Tuesday, October 24, 2006


Academic freedom is dead at La Trobe University, but political persecution is alive and well, writes James McConvill. He is fighting back, however, using Victoria's Equal Opportunity Act

Recent evidence has come into my possession that I have been a victim of political persecution, through a concerted effort of restraint of academic freedom by senior management of La Trobe University, at least since 26 December 2005. Accordingly, on 21 October 2006 I lodged a complaint against La Trobe University, and senior officers of the University (Professors Gordon Walker and Raymond Harbridge), alleging discrimination on the basis of my political views and activities, contrary to sections 6(g) and 14 of the Victorian Equal Opportunity Act 1995.

There is evidence that senior management of La Trobe University have been concerned about my writings in the media which either criticise left-leaning Government officers, in particular Victorian Attorney-General Mr Rob Hulls, a member of the Bracks Labor Government, or adopt a Right-wing conservative or libertarian position- particularly if it supports Howard Government policy.

I have been ill-treated at La Trobe University, and was forced into a position where I had to resign my position of Senior Lecturer in the School of Law at La Trobe University in August 2006, with an effective date of 15 September 2006. Despite personal difficulties I was experiencing at the time, senior management of La Trobe University have acted in a cold, calculated and vindictive manner towards me.

Recent evidence of the behind-the-scenes efforts of La Trobe's senior management to censor me, particularly in relation to any comments of mine which is critical of the Left or supportive of the Right, puts together the pieces of the puzzle as to why the University's senior management acted in such a cold, calculated and vindictive manner against me, despite personal difficulties at the time. I was a threat to the institution's culture as a haven for entrenched Left-wing academics who protect only their own freedom of speech, and go out their way to bring down those whose views are different to their own.

Between December 2005 and June 2006, any writings of mine which expressed a political view, or encompassed political activity, and which departed from the Left-wing mindset of La Trobe University's senior management, were talked about behind closed doors, there were discussions to work out how to censor me, and eventually by the end of May 2006, they found a front to construct to justify their persecution: the classic poor performance. Academic freedom is, I believe, dead at La Trobe University.

In a statement provided by Professor Gordon Walker to La Trobe's lawyers, which I obtained last week, Walker concedes that the process of censorship started on or around 26 December 2005.

The statement, at paragraph 13, provides "On 26 December 2006 [sic], Dr McConvill published an article entitled, "Law of the Jungle is the Best Regulator", in The Australian newspaper. In that article, I thought he misquoted Judge Bork, an American judge. I was concerned by this and contacted Professor Harbridge, who was in Queensland at the time. We agreed we should at some stage discuss with Dr McConvill the need to take care in engaging with the media."

This in itself does not invoke the Equal Opportunity Act, but it does highlight that even two weeks after my appointment to the position of Senior Lecturer, my writing was being monitored. In the same statement, Professor Walker writes "On 11 April 2006, Professor Harbridge and I took Dr McConvill to lunch at the John Scott Meeting House. Professor Harbridge recounted some of his experiences with the media by ways of advising Dr McConvill to take care in this regard and noting that engagement with the media can be something of a double-edged sword. Professor Harbridge drew attention to the La Trobe University Code of Conduct, which requires that academics comment only on issues that are within one's field of expertise. The meeting was an informal one and Dr McConvill's blogging activities were not discussed."

I did indeed attend lunch with Professor Harbridge and Walker on 11 April 2006, but this was in response to an e-mail by Professor Harbridge to me on 3 April 2006 that he "would like to meet sometime to meet and catch upon your interests". This does not at all sound like any attempt to caution me about engaging with the media. Indeed, in a lunch which ran an hour or so, I believe probably three minutes at most was spent discussing the media. While Walker and Harbridge did talk about how there is a tall poppy syndrome in Australian academy and how some academics may not like me getting media exposure, I did not consider this to be any sort of warning to me, nor did I get the sense that the purpose of the lunch was to discuss my engagement with the media.

Indeed, to put the matter in context, what was more striking was Professor Harbridge's seemingly informal warning to Professor Walker to be careful about what he writes in an e-mail at night after the consumption of alcohol, and criticism by Walker and Harbridge about how specific academics in the Law School were "useless" and that this was reflected in the poor research gradings that had been sent to many of them and for which those academics complained about. On the limited occasions that I have had any discussions with Professor Walker, denigration of some members of his own academic staff had been a consistent theme.

