Parliament On A Knife Edge Part IV – The Rise Of Slippery Pete

And on it goes. The Gillard government clearly believes it was about to lose its one-seat parliamentary majority, either with this bloke making good on his threat to withdraw support, or this one being carted off to jail. It’s the only explanation for the stunt they pulled this week.

You might remember back here I referred to the position of Speaker of the House, an office dating back to at least the fourteenth century. Under the Westminster system, the Speaker of the House does not generally vote on bills, being called upon only to cast a tie-breaker. Traditionally in the Australian federal House of Representatives, the Speaker is chosen from among the members of the parliamentary party that forms government. This has been the case since the Second World War, when the UAP’s Walter Nairn served for three years as Speaker over John Curtin’s Labor government.

Not having a vote, a Speaker is expected to set aside party loyalty and uphold his post with fairness and impartiality, according to centuries-old tradition. He wields considerable power. All words spoken by Members within the chamber, irrespective of at whom they are aimed, must be addressed to the Speaker. He rules on points of order, can silence a speaking Member, name or even eject a Member from the House for a specified period. As the “judge of the court”, he is expected to have a near-encyclopædic knowledge of parliamentary procedure, history and tradition; generally, he (and it’s always been a he in Australia to date) has served a considerable time in parliament as a back-bencher before his elevation to the Chair.

The Speaker under the Rudd and Gillard governments has been Labor’s Harry Jenkins (pictured above), Member since 1986 for Scullin, an electorate centred on working-class Epping, in Melbourne’s northern suburbs. He’s an old-school Labor man, who followed in the footsteps of his father, Dr Harry Jenkins Sr, who preceded his son as Member for Scullin, and who served as Speaker of the House during the Hawke government from 1983-1986. His tenure in the chair since 2008 has earned him the respect of the entire parliament for his firm impartiality, integrity, good humour and wit; he is widely regarded as one of the best Speakers to have graced the chair in recent decades. In May this year, he named Liberal MHR Bob Baldwin, yet the ensuing suspension motion (which normally always follows the Speaker’s ruling) failed by one vote. According to Westminster convention, the Speaker in such a circumstance would normally offer his resignation; but a motion of confidence in the Speaker was immediately put to the House, and passed overwhelmingly; a measure of the regard in which he is held, even by his political opponents. Jenkins was expected to continue in the position at least until the next federal election.

And then, on Friday, the last parliamentary sitting day of the year, Labor went and did what it has always done best.

First, let me introduce you to the “Honourable” Peter Slipper, the MHR for Fisher, centred on Landsborough on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. I’m fairly certain that regular readers of LibertyGibbert have in recent months grown weary of me dragging out one tawdry, obscure Australian politician after another. Lord knows, you’ve got enough of them in your own countries. But in the annals of antipodean parliamentary venality, this bloke is something of primus inter pares. Slipper was originally a member of the National Party, and represented the division as such from 1984 to 1987, when he was defeated by Labor’s Michael Lavarch. Switching to the Queensland Liberal Party, he regained the seat in 1993, and has held it ever since (in 2010 the Liberal and National parties in Queensland formally amalgamated into the LNP). A continuing problem child for the Coalition, (I’ll explain why shortly), and following a series of indiscretions, he appeared almost certain to lose LNP preselection at the next federal election. Facing party disciplinary hearings, and what appeared to be the certain end of his political career, he was ripe for the plucking by the Labor machine.

As sitting began in the House of Representatives on Friday morning, the back benches were half-empty. There was no forewarning of the bombshell that was about to be dropped as Jenkins, on the verge of tears and fooling no-one that this was his decision, announced that due to his “desire to participate in policy and parliamentary debate”, he would immediately tender his resignation as Speaker to the Governor-General. Julia Gillard, feigning surprise, then nominated Slipper as new Speaker who, following ancient Westminster tradition, was then physically dragged from the Opposition bench to the chair by two Labor MHRs, past the horrified faces of his erstwhile colleagues on the Coalition front bench.

