Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Barry Spurr hounded by moral crusaders of the new inquisition

Brendan O'Neill

WHY is it bad to hack and expose photographs of a woman’s naked body but apparently OK to steal and make public the contents of a man’s soul?

This is the question that should burn in our minds in the wake of the Barry Spurr scandal.

For just a few weeks ago, when a hacker invaded the iCloud ­accounts of female celebs and ­rifled through their intimate snaps, there was global outrage.

This theft of explicit private photos of actress Jennifer Lawrence and others was a sex crime, we were told. It was an act of misogynistic tyranny, proof that even women’s private lives were not safe from the bulging eyes and clasping hands of a hateful, macho culture.

To peer into a woman’s most intimate moments was a “sexual violation”, said a writer for Guardian Australia. Just because these women were in the public eye, just because they “offer their image to public consumption”, that didn’t mean they were “trading (in) their intimacy”, she said.

Fast forward to last week, and some of the same people whose jaws hit the floor at the audacity of those who leaked these women’s private, unguarded pics were cheering the hacking of Spurr’s private, unguarded words.

Spurr, a professor of poetry at the University of Sydney, has had his private emails pored over and published by pseudo-radical, eco-miserabilist website New Matilda. In some of his emails, in what he has since claimed was a cheeky competition between him and his friends to see who could be the least PC, Spurr used words that would no doubt cause pinot gris to be spilled if they were uttered at a dinner party.

He described Tony Abbott as an “Abo lover”, referred to a woman as a “harlot”, called Nelson Mandela a “darky”, and used “Mussies” for Muslims and “chinky-poos” for Chinese. He now has been suspended by the university.

Many people will wince on reading those words. Just as we will have winced if we happened upon those photos of well-known women doing porno poses or ­engaging in shocking sex talk in videos shot by their boyfriends.

And that’s because these behaviours, both Spurr’s knowingly outrageous banter and the act­resses’ knowingly sluttish poses, share something important in common: they were private acts, not intended for public consumption. They were things done or said between intimates, far from the eyes and ears of respectable ­society. Yet where right-on commentators and tweeters stood up for the right of famous women not to have their private nakedness splashed across the internet, they have relished in the exposure of Spurr’s soul to the panting, outraged mob.

Spurr’s private thoughts are fair game for public ridicule, they claim, because of his position as a specialist consultant to the federal government’s review of the national curriculum.

New Matilda says Spurr’s standing as someone who could “influence what will be taught to every child in every school” means his intimate chatter is a legitimate target for moral policing. His private thoughts clash with his public duties, it says.

Imagine if this tyrannical insistence that everyone should have a spotless private life were taken to its logical conclusion. For a start, we might argue that it was legit to leak those female celebs’ intimate photos on the grounds that they exposed the women’s hypocrisy. Many of these actresses and singers are role models to young girls and pose as demure creatures in their work lives. But behind closed doors they get up to stuff that wouldn’t look out of place in Hustler. Their private lives run counter to their public personas. Does that mean they should be exposed, mocked, ridiculed, made into quarry for pitchfork-wielding moralists? Of course not. And neither should Spurr.

No amount of faux-progressive lingo about exposing “institutional racism” in the upper echelons of Australian society can disguise the fact Spurr-bashing is an old-fashioned, McCarthyite hounding of someone for having a private life and private thoughts that fail to adhere to new orthodoxies.

The hounding of Spurr by an army of intolerant tweeters and hacks is Salem-like intolerance dolled up as a radical exercise in tackling racist attitudes.

New Matilda rather gave the game away when it said it had one aim — “cleansing the national curriculum review of the toxicity of this man’s views”.

Cleansing. What a word. It speaks to the true driving force behind the assaults on Spurr: an incredibly authoritarian instinct to rid the public realm of anyone whose outlook is not 100 per cent pure and decent, as defined by the new self-styled guardians of moral probity: so-called progressives, with righteousness in their hearts and rotten tomatoes in their hands.

We need to face up to the seriousness, to the sheer intolerance, of the creeping new trend for punishing people for their private thoughts. It isn’t happening only in Australia. In the US, Donald Sterling, a business magnate and owner of the Los Angeles Clippers basketball team, was expelled from basketball earlier this year and turned into an object of international ridicule following the leaking of an ­entirely private phone conversation in which he said something disrespectful about black people.

In Britain, two football managers were sacked following the leaking of private emails in which they made juvenile jokes about gays and black people.

There is something Stasi-like in this moral policing of private speech. In the wake of the Sterling scandal, a columnist for The Washington Post said: “If you don’t want your words broadcast in the public square, don’t say them … Such ­potential exposure forces us to more carefully select our words and edit our thoughts.”