Once Professor Harbridge left the lunch, I stayed and talked with Walker for about another half an hour. It was then that we talked about what research each of us were doing at the time, and Walker said that many of the law students at La Trobe were not of a very high standard, particularly when compared to Sydney Law School (where he previously taught), and that lecturing really adds nothing to a law student's education. Walker said it would be better to do things "the American way" and throw a textbook at students at the start of the semester and tell them to read it. Again, this was after Walker had consumed glasses of white wine, which I too drank one on his invitation, at what was supposedly some kind of disciplinary meeting.

What the 11 April 2006 meeting shows is just how sensitive La Trobe, and particularly Harbridge and Walker, are to any tangible evidence that they are trying to repress academic freedom, and even more egregiously censor academics who engage with the media in relation to views that may not be shared by the "soft-lefts" that continue to dominate La Trobe University, and while speaking about lofty notions of rights and freedoms to idealistic students in the lecture theatre, trample over the rights and freedoms of academics who may have different views to them on certain issues.

Censorship of me became an issue as far back as 26 December 2005, and yet it was not until 1 June 2006 that I was given a copy of the Code of Conduct, and only because by then they had derived an excuse to try and get rid of me to appease what have been described to me as the "La Trobe Loopy Left" (or "Three L mob"). In his e-mail to me of 3 April 2006, Professor Harbridge couldn't even bring himself to concede he was trying to censor me. Nothing could be in writing.

Further, even a suggestion (if it was) of being careful about engaging with the media, had to be done over pasta and wine as a smokescreen. What Harbridge and Walker were supposedly doing was raising a performance concern, so why not get me in their office and say it? They could not because the notion of academic freedom is to a University what the Hippocratic Oath is to the medical profession. Without it, the institution loses its identity and reason for existence and falls apart.

In his 3 April 2006 e-mail, Professor Harbridge states that he wanted to get to know me, that was the purpose of the lunch, yet the letter from La Trobe's lawyers reveals the hidden truth behind the lunch. At paragraph 13, the letter states, based on evidence given by Professor Harbridge, "Professor Harbridge, the Dean of the Faculty of Law and Management, read this article [an article about blogging in The Age newspaper]. He was also aware of various other articles that Dr McConvill had written in the media. Professor Harbridge contacted Professor Walker and suggested that they meet with Dr McConvill, as Professor Harbridge was concerned to alert Dr McConvill about the potential risks for academic staff for seeking media exposure."

So much for academic freedom at La Trobe University. But now for the political persecution, and unlawful discrimination pursuant to the Equal Opportunity Act. While I had published approximately 65 opinion pieces published between joining La Trobe on 12 December 2005 and 1 June 2006, out of the six articles Walker raised as a concern, four were either criticising the left-leaning Bracks Labor Government or supporting Howard Government policy or raising Right-leaning libertarian proposals on Howard Government policy (child support, child protection laws, and reviewing Aboriginal customary law in the context of sentencing).

That a Head of a Law School goes to the trouble of raising concerns about an article because it "Heavily criticised [the] Attorney- General", and then proceeds to discriminate against me, is not only unlawful, but to the legal community would be considered laughable. Is Professor Walker presiding over a Law School or a Primary School?

Professor Walker, Professor Harbridge, and La Trobe University by acquiescence, have in my view clearly engaged in discrimination on the basis of my lawful political beliefs or views. Each article is based on serious research and quite reflection, and relates to law and the regulation of individuals in the context of contemporary affairs, which is my key area of expertise (more on this below). It is genuine well-considered academic thought.

Another major article of concern, worrying Walker about "Dr McConvill's apparent desire to move back to Deakin University", outlines my qualifications for a forthcoming vacant position at Deakin University, the position of Head of the School of Law. That he has raised this article with the University's lawyers shows just how hypercritical and discriminatory senior management of La Trobe have been towards me. Academics, whether it be at Deakin or La Trobe, are forwarded e-mails by Heads of School all the time for positions of vacancy at other law schools, and are encouraged to discuss freely their desire to move to other schools, particularly if it involves a more senior position, and to use Heads of School as a referee.

Academics are also freely able to campaign for positions in local council, state parliament and federal parliament, and from my experience have done so even during work hours and using university resources.

That I am pilloried for outlining my credentials on a private blog site, which makes no reference to my affiliation with La Trobe University, is ludicrous and is a very clear example of the censorship and academic restraint that I have experienced at La Trobe. Furthermore, I believe that raising as a performance concern (with subsequent implications in terms of adverse treatment) such a blog post, constitutes unlawful discrimination based on lawful political activity in the course of employment, contrary to section 14 of the Equal Opportunity Act 1995.