The ensuing scene in the chamber was as close to pandemonium as our national parliament has seen since the dismissal of the Whitlam government in 1975. The Coalition filibustered, with Manager of Opposition Business in the House Christopher Pyne nominating one Labor member after another for the Speaker’s post (including my own local member, “Big Dick” Adams—he at least would have looked the part). Tony Abbott, caught off-guard, was blunt in his response: “An honourable man—the Member for Scullin—has been sacrificed, to protect the political life of a failing Prime Minister”.

You can watch it all in the clip above. In particular, and to me the most shocking aspect of this so-called “shock” resignation, was that neither the newsreader nor reporter Mark Simpkins appear to even bother pretending that the ABC was unaware that this was a long-planned conspiracy between Labor and Slipper. Later that day, Harry Jenkins, now seated on the government back benches and having regained his composure, grinned across the chamber to the Opposition and indicated what everyone had guessed had happened to him, but no-one on the government side would ever admit:

And so the deed was done. With Slipper’s Coalition vote now taken out of play (it transpired that he actually got in first and resigned his membership of the LNP, hours before the party were set to expel him anyway) and Jenkins returned to the government benches, Labor’s numbers in the House have gone from 75-74 to 76-73. This means it can survive the likely downfall of Craig Thompson, and can ignore its agreement with Tasmanian gambling law reform advocate Andrew Wilkie, and it is almost certain now that Labor will serve a full term in government. But at what cost to its reputation? To get an idea, let me give you a more detailed picture of the House of Representatives’ 27th Speaker.

As has long been known down here, Slipper is no stranger to contoversy. Firstly, there is the matter of parliamentary entitlements, now the subject of a formal police investigation. From this recent article on the Honorable gentleman,

Australian Federal Police have widened an investigation into alleged rorting in the parliamentary office of new Speaker Peter Slipper, as scrutiny of his taxpayer-funded entitlements shows he claimed nearly $1100 a day on travel and other expenses during the first half of the year.

Mr Slipper is under pressure over travel and office expenses that have totalled $1.8 million since 2007, including regular $280 taxi trips between Brisbane airport and his home on the Sunshine Coast, north of the city. Between January 1 and June 30 this year, he spent an average of $1073 a day on airfares, taxis, commonwealth cars and office supplies. This compared with $579.40 a day for South Australian independent senator Nick Xenophon, one of parliament’s most frugal members, according to Department of Finance figures.

And this:

Here is a fellow who has long displayed a liking for a night on the town. His impressive taxi chits tell the story, though he has refused to explain to journalists a $315 taxi bill for a single night out in Canberra last year….

Slippery Pete has long been under fire and several times been under investigation for his startling use of what are known as ‘’entitlements’’, particularly his use of taxpayer-funded telephones, taxis, hire cars and planes.

Last year he was forced to repay $14,000 for wrongful use of entitlements, including travel for his family. In 2003, the Finance Department demanded that he repay $7785.67 for breaching the family travel entitlement.

Small beer for a spender like Slipper. His phone bill alone for half of 2009 was $14,764, which was more than that of Kevin Rudd, who was prime minister at the time. Cabs cost $16,000 over just six months, plus $8600 on private-plate cars (it was later revealed his son was spending time driving the taxpayer-funded car).

All up, in the last six months of 2009 Slipper’s upkeep as a humble backbencher, including the running of his electoral office, cost the public $640,562. That was $150,000 more than it cost to maintain the Treasurer, fellow Queenslander Wayne Swan.

Slipper’s expenditure rolled along last year, when he attracted notice for spending $30,000 on family travel, and also when he took a 43-day overseas tour, which he explained was on parliamentary business…

Then there is his well-known predilection for, um, a “good time”:

Peter Slipper is no stranger to alcohol and trouble. Most famously, in 2003 Qantas staff refused to allow him to reboard a Darwin-bound plane at Gove, where it had stopped for refuelling, because of his behaviour towards staff.

The MP blamed a combination of dental drugs, a “couple of drinks” and a flight attendant’s bad day.

