pest as well as a risk to the plants and flowers of the gardens that make them a potential threat to the survival of many rare botanical species. In addition, the fruit bat – also known as the flying fox – carries the Hendra Virus that is transmitted to horses as it ingests food contaminated by bat droppings and other fluids, causing a number of severe symptoms leading to death. This virus can be transmitted to humans from the horse that causes influenza-like symptoms that potentially lead to death. The mortality rate is high and as a consequence fruit bats were ordered to be culled to reduce the growing numbers that reached crises levels. However, animal rights activists called out against the culling of the fruit-bats on account of their declining numbers and the reason for their migration being due to changes to their original habitat. This calls into question the actual problem that should encourage their protection. Indeed, the fruit bat was soon listed by the Federal Government as an endangered species that required an adequate approval process for culling.

When the Prickly Pear Cacti was introduced to Australia in the early twentieth century, the species quickly became an ecological pest that infested millions of hectares of land and devastated the Australian landscape that a radical method to destroy the outbreak was required in order to reduce the invasive botanical spread. Australia did not have the natural resources that could control the cacti and along with the warm climate and bird species that ate and ultimately distributed the seeds, the prickly pear wrought havoc on the land of the early settlers of New South Wales and Queensland. The tremendous effort required to manage the prickly pear cost more then it was worth that a prickly pear destruction committee was developed! It was until the introduction of the cactoblastis caterpillars that they found a solution to successfully control the outbreak and using this biological method – where the eggs and larvae extracted the plants moisture until the plant died – they were finally able to control the infestation of the weed.

It is clear that human behaviour can shape and control some aspects of our environment and our intellectual activity has enabled us to communicate and alter our decisions that allow us to ascertain our responsibility and forecast a sustainable or improved future scenario. To protect the integrity of our ecosystem, however, can sometimes appear to be bigger than us such as the consumption of natural resources including gas and oil that makes the average individual assume an abstract position in this ethical framework, that we can recycle our cans of drink and paper but still drive cars and use the gas stove. What is the difference in value between the prickly pear and the fruit bat? Why do we place more value on the fruit bat over the prickly pear?

Moral consciousness – what I call “love” or our ability to feel empathy and morally deliberate – originates from our understanding of value, where we give objects a moral status or as David Hume would suggest, that moral value is the value that I attach to the object and therefore relational and dependent on the agent. It is aligned with the theory that love is something that we give or entirely subjective and emotive and that what is value is simply what I believe is valuable and does not have an actual real, objective moral value. I clearly have an issue with this despite the logic behind such relational epistemology, because there is an absence of any value at all and thus if nothing has value then morality does not exist either. It also arouses questions on the exclusivity of moral actions – such as human life is intrinsically better than animal life for instance – or whether one outcome is more morally valuable over another. Intrinsic values are deemed to be valuable for itself or ‘in its own right’ whereas instrumental value are actions that are morally permissible based on a number of variables that leads to a moral outcome. If fruit bats were not an endangered species, would culling them be morally wrong?

Kant suggests that intrinsic moral value is the source of morality, that is, that since humanity exhibits as I suggested earlier the rational or cognitive capacity to deliberate moral agency, they thus contain moral value. Humanity contains intrinsic value and thus the agency to rationally will sufficient moral understanding, and while this may be anthropocentric, rights are also aligned with ethical responsibility or that our moral status is multi-faceted and thus we are enabled with the capacity to question and evaluate objects making values variable in nature. This is the nature of the ethical problem at hand, as human beings as moral agents have intrinsic value and with the criterion of rational cognition place value on objects that otherwise are instrumental in value that abandons the moral status to animals or our environment. What that means is that the effects of deforestation in order to power the economic engine of capitalism has more instrumental value than protecting forests, and those for or against deforestation will raise ethical pros and cons of both sides of the argument to try and justify the instrumental value of the environment.

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Let’s take a look at McDonalds, with what I believe to be the most strategic and incredibly intelligent marketing campaign that attempts to justify the immorality behind their business by pretending that they are actually going to make a difference to what is their global impact on our environment. McDonalds had started adding “healthy options” to the menu to lure a continuity of customers, to try and be open and accountable about their ingredients to remove doubt as to the quality of their meat, and now are perpetrating a marketing campaign that claims that they are going to reduce their emission intensity by 2030 because of the sheer scale of the food chain’s impact on our environment. How is that possible when aligned with this is their global growth strategy that aims to increase consumer and ultimately business profitability? If the predominant item in the McDonalds menu is beef, let us take a look at cows for a moment. Agriculture is the primary reason for deforestation and not only is this destroying the habitats of thousands of species, but cows that make the meat in the burgers people eat contributes to global greenhouse gases since they produce more methane that has a greater impact on the environment than C02 emissions. What shifty bastards. People are now going to think that since McDonalds is being so-called open and accountable to global warming that eating McDonalds will no longer be immoral when any real attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions would be to completely stop eating McDonalds, which would contradict their profit goals. It is value-nihilism at best.