This is the basis for my complaint before the Victorian Equal Opportunity Commission. I await the response of the Commission in relation to this matter.

The above article was received via email from Dr. McConvill. He was until August 2006 a senior lecturer in law at La Trobe University Law School. There is another article by him on my "Of Interest" site


It was the day that a host of BBC executives and star presenters admitted what critics have been telling them for years: the BBC is dominated by trendy, Left-leaning liberals who are biased against Christianity and in favour of multiculturalism. A leaked account of an 'impartiality summit' called by BBC chairman Michael Grade, is certain to lead to a new row about the BBC and its reporting on key issues, especially concerning Muslims and the war on terror. It reveals that executives would let the Bible be thrown into a dustbin on a TV comedy show, but not the Koran, and that they would broadcast an interview with Osama Bin Laden if given the opportunity. Further, it discloses that the BBC's 'diversity tsar', wants Muslim women newsreaders to be allowed to wear veils when on air.

At the secret meeting in London last month, which was hosted by veteran broadcaster Sue Lawley, BBC executives admitted the corporation is dominated by homosexuals and people from ethnic minorities, deliberately promotes multiculturalism, is anti-American, anti-countryside and more sensitive to the feelings of Muslims than Christians. One veteran BBC executive said: 'There was widespread acknowledgement that we may have gone too far in the direction of political correctness. 'Unfortunately, much of it is so deeply embedded in the BBC's culture, that it is very hard to change it.'

In one of a series of discussions, executives were asked to rule on how they would react if the controversial comedian Sacha Baron Cohen -- known for his offensive characters Ali G and Borat - was a guest on the programme Room 101. On the show, celebrities are invited to throw their pet hates into a dustbin and it was imagined that Baron Cohen chose some kosher food, the Archbishop of Canterbury, a Bible and the Koran. Nearly everyone at the summit, including the show's actual producer and the BBC's head of drama, Alan Yentob, agreed they could all be thrown into the bin, except the Koran for fear of offending Muslims.

In a debate on whether the BBC should interview Osama Bin Laden if he approached them, it was decided the Al Qaeda leader would be given a platform to explain his views. And the BBC's 'diversity tsar', Mary Fitzpatrick, said women newsreaders should be able to wear whatever they wanted while on TV, including veils. Ms Fitzpatrick spoke out after criticism was raised at the summit of TV newsreader Fiona Bruce, who recently wore on air a necklace with a cross.

The full account of the meeting shows how senior BBC figures queued up to lambast their employer. Political pundit Andrew Marr said: 'The BBC is not impartial or neutral. It's a publicly funded, urban organisation with an abnormally large number of young people, ethnic minorities and gay people. It has a liberal bias not so much a party-political bias. It is better expressed as a cultural liberal bias.'

Washington correspondent Justin Webb said that the BBC is so biased against America that deputy director general Mark Byford had secretly agreed to help him to 'correct', it in his reports. Webb added that the BBC treated America with scorn and derision and gave it 'no moral weight'.

Former BBC business editor Jeff Randall said he complained to a 'very senior news executive', about the BBC's pro-multicultural stance but was given the reply: 'The BBC is not neutral in multiculturalism: it believes in it and it promotes it.' Randall also told how he once wore Union Jack cufflinks to work but was rebuked with: 'You can't do that, that's like the National Front!' Quoting a George Orwell observation, Randall said that the BBC was full of intellectuals who 'would rather steal from a poor box than stand to attention during God Save The King'.

There was another heated debate when the summit discussed whether the BBC was too sensitive about criticising black families for failing to take responsibility for their children. Head of news Helen Boaden disclosed that a Radio 4 programme which blamed black youths at a young offenders', institution for bullying white inmates faced the axe until she stepped in.

But Ms Fitzpatrick, who has said that the BBC should not use white reporters in non-white countries, argued it had a duty to 'contextualise' why black youngsters behaved in such a way.

Andrew Marr told The Mail on Sunday last night: 'The BBC must always try to reflect Britain, which is mostly a provincial, middle-of-the-road country. Britain is not a mirror image of the BBC or the people who work for it.'


Halloween plea: Drop `psycho' holiday theme

Will there end up being NOTHING we are allowed to laugh at?