“I wasn’t in any way, shape or form, drunk,’’ he said at the time..

In 2004, on the weekend he survived a pre-selection challenge from Alexandra Headland barrister Glen Garrick, he copped a black eye after an unexplained scuffle at a Mooloolaba nightspot.

Then in Canberra on May 9, 2007, police were called to the Holy Grail restaurant and wine bar at 3.30am after a man threw Mr Slipper out onto the street for having a cigarette in breach of new no-smoking rules in restaurants and bars.

In December 2002, Slipper felt the need to visit a lavatory during a parliamentary sitting. Somehow he found himself in the disabled toilet, and when he had completed his business, possibly tired and increasingly emotional, he couldn’t get out. He pushed and pulled at the door before hitting the panic button. Four parliamentary attendants hurried to his aid. Disabled toilets, it was explained to him, have sliding doors. When reporters sought comment, his office responded, apparently straight-faced: “He can’t talk to you because he is in the House on chamber duty.’’

Last year, faced with the ordeal of a lengthy address to the House by visiting Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Slipper apparently felt in need of prior fortification, presumably in the parliamentary Members’ Bar. His subsequent response to Yudhoyono’s speech may have been somewhat less enthusiastic than the visiting head of state had hoped:

Our tax dollars at work

OK, so he likes a drink. That, on its own, didn’t stop the likes of Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt or John Curtin from becoming great leaders of their nations during World War Two (as opposed to the teetotal Hitler). But when you add it to the general attitude held towards him by his own parliamentary colleagues, a picture begins to emerge of a man who represents a genuine problem. Another Queensland Liberal MP, Alex Somlyay (Member for Slipper’s neighbouring electorate of Fairfax), recently wrote to a colleague,

Slipper has a disgraceful reputation, both in his electorate and in the parliament… many of the people I see in my electorate office are his constituents who refuse to deal with Slipper. I have a constant stream of complaints about his behaviour.

While I prefer to spend my spare time in my electorate, he has the highest frequent-flyer points on the backbench. He also has the highest mobile phone usage and oveseas travel of any Queensland MP. Comcar drivers dread the thought of driving him.

I cannot understand how you would support this discredited person. I can only assume that you support his actions and continued bad behaviour…

Who, me?

And now for something completely different: a bit of religious arcania. I’m sure many of you have at least heard of the breakaway Traditional Anglican Communion, an association of Anglican churches in fifteen nations; formed in 1991, it is independent of the mainstream Anglican Communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury. The TAC regard themselves as Anglican, in that they utilize the Book of Common Prayer and uphold the Reformist Thirty-Nine Articles of 1563. Yet unlike the wider Anglican and Episcopal churches, they oppose the ordination of women, hold traditional views on such issues as homosexuality and seek ever-closer union with Rome.

Having made overtures to the Holy See on several occasions, Pope Benedict XVI in 2009 acceded to the TAC’s requests, signing the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum Coetibus, granting petitioning member TAC churches the status of a personal ordinariate; that is, while being integrated into the Roman Church and accepting the primacy of the pontiff, they would maintain their own ecclesiastical structures independent of the geographically-based Catholic diocesan episcopate. Ordained TAC priests, even if married, would be eligible for re-ordination as Catholic priests, however married priests would be ineligible for consecration as bishops. This is in line with the Vatican’s historical practice in relation to a number of Eastern-rite churches now in full communion with Rome. As a consequence of this latter restriction, the TAC’s American member, the Anglican Church of America, voted to reject communion with Rome, even if offered by the Holy See. So—

Anglican churches, personal ordinariates—Ozboy, what in hell are you going on about??

Oh, sorry, didn’t I mention? The Australian affiliate of the TAC is the Anglican Catholic Church in Australia, whose Ordinary, the controversial former Catholic priest John Hepworth, is also Primate of the worldwide TAC. Based mainly in Queensland, the ACCA maintains churches in all states of Australia. In February last year, the ACCA filed its own formal petition to the Holy See under Anglicanorum Coetibus.