This is terrifying. It is a straight-up celebration of the kind of public denunciations of private deviancy that were encouraged under Stalinist regimes. Why don’t we just put a Nineteen Eighty-Four-style telescreen in everyone’s homes? That’s surely the only way to ensure that no one misspeaks privately, and instead edits their thoughts and suppresses their more “toxic views”, or risks finding themselves a target of “cleansing” by their betters. The haranguing of Spurr and others turns the clock back to a darker moment in human history.

During the Inquisition, people were regularly tried and punished for their private beliefs. The Enlightenment thinkers who came in the wake of that calamity insisted that such tyranny should stop. In the words of the great enlightened 17th-century English jurist Edward Coke: “No man, ecclesiastical or temporal, shall be examined upon the secret thoughts of his heart, or of his secret opinion.” Spurr is being punished for his ­secret opinion.

Coke’s enlightened view, his conviction that individuals must be free to think and say what they want in their private lives, is in mortal danger today. It’s being crushed by a New Inquisition, staffed by members of the chattering classes, inflamed by Twitter and assaulting not only individuals such as Spurr but also the very principles of privacy, autonomy and freedom of thought.


Spurr a scapegoat of those who would shut down free expression


A RECENT graduate of the University of Sydney with a bachelor of arts in English and international and comparative literary studies, I have read every article concerning professor Barry Spurr.

The unauthorised exposure of his private emails, his suspension and, worst, the overreaction of the ­ignorant public and apathy of his fellow academics who have stood by in silence grieve me more than words can say.

Spurr is one of the very few lecturers I unreservedly admire. When I began my degree I was a lone Asian face in a sea of fair-haired and clear-eyed Australians. I struggled to understand my lecturers. Their tendency to nominalise common adjectives rendered familiar words alien to me. Their habit of monotonously reading pre-prepared scripts and their inability to interact with students left me dissatisfied. Yet when I audited Spurr’s lectures on modernism, I saw, for the first and last time, every inch of the lecture hall, including the stair­cases, occupied by students. He spoke with confidence, clarity, eloquence, humour, pacing the room with a stately gait, quoting from a copy of Yeats (apparently unannotated) that always seemed to open at the right page. He took me on a breathtaking journey through Irish literature and revolution. They were classes to remember and set the bar by which I measure all teaching.

I never found Spurr patronising or discriminatory. I never felt undermined or underestimated. Contrary to the unapproachable, unsympathetic professor New Matilda eagerly paints, Spurr is actively involved in student societies: from poetry and religion to the defence of animal rights.

At his lectures, student-society talks and charity functions, I met some of the kindest, most intelligent and open-minded of my friends. The surprise and joy we felt at the congregation of such an unlikely combination of people was immense.

I cannot say that I have never experienced racism from academic staff at Sydney although most racism we encounter in life is very subtle. But if we were to investigate every staff member’s private correspondence we might overhear a few grumpy words that could be labelled racist or sexist. If we take words out of context, truth is distorted and the author’s intention misunderstood.

Moreover, any comment not published in accordance with the will of the author, or delivered as a personal attack towards an individual, has no impact on social mores, however distasteful the language, so ought not be grounds for punishment.

Freedom of expression is fundamental to academe and democracy. Deprived of it, Australia is headed down the perilous path towards totalitarianism. At Sydney University students and staff enjoy, as well as suffer from, the great freedom using or abusing their languages to express their views. When it is acceptable to use the most vulgar language in student campaigns, on T-shirts, pavements, when f. k and bitch are used throughout the student newspaper, Honi Soit, and the groups campaigning for its editorial control last year were named Sex and Evil, how could politically insensitive terms in personal correspondence cause offence?

We are all entitled to our beliefs (however antiquated, unpopular or prejudiced) and to say things we may or may not believe — sometimes merely for social purposes. Our growth as a person and as a society terminates when we allow pride to triumph over our thirst for knowledge and truth. If an opinion offends us, we should respect the right of expression but beg to differ. The aim of education is not to silence people into kind whispers and innocuous small talk but to provoke thought. It’s all part of an ongoing discussion, without which learning is impossible.

The exaggerated outrage at Spurr’s emails is centred on his role in the reform of the English school curriculum, insinuating his judgment on the dominance of indigenous literature in Australian textbooks is coloured by a racist antagonism towards Aborigines. Yet Spurr spent more time in his emails criticising the hypocrisy of the political establishment in its endless gestures towards the Aboriginal community than diminishing the Aboriginal contribution to Australian literature.

In China we boast of our literary heritage and classical Chinese is compulsory in high school, but we have not forgotten the brilliant galaxies outside our own. One of the brightest is Anglo-American literature. To deny its place in the literary universe or reduce the number of masterpieces in the curriculum of an English-speaking country to include an excessive number of texts from another literary tradition would be sacrilege.