Like the gas stove or using the car, people believe their ethical position in this network of environmental change is abstract and that buying lunch at Maccas is really not going to change anything. It challenges the anthropocentrism of our moral position. Intrinsic value is not something exclusive to rational beings who symbolically project from their own mental reality, but rather as Henry David Thoreau states, “to be always on the alert to find God in nature,” and there is no symbolic or spiritual relationship but that moral realism is present in the physical world and can be directly perceived. That nature has intrinsic value and this biocentric angle moulds together the schism between good or bad qualities that we force on nature and thus rational thought and values become inseparable. Consciousness is no longer separate from nature. That like McDonalds, the primary cause of our problems with nature is the coercive projection of our irrational suggestion that only humans have intrinsic moral value; we become a part of nature, giving spirituality or that symbolic or metaphysical moral system a concrete reality (excuse the pun). While there may be a number of limitations to this since everything becomes almost morally impermissible, it certainly avoids that disillusioned or disembodied separateness, an us and them, the same disillusionment between a person who smokes cigarettes and their own body that they treat as an inanimate mechanism.

At the rate of global destruction that has reached a point of existential crises, civil disobedience and our duty to protect the environment and engage against injustice is very clear. I am preparing to embrace this reality around us, that I am not distant or abstract in the world but that spirituality and that symbolic connection is physical and real. As said by Thoreau: “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”

 

Moral Parenthood

There are moments where I become so overwhelmed by the injustice that exists in our world, where I find myself sandwiched in the corner of my room trying to breath amidst the tears after reading about Du’a Khalil Aswad, a young Yazidi girl being stoned to death for false suspicions of a relationship with a Sunni boy, the intensity of this subjective pain causing me to crush my fingers deep into the palm of my hands as I think about how witnesses can film rather than fight to stop the injustice. What would possess people to think that murder of a child is justifiable?

Then I read about the commercial exploitation of children both sexually and for labour with our most vulnerable including refugee and migrant children, those homeless and impoverished among other demographic and high-risk factors and where the use of internet technology enabling these vicious predators to recruit and sell children. The shocking reality that the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons shows that in some parts of the world, there is a large proportion of women as traffickers.[1] While we often assume that parenthood is absolute in its protection and love toward children, social and environmental conditions as shown by the endemic proportions of global infanticide clearly prove that this is not the case for our vulnerable minors. As I am currently in the process of possibly becoming a permanent carer of a small child here in Australia, where I will become a guardian to a child who would otherwise have no security or stability on a permanent basis due to difficulties with their birth family. When asked how that differs from adoption where a child is legally considered as your child, the only difference is ownership.

The rights of a child is indeed a very complex framework that involves intricate questions relating to ownership, privacy and capacity that challenge the view that children are merely an independent choice within the private sphere of family and thus remain impenetrable from the jurisdiction of the law until they are legally of age. Indeed, privacy regulations are vital to ensure that each person enjoys the right to be protected from engaging in autonomous activities outside of public scrutiny and unauthorised intrusion, within reason. This includes ensuring that the state balances this privacy with security and the protection it largely affords to the public including intervention that safeguards the rights of our most vulnerable.

While the rights of a child embodied in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC) and the fifty-four articles therewith that lay the foundation exemplifying the importance of protecting children from harm and to lead a fulfilling life, it has come under scrutiny for its provisions being brazenly paternalistic that fail to address the autonomy and competence available to children. A necessary balance is required between children being vulnerable and dependent with autonomy and competence, child protection and advocacy with increased appreciation of a child’ ability to make decisions.

This can be seen in the judicial system of Victoria (Australia) where children are enabled with the right to testimony in family law as well as other criminal and civil proceedings whereby to determine competency, judges factor in the age[2] and other determinable investigations such as whether the child understands the nature of being under oath[3] or give under special circumstances unsworn evidence.[4] Continued advocacy in Victoria to grant children stronger rights by taking a more flexible approach on a case-by-case basis that instead presumes a child as being capable until competency itself is questioned (rather than the other way around), which is slowly challenging the traditional, paternalistic approach.

Children being subject to rights imply them to be subjects to the law and an exploration of how the law can ensure the protection of these rights without abandoning their entitlement to play an active role viz., the assumption that they lack the autonomy needed to claim such rights must be reconsidered. Rather, their rights are parallel to that of an adult, but distinguished by a more sophisticated application. It is clear that competency and rights clearly differ and though a child according the UN Convention is a person who is under the age of 18 unless national laws state otherwise,[5] competency to provide evidence is fast becoming obtainable that challenges the socially constructed view that capacity is age related.