And the current Chancellor of the ACCA, a man who in 2008, at the age of fifty-eight, was ordained by Hepworth in the Traditional Anglican communion, and is thus by extension also a Catholic priest, is one Father Peter Neil Slipper. Not that any of the recent news reports on him have seen fit to mention this fact. Nor does he exactly go out of his way to draw attention to his priestly status—by, say, the wearing of a clerical collar or cassock.

I’m not suggesting anything sinister. But as Speaker in the Australian parliament, under whose constitution Church and State are formally separated, he is likely to prove an embarrassment, not only to the mainstream Catholic and Anglican churches in Australia, but potentially even the monarch, in whose person—the Queen—resides not only the Sovereign of Australia, but also the titular head of the Church of England, from which Slipper’s church has broken away.

What part was played in all this by the scheming Kevin Rudd—who, while raised Catholic, worships with his wife at an Anglican church, and is the only regular Labor Party member of the Parliamentary Prayer Group—is anyone’s guess. Rudd denies any involvement; but if so, then the appearance of this story, just forty-eight hours before Jenkins’ resignation, is an almighty “coincidence”. Exactly what Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, a former seminarian, Rhodes scholar and arch-conservative Catholic, thinks of Slipper, I leave to your imagination.

Rudd: “Nahh, I didn’t influence him to defect”… bullshit.

In any case, Slipper’s career as a politician is finished. Former army captain and Howard government minister Mal Brough is now certain to win the Liberal-National Party’s preselection for Fisher at the next federal election. You’d like Brough (rhymes with tough, and well-merited): check out this story about the time in 2003 when, as Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, he commandeered an aircraft, flew to a remote settlement in the Top End and single-handedly quelled a gang war between two rival armed factions. Brough, who is part-aboriginal himself, lives in the Fisher electorate, is respected throughout parliament, and few would argue he is a far more worthy representative of the Sunshine Coast’s electors than their snout-in-the-trough incumbent.

As a clearly relieved Tony Abbott wryly put it, “He’s Julia Gillard’s problem now”.

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28 Responses to Parliament On A Knife Edge Part IV – The Rise Of Slippery Pete

  1. fenbeagleblog says:

    Interesting Oz…. But not what I wanted to hear. …(Touche mon pussy cat.)… It looks like a longer game?

  2. Dr. Dave says:


    This is an amazing tale. Maybe that’s what Obama was up to when he visited Australia recently – providing a tutorial on Chicago style tactics. How is this sitting with the people of Australia? I mean, hell, even from where I’m sitting on the other side of the world I can tell it stinks.

    In the US the Democrats are famous for dirty tricks. They rammed ObamaCare down our throats by using a rather unusual parliamentary procedure generally reserved only for spending bills. I don’t know to what extent you follow US politics (sadly, a lot of US citizens don’t follow US politics). Both our House and our Senate (along with legions of staffers, NGOs, lobbyists and special interest groups) drafted their own healthcare bills. When the Democrats had a 60 seat majority (60 votes being necessary for cloture which ends debate and prevents a filibuster) they passed their bill and sent it over to the House. Normally then members of the House and Senate would go into committee and “blend” their two pieces of legislation and make compromises and changes. Note: this committee would be comprised solely of Democrats. Nancy Pelosi (then our deplorable Speaker of the House) would have to get the final legislation passed by the House. BUT…because the resulting bill would differ from the original bill passed by the Senate, it would have to be passed by the Senate again. With the death of Teddy Kennedy and the loss of a special election to Republican Scott Brown, the Democrats lost their super-majority seat in the Senate. There was NO WAY that bill would have made it through the Senate a second time. So Princess Nancy had to convince at least 218 members of the House to pass the Senate’s original load of crap bill with the understanding that they would amend it at a later date. Now, this isn’t entirely unprecedented. It is sometimes employed to expedite minor spending bills. But this has NEVER been done with a very major piece of legislation and certainly not one that affects every American and one sixth of our economy. Further, it was opposed by over 60% of the populace. The list of bribes and special deals necessary to foist ObamaCare on the nation are the stuff of legend. It cost the Democrats 61 seats in the House and 6 seats in the Senate in the 2010 midterm elections. Unfortunately, repealing ObamaCare will prove to be even more difficult for the Republicans.