If the Australian government and people can garner the energy they’ve wasted on being politically correct and displays of gratitude or guilt, and channel it into constructing better community facilities, education and support services for Aboriginal people and all the sons and daughters of Australia, they would heal more wounds than random “racist” remarks can inflict.

All I know for sure is Spurr’s personal linguistic choices are none of our business. None of the emails prove him guilty of any sin other than a sardonic sense of humour and childlike whimsicality — the common vices of a poet.

To me he is someone who dedicates himself to the noble cause of restoring the beauty of a civilisation that people have too lightly cast away: good manners, respect for the elderly, a sound knowledge of English, modesty of dressing in public. His intentions are honourable, even if they make him unpopular with opponents.

He should not be made a scapegoat for an ideology of which he is not an advocate. He is not the parody the media presents. The university should not lose a jewel in its crown. If I, a small, sensitive, feminist, patriotic Chinese girl, am not offended by these leaked emails, why should anyone else be?


Bureaucratized British bird charity

A group of landowners has accused Britain’s biggest nature charity of misleading donors over how it spends its money.

The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds claims to spend 90 per cent of its income on conservation work.

But the landowners – led by former cricketer and keen shot Sir Ian Botham – said the charity was more interested in political lobbying than protecting wildlife.

Yesterday they reported the RSPB to the Charity Commission, claiming the organisation, which received £122million in grants, donations and commercial income last year, spent just £30million (24 per cent) on its bird reserves.

Sir Ian, who runs a commercial shoot at his home in North Yorkshire and is one of the leaders of the You Forgot The Birds campaign, said: ‘It is a massive bureaucracy where donations are spent on homes for office workers not homes for birds.

'Birds don’t need hundreds of campaigners and lobbyists in suits – they need people with spades building habitat.’

Ian Gregory, the campaign’s director, said: ‘The RSPB seems to be more interested in political lobbying than conservation, which they seem to think is a bit boring.’

RSPB spokesman Grahame Madge said last night that managing nature reserves was only a tiny part of the charity’s conservation programme and that other activities, such as research and advising farmers, were also important.

A total of £69million is spent on conservation, a further £19million on education and political lobbying, and £32million on fundraising, he claimed. It is the latest in a series of clashes between the charity and rural campaigners.


‘I support same sex marriage’: Bill Shorten says he ‘cannot stay silent’ on Australia’s in action over marriage equality laws

Federal Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has confronted a crowd of conservative Christians, saying he is a Christian and a supporter of same-sex marriage.

'I am a Christian and a supporter of marriage equality under the law,' Mr Shorten told the Australian Christian Lobby national conference in Canberra on Saturday.

The move drew a mixed reaction with some gay marriage advocates saying he shouldn't have given the ACL credibility by addressing them.

The opposition leader began his speech as if was a sermon - by quoting from the scriptures.  He went on to say when the scriptures are used to attack blended families like his own, demonise people based on who they love or claim marriage equality is a step towards bestiality, 'I cannot stay silent'.

'No faith, no religion, no set of beliefs should ever be used as an instrument of division or exclusion,' Mr Shorten said. 'Freedom of worship does not mean freedom to vilify.  'These prejudices do not reflect the Christian values I believe in.'

These attitudes sent a message that Christianity was incompatible with modern life, he said.  He added that the current laws in Australia are discriminatory, and it was time they were changed.

Mr Shorten was applauded on the conclusion of his speech and ACL managing director Lyle Shelton thanked him for his 'fearless and frank' speech.

Liberal senator Cory Bernardi, who made comments linking bestiality and gay marriage, said no one would take Mr Shorten's comments seriously.

Immigration Minister Scott Morrison said the issue wasn't even on the table for the government which has the more pressing matters of national security and the economy.

But his colleague, Josh Frydenberg, who supports the idea of a conscience vote in the Liberal party, admitted there had been a shift in attitudes.

Australian Marriage Equality acting director Ivan Hinton-Teoh congratulated Mr Shorten on his 'powerfully-worded address' and said the speech marked a powerful moment in history.

But Equal Marriage Rights Australia said Mr Shorten's attendance was hypocritical after Labor's motion against Liberal politicians attending the 'extremely anti-gay' World Families Congress in August.  '(His attendance) is completely outrageous and extremely hypocritical,' spokesman Ben Cooper said in a statement.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.

For more postings from me, see TONGUE-TIED, GREENIE WATCH,   EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, FOOD & HEALTH SKEPTIC, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS and  DISSECTING LEFTISM.   My Home Pages are here or   here or   here.  Email me (John Ray) here


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