With the Halloween season under way, mental health advocates have a simple request: Scare people with ghouls and goblins. Fill your haunted house with trap doors and tombstones. But leave out the "psychiatric wards," the "insane asylums" and the bloodthirsty killers in straitjackets. Such themes, which have become as much a part of Halloween as pumpkins, reinforce negative stereotypes and a stigma that discourages people from seeking treatment, say activists who wage a yearly fight to remove the images from holiday events.

"It's our annual Halloween horror cycle," said Bob Carolla, spokesman for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI. "The cases vary by size and level of offensiveness, but for some reason, this year has been worse than most." So far, word of about 10 particularly egregious attractions has reached the Arlington, Va.-based organization.

The group's protests have had some effect. The Wheaton Jaycees last week scrambled to change the theme of their haunted house from "Insanitarium" to something more generic. They retooled an "electroshock therapy" scene into an electric chair; posters and ads touting the theme were quickly pulled; apologies were issued.

Others have not been as receptive, including organizers of an asylum-theme house in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and Paramount's Kings Island, a popular amusement park outside Cincinnati that is touting its "PsychoPath"--an outdoor trail of fright.

In Provo, Utah, a newspaper recently ran an impassioned editorial to "Bring Back Haunted Castle," a seasonal fixture at a state hospital that used actual patients as performers before being shut almost a decade ago. "A far more evil force cast the monsters out--political correctness," wrote the Daily Herald, noting that proceeds benefited the patients' recreation fund. Most readers who responded were in favor of resurrecting the attraction, despite a NAMI drive "to sway the vote," according to editorial page editor Donald Meyers.

Some observers attribute the connection between the scary holiday and psychiatric disorders to the popularity of the 1978 movie "Halloween," in which an escaped killer--institutionalized since childhood--goes on a violent rampage. Others say such imagery goes back centuries to medieval times. Whatever the reason, the depictions are harmful, activists say. Criticizing such themes isn't about semantics or being humor-impaired, they add, but about calling attention to a public health issue. According to a U.S. Surgeon General's report, stigma remains one of the greatest barriers to mental-health care. Next month, several groups--including the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration--will launch the first national campaign to stamp out stereotypes that rarely extend to other ailments.

"It's hard to imagine a cancer patient losing her wig as a source of amusement for patrons," Carolla said. NAMI regularly sends a "Stigmabusters" alert that flags hurtful representations of brain-based disorders to 20,000 subscribers. Halloween may be the biggest nightmare for advocates, but deflecting jabs at the mentally ill requires year-round vigilance. Targets of complaints have ranged from Nestle USA (for Tangy Taffy flavors such as "Psycho Sam") to the Vermont Teddy Bear Co. (makers of a straitjacketed "Crazy for You" cub for Valentine's Day).

The headline a New Jersey newspaper put on a 2002 story about a fire in a psychiatric hospital--"Roasted Nuts"--was "particularly unfortunate," Carolla said. But it also resulted in a series on mental health topics the following year....

Despite NAMI complaints, Paramount's Kings Island is keeping PsychoPath, one of the park's most popular attractions. "We are appealing to young adults ... and it's supposed to be more fun than frightening," said company spokeswoman Maureen Kaiser. "It's not intended to make light of mental illness." In Murfreesboro, site of the Old Salem Insane Asylum, customers pay $15 to be scared by "mental patients" played by members of a local ghost-hunting club. NAMI took its concerns to a local radio show and distributed materials on depression, schizophrenia and other disorders to visitors, but the group declined to change the event. "Some people told us to calm down and lighten up," said Gracie Allen, of NAMI's Tennessee chapter. "But others said, I admire you for standing up for what you believe in."



Seeing ordinary people with lots of goodies is just insufferable to our self-declared Leftist "betters"

If the reams of scary reportage on Britain's unprecedented levels of personal debt, competitive misery and shopping addiction are anything to go by, then we have finally bought wholesale into an ugly, regressive morality tale of the helpless consumer. Over the past decade, commentators have been competing to see who can present the most alarmist research on the psychological damage, spiritual impoverishment and moral decay caused by our compulsive spending and consuming. The recent high profile campaign to cure childhood of various modern ills cited `mass marketing' as one of the big three toxins. Spendaholic Britons are apparently in the paralysing grip of a debt crisis: `Credit card lending rose by œ400m last month.. On average every man, woman and child in the UK owes at least 2,300 pounds.'