    The state legislature of Massachusetts is overwhelmingly Democrat. State law used to be that if a sitting Senator left office the Governor would appoint a replacement to fill the seat until the next general election. In 2004 the Democrats went into a panic because they thought John Kerry would win the Presidency and then Governor Mitt Romney (a Republican) would appoint a Senator to serve out Kerry’s term (which I believe would have been 4 years at the time). So they quickly went into session and changed the law for a special election. Then they elected the idiot Democrat Deval Patrick as their Governor. When it became apparent that Ted Kennedy was dying of brain cancer and would probably be unable to even deliver the crucial 60th vote in the Senate for Obama’s signature legislation they went back into session and changed the law back so that the Governor could appoint an interim Senator but only until a special election could be held. Quite predictably, Kennedy died and Deval Patrick appointed a party hack to vote in lock-step with Harry Reid. This gave Obama and Reid their lock on cloture and allowed the bill to pass the Senate on a straight up or down vote. The Democrats in Massachusetts had no fear of a special election because…hell…this was Teddy Kennedy’s seat and a Democrat ALWAYS won. Then along comes Scott Brown, an extreme long shot Republican contender. In just weeks before the special election he pulled ahead of his Democrat opponent in the polls and won the special election by campaigning that his would be the vote to stop ObamaCare. Financial support for him poured in from all over the country. The Democrats had not taken into consideration just how unpopular ObamaCare was with the majority of the populace. The loss of “Teddy Kennedy’s seat” was a crushing blow for Obama.

    Not to be deterred by such trivial concerns as the will of the people or respecting long-standing tradition and procedure in Congress, Obama, Reid and Pelosi conspired to formulate a way to get the Senate-only version of a healthcare through Congress and onto Obama’s desk for a signature. Keep in mind that no other Congress in living memory has ever pulled a stunt like this. My fear is that, if necessary, the Republicans won’t have the germinal tissue to pull off a similar stunt to repeal ObamaCare.

    The Democrats (i.e. our political left) don’t even hesitate to employ dirty tricks. In every close election where voter fraud has been identified, the winner of the election has always been a Democrat. Voter fraud is a staple of the Democrat party machines in many of our big cities. George Soros has (generously) funded something called the Secretary of State Project. The idea is to get as many Democrats elected to the position of Secretary of State in every state. He recognizes the old adage that “it’s not who votes that counts, it’s who counts the votes”. In every state and in every race it the state’s Secretary of State who declares the winners. The significance of this became obvious in 2008 when miraculously former TV comic Al Franken beat a popular Republican incumbent for a Senate seat. The Democrat Secretary of State allowed a mysterious trunk load of “forgotten” ballots to be counted and declared Franken the winner by a hair thin margin. Subsequent investigations revealed that voter fraud was rampant in Minnesota in 2008. Franken’s election was significant because he was declared the winner many months after the election and a recount. He. quite literally, was Obama’s 60th vote in the Senate.

    The political left always fights dirty. For them it’s a blood sport. It’s all about gaining or retaining power and advancing their ideology and agenda. I can say many nasty things about the political right as well but when you step back and take in the “big picture” view, the conservatives (and Libertarians) have always been the ones, historically, to stand back and let the fre market work and leave individuals to prosper and create wealth. The key difference is the beief in individual liberty and freedom.

  3. izen says:

    The TAC are the misogenist wing of the Anglican church.
    Like the Caths and Muslim fundis they seem to have a real big problem with the idea that women could ever be the source of spiritual guidence to men.
    Being schismatics seems to just make them more dogmatic…

    The religions are often the persistant source of the residue of ‘traditional’ social disenfranchisement of the liberty of women.

  4. fenbeagleblog says:

    A bit more complicated than that, I think izen. Particularly as women are often big campaigners for those same religions, and make up a large part of the support.