It also challenges the theoretical approach. When an adult legally signs a contract, they are considered capable of understanding the binding nature that would enable them to adhere to the obligations set out within the contract. Social contract theorists such as John Locke argued that “children were in a temporary state of inequality because of their irrationality.”[6] As such, children cannot have rights because they lack the cognitive capacity that enables them to make rational choices. John Rawls states that, “it is sometimes thought that basic rights and liberties should vary with capacity, but justice as fairness denies this: provided the minimum for moral personality is satisfied, a person is owed all the guarantees of justice.”[7]

The largely incorrect opinion that children lack capacity deprives them of the chance to develop the intrinsic quality that is a natural part of human cognition, and having witnessed some parents and teachers fail to contribute to the development of reflective abilities by simply telling children how they should behave and what to think clearly is a pedagogical error, and in response children fail to ever learn to recognise their own ableness in decision making leading them to rely on the opinions of others even into adulthood.

What is this capacity for a moral personality? Jeremy Bentham has purported that people can only be afforded legal rights but moral rights is ‘nonsense on stilts’[8] and though it is true that there may be a complex theoretical underpinning to the concept, rights and freedoms have nevertheless become imbedded in our contemporary response to the external world. Rawls makes it clear that all human beings – save for a very distinct few who either from birth or accident have been deprived of this quality – contain the necessary attributes that would enable them with the quality of a moral personality, even if capacities vary.

That is, though all people have varying capacities that enable an understanding and exercise of justice, they are still entitled to equal liberties. The exploration of children’ rights are indeed linked closely to the subject of capacity, where they are assumed unable and incompetent despite the presence of the faculty that is merely in its developmental stage. This immediate denial of self-determination reduces an adequate understanding of the broader responsibilities that influence and shape the pre-existing ability that enables capacity itself or as Rawls continues with, “[o]nly scattered individuals are without this capacity, or its realization to a minimum degree, and the failure to realize it is the consequence of unjust and impoverished social circumstances, or fortuitous contingencies.”[9] Capacity as a socially constructed and age-related concept could simply shut them off from the realisation of their own ability for self-determination.

When I find myself having conversations with some of the young children at the various primary schools I work in, their dispositions and attention immediately change when they realise that I am treating them as an individual, whereby they suddenly become conscious of their behaviour and of what they are saying. They are being heard. The largely incorrect opinion that children lack capacity deprives them of the chance to develop the intrinsic quality that is a natural part of human cognition, and having witnessed some parents and teachers fail to contribute to the development of reflective abilities by simply telling children how they should behave and what to think clearly is a pedagogical error, and in response children fail to epistemically ever learn to recognise their own ableness in decision making leading them to relying on the opinions of others even into adulthood.

While it is clear that we must ensure that we protect children from any violation of their rights, there is a shifting trend that children can be recognised as rights-holders and that the assessment of competency is leaning toward a better understanding of the nature of childhood and development. It is complex to say the least that there exists a problem of parental rights and ownership that can either undermine the rights of children or could depreciate the ability for a family to raise a child, but a balance itself needs to be reached that condones any act that will inhibit the development and education of a child while at the same time promote reflective practices and education that will give children the capacity to understand how to make decisions for themselves.

It is what has been referred to as moral parenthood (rather than biological).[10] It is a recognition that challenges both the idea that a child is afforded rights solely by their biological parents that could quite easily been neglected or abused and by seeing children as having these rights would enforce both legally and socially moral attitudes that would shift the predisposition of thinking for a child rather than listening to a child. With adequate mechanisms in place, listening to them and speaking in their language to work out what they find important, to both consider and enable them the opportunity to express their point of view will provide them with the capacity to think independently, consciously and morally.

[1] UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, 2014, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/5492a3d94.html %5Baccessed 10 June 2017]
[2] Evidence Act 1958 (Vic) – in Victoria, it is under the age of 14.
[3]  R v Braiser (1779) 1 Leach 199; Omychund v Barker (1744) 1 Atk 21.
[4] Evidence Act 1958 (Vic) s 23.
[5] Article 1 CRC
[6] Mhiari Cowden, Children’s Rights: From Philosophy to Policy, Springer (2016) 26
[7] John Rawls, A Theory of Justice, Harvard University Press (2009) 77
[8] See Jeremy Bentham, ‘Anarchical fallacies; being an examination of the Declaration of Rights issued during the French Revolution’ (1791)
[9] Op. Cit., Rawls.
[10] David Archard, Children: Rights and Childhood, Routledge, London (1993) 109