Yet pathologising our spending habits has created a demeaning, damaging vision of the human subject as a vulnerable, selfish automaton; a hopeless, amoral being. This commentary on our `sick' spending and Pavlovian response to advertising is symptomatic, not just of therapy culture, but of a deep ambivalence towards what are, in fact, some of our more healthy impulses and ambitions.

Before interrogating the political message of these distortions, it is worth challenging the hysterical tone of the debt statistics in particular. The `on average' nature of the figures cited above, for example, means they include a majority of `typical' middle-income households. Is 2,300 worth of debt so crippling to this group? Surely such a sum is comfortably covered by the average earnings of those involved? Or take Credit Action's panicked estimation that `Britain's personal debt is increasing by 1million every four minutes.' Is this so terrifying if it includes, in the main, households that take out loans for home improvements or new cars? No, but these planned investments in assets add up to the image of a rational consumer, not the impulsive, `frivolous', irresponsible one contemporary experts prefer to cast us as.

Spendaholics and the politics of behaviour

There is a long history of preaching against the corrupting potential of wealth. It began with ancient creeds, surfaced in general Christian teachings and Puritan doctrines, then re-emerged in the nineteenth century bohemian revulsion towards bourgeois, commercial `vulgarity'. What distinguishes today's anti-consumer sermons, however, is their tendency to cast `the masses' as greedy cartoon demons, and the eco-friendly, middle-class thrifties as the saints. Lifestyle `downsizers' occupy the moral high ground by virtue of their lack of desire for stuff, and their ability to declutter - materially and therefore spiritually.

The crude equation is: more stuff = sad, less stuff =happy. As Professor Andrew Oswald of Warwick University tells the BBC: `During the past 25 years, people have had material things far more, and yet it doesn't seem to have generated greater happiness.' An American book reporting from the frontline of decluttering, is soon to clutter our shelves. It describes, in anthropological terms, a couple's attempt to spend nothing for a year (other than on the absolute basics: mortgage, heat and food). Early reviews praised the lessons learnt about freedom from consumerist tyranny.

So why are we slaves to the 2006 version of the slavish consumer? Daniel Ben-Ami has argued previously on spiked that `We live in a world in which there is an unprecedented degree of cynicism about the benefits of economic growth.affluence .is typically subject to numerous caveats. Among other things it is accused of damaging the environment, leading to inequality and failing to make people happy.' The concepts of affluence and happiness are diametrically opposed today. So, imagery of consumerist hell reflects our ambivalence towards material growth generally. But what it further reflects is the new politics of behaviour.

Even if the loan sharks were banging down all our doors, why has this suddenly become anyone else's business or cause for alarm? It is precisely the private nature of disposable income and personal loans that so disturbs the lifestyle experts. It is one of the few, albeit banal, arenas left where people exercise unmediated control over their immediate material circumstances. Even then, we are not free from moral condescension regarding the eco or ethical credentials of our purchases, but it is still excess money, to do with as we see fit.

What also upsets the lifestyle experts is aspiration. One of the rhetorical cliches deployed in this debate, to reinforce a picture of humanity as despairing, vulnerable and in need of expert guidance, is the portrayal of ambition as a competitive sickness. What Alain de Botton recently called `status anxiety' not only adds to the picture of our damaged passivity, it also reduces aspirational desires and social interaction to banal, cold forms of one-upmanship.

Our lack of altruism and vicious competitive detachment from others is continually emphasized in subsequent modern studies. According to BBC News, researchers at Warwick University have discovered most people need to feel richer than their neighbours, even when they do not know them - to the point where we would cost ourselves money in order that our `imagined rivals' might be poorer. The use of `imagined rivals' increases the sense of our irrationality and diminished autonomy, as does the cash rich, time poor debate. As Professor Judith Schor tells the BBC: `Spending then has to compensate for the fact that we're losing time - we're losing control of our lives.'

What academics like Professor Andrew Oswald term the `culture' or `curse' of `comparison' is apparently the central virus of modernity, infecting every area of our lives. Britain's politics of behaviour and happiness policies turn to the minutiae of our domestic and internal lives for purpose. They address us sternly and unconvincingly on this subject, citing the main obstacle to our happiness targets as our desire for more stuff: `The pursuit of wealth stops us pursuing the things that make us happy.' We are compelled, in the eyes of the experts, to shop mindlessly in an attempt to heal our mental wounds. Describing buying in these pathological terms then subtly leads to other agendas of behaviour modification: `Instead we should be concentrating on friendships, relationships and health.'