  5. meltemian says:

    Britain hasn’t had a decent ‘Speaker’ since Betty Boothroyd, now there was a woman who knew how to keep order!!

  6. izen says:

    @- fenbeagleblog
    When dealing with human behavoir it is ALWAYS more complicated than it looks…!

    But it wouldn’t be the first time a gender, race or social class colluded in their own victim/oppressed status.

  7. fenbeagleblog says:

    ‘Liberty’ is not always the best option, perhaps? Judging by the way Iraq infantry units built prisoner of war camps for themselves, in the face of the Allied assault to liberate Kuwait.

  8. izen says:

    It could be argued that the Christian/Islamic attitude to women was an improvement on the ‘barbarian’ slave/chattel status in pre-christian or islamic societies.
    But that dosnen’t explain its present popularity. I must admit I find any attraction of religion extremely difficult to fathom, and to adopt a belief system that classifies you as a 2nd class person seems particularly strange.

    Best explanation I can come up with is the desire for certainty and unquestioned absolutes in ‘divine’ answers to the existential and moral questions.
    Plus the propensity humans have for abdicating their sentient agency as revealed by the phenomina of hypnosis.

  9. farmerbraun says:

    How about an innate predisposition to impose meaning on something that does not require such a construct; life.
    If we are hard-wired to do this , then what has been the evolutionary advantage that has lead to the development and persistence of this seemingly now vestigial behaviour.

  10. farmerbraun says:

    That last paragraph is a question.

  11. Kitler says:

    farmerbraun it is definitely hard coded for 90% of the population, and if they don’t have a god to believe in then they divert their belief into other imaginary things such as global warming.

  12. farmerbraun says:

    Has anyone else read ‘The Spirit in the Gene” by Reg Morrison?
    Here is an extract from a review of this book:-
    “Nature, of which we are a part, undergoes periods of lesser and greater change, sometimes referred to as punctuated equilibrium. There are responses to changes at all levels in earth’s partially open planetary system. Solar and other forms of radiation enter our atmosphere, as do asteroids containing ice, minerals, and perhaps the basis for life itself. Gravitational energy influences tides and is said to affect biological cycles. Daylight periods and climate do not obey human commands. Human freedoms are in reality constrained by innumerable factors, and perhaps limited in scope. Yet, in life, we can experience existential angst engendered by our perception of freedom as overwhelming.

    I agree with Morrison that uncertainty about the unknown, causal linkages, the future, reciprocal love, personal health and security combine with the human emotional makeup to engender to some aspects of our experience and imagination a ‘value endowment’ of extraordinary, supernatural qualities. The highly valued and greatly feared attain this special status. Evolution selected this behavior, as it is estimated that 80% or more humans currently affirm a sphere of a supernatural. It must, therefore, have served our forefathers well, or the trait would have become vestigial or counterproductive and have been de-selected. Morrison claims that it served (and serves) us too well. It has become our Achilles heel, and is related to thinking with our loins – another naturally selected trait.

    The long term upshot of this selection for “significance, spirituality, and the supernatural” is, according to Morrison, the basis for our coming decline if not demise. We wrote many religious and social codes; one in particular commanded us to subdue nature and to multiply our kind. We have been all too obedient in following our own rules; we are the most successful mammal on earth. Bio-diversity and habitat health, prerequisites for human sustainability, are being undermined by our success. Local civilizations have failed in the past from overexpansion, but with globalization and interdependence we might all fail at once.”

  13. Kitler says:

    farmerbraun not if you know where the secret underground bunkers are.

  14. izen says:

    There has been at least one researcher mired in the mistake of genetic determinism who claims to have identified a ‘God’ gene.
    What he actually identified was a very weak (less than 1%) correlation between a tendency to mysticism – a belief in being part of a larger collective force – and a gene that affects the transport of monoamines across brain cell membranes. Tendentious nonsense of course. Genes code for stuff like the efficiency of cell membrane transport chemistry, not complex behavior.