The creation of recent concepts such as `ethical debt' reveals similar political motives. The `problem' is no longer discussed in simply economic, but social terms. As a leader in the Observer put it: `Debt to finance university education is more worthwhile than the more widespread borrowing for lifestyle accoutrements - new cars and kitchens. This consumer debt is the real.social problem.' [So wonderful to have such wise guidance]

Notions of control

The addiction cycle is obsessively applied to the shopping experience. According to the BBC News article, when we shop we don't exercise consumer choice, or indulge in harmless escapism, but experience a hunger and high: `compulsive and uncontrollable buying affected between two and five per cent of adults.' Then there is the withdrawal: `the shopping buzz does not last for long', increasing doses: `The pleasure from having extra things wears off', and finally the treatment: `one manufacturer has released an anti-depressant drug it claims can help combat the urge to spend.'

Just decades ago, in contrast, there existed a far more powerful sense of human agency and control regarding personal budgets. For instance, the poet Al Alvarez, in his autobiography of the shabby genteel Oxbridge set of the 1950's, talks of his friends' spending habits as metaphors for their character. Hopelessly generous eccentrics would fritter meager post-war inheritances on parties or daft whims. They lived blissfully on the breadline, oblivious to the causes of their eventually hand-to-mouth existence, because it was the result of such deeply ingrained traits. Equally, other mean-spirited characters manifested their repressed nature in spectacular acts of tight-fistedness. Ultimately, at this time, there was the sense that it was your innate, often charming qualities that dictated how you spent, not sinister external forces.

Instead, in our therapy culture, we are cast as victims of a spending disease, attacking us from the outside. We are passively lured by advertising, or `pushed' by opportunistic creditors. Our spending is now dictated, not by delightful individual quirks, but homogenous psychological problems that manifest themselves in ways beyond our understanding or control. These are habits that require the intervention of a psychologist or debt counsellor. Shopping has become the act of blindly and mindlessly `compensating' for past emotional traumas with the purchase `high'.....

The spiritual corruption of overspending is normally presented as afflicting working class consumer souls far more deeply than middle-class ones. `Chav' baiting is founded on a disgust of conspicuous consumption and the perceived vulgarity and psychological chaos that ensues: for example for lottery winners, or young Premiership footballers.

Working class children and their junk pushing parents, are also felt to be in greater need of protection from the pressures of perfection. Ed Mayo, head of the National Consumer Council, wrote in the Guardian recently: `Our research shows that children who have the least want the most. This "aspiration gap" is most marked in the poorest households. Poorer children tend to get more pocket money and will get crisps and snacks in their lunchboxes - but these are the children most likely to be disappointed when birthdays come around.'

Overstating the case of the pathological spender however has now moved beyond class politics and become a morality tale of the modern human condition. It's all-encompassing cultural reach is reflected in TV schedules (Spendaholics, Spend, Spend, Spend, Bank of Mum and Dad, Britain's Streets of Debt, Skint, Shiny Shiny Bright New Hole In My Heart - to name just a few), government policy and a general tone of media despair. On the whole this mood goes unchallenged.

But surely we need to remind ourselves of the immediate transformative effect of so called `stuff'? Stuff is what we are surrounded by, dressed in, dictates our levels of physical comfort, can provide us with knowledge, entertainment, aesthetic pleasure, cultural enrichment, enhanced potential for communication and social stimulation. What is so spiritually deadening or morally offensive about that?

Doing up your house, upgrading your mode of transport, treating yourself, family and friends to a good time, buying great cultural experiences and holidays, buying time-saving gadgets. These are major sources of pleasures in life. Certainly shopping cannot compete with more substantial, free sources of happiness such as friendship and love. It certainly cannot compensate for a culture lacking in political purpose or pursuits of intellectual discovery; but neither will it stain our souls or damage our psyche.

In the face of today's anti-consumerist sermons, we need to restate a case for the power of new things to transform our immediate experience and material surroundings. A variety of commentators, philosophers and experts might wish to pathologise our desires for comfort, diversion, stimulation, increased leisure-time, and our aspiration to improve our physical living conditions. But `stuff' can change our quality of life, and even has some potential to change society at large, especially in the developing world. Those interested in progress, and concerned by all this fatalistic doom-mongering about the human condition, need to defend our quite healthy materialist impulses. Here's to raising the aspirational bar for all.


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