    Evolutionary socio-biology is prone to inventing untestable ‘Just-So’ stories to explain a wide range of human behaviors, but religion is clearly memetic. Its a socially constructed system.
    At the risk of adding another tale to the mix…
    Humans have evolved very sophisticated pattern recognition abilities and a propensity to construct ‘meaningful’ narratives about their perceptions and experiences. Because so much of the human evironment within which human cognition evolved is occupied by our social relationships a lot of our processing of the environment is concerned with the actions of OTHER sentient agents. The result is we tend to construct narratives for everything that anthropomorphise events.
    Most religions have a multitude of ‘Gods’ that exhibit all the petty limitations and bickering of humans in tribes projected onto aspects of the Natural world.

    For good evolutionary reasons humans are motivated to invent narratives about the behavior and motivations of other people as this is so crucial to the success and survival of any individual as part of the social group. This tendency is applied to everything, even when such narratives are inappropriate or misleading.

    The scientific method is a recent social construct that ensures such narratives have a closer correspondence to material reality than the ‘divine texts’ and common sense traditions that were used to provide a narrative to ‘understand’ the world.

    Religions have another role. They may be less than optimal for the individual but of great advantage for the social collective. A shared narrative that justifies usefull social rules – a moralitry – helps to stabilise and enforce the reciprical alturism that is such a sucsessful stratergy for social groups. As such they are a self-selecting meme. The success of a religious society perpetuates the belief system.

  15. fenbeagleblog says:

    We are social animals. So we have pecking orders, which get very competitive. As the group expands in size it gets harder and harder to maintain the pecking order. Particularly at the top.
    It helps greatly if those at the top, have the approval and support of higher forces, that cannot be opposed or pulled down, and which can be used to give absolute authority. If people believe it, leaders can claim to be gods themselves, or the sons of gods. It also helps if everyone can be subdued with spiritual promisses that cannot be disproved, which give hope and contentment.
    Leaders also need to be seen to be in control, and be able to at least explain extreme natural disasters, if they cannot actually defend against them. (It helps if you keep everyone busy.)

  16. Luton Ian says:

    Hi Izen,

    A much more effective meme than religion is for human cooperation, and as Ms Anderson argues below, a mental virus:

    My estranged argues that many of the beatles tunes relied on none verbal mental viruses for their popularity. Viruses which take several days to purge from your brain. Frank Herbert took the idea even further in Dune, with a fictional narcotic music

    Earlier in the year, I was very tempted to release a similar viral weapon on an ex girlfriend to get me back into her thoughts. In the end I refrained – partly for ethical and partly for pragmatic reasons – she’s generally good humoured, but on the rare occasions when she gets stroppy, I’ve never met anyone more unpleasant…

    If anyone is curious, I can share the virus, but I’d want Oz, (or Kitler) to put a fold into the comment, so that those who didn’t want to risk infection, and a day or two of the bugger running round in their heads!

    I’m intrigued. The word you may be looking for is ohrwurm – Oz

  17. Luton Ian says:

    The strongest of the current memes which leaderships use to keep control is Thomas Hobbes’ myth of a war of all upon all, which requires a monopolist, whether a king or a parliament, to suppress.

    Mises (I think the reference is socialism, page 288), points out that groups are perfectly able to cooperate within their membership, thus disproving the basis of Hobbes’ argument, yet the authoritarian ideologies such as the various socialisms nationalisms and religious authoritarians present the (imaginary) hobbes-goblin of a war of all groups against all groups. Mises asks why should that be?

    The basis of what Mises comes up with, is that it is the would be monopolists who engineer the hobbes-goblin in order to engender sufficeint fear for people to accept the monopolist’s offer to lead them to “safety”

  18. izen says:

    Cooperation may not need to be a meme, it emerges as a succesful stratergy in social groups for purely logistical reasons.
    The most famous work on this was R Axelrod with his ‘tournement’ of competing stratergies back in 1984. I must admit I followed this field for a few years a decade or so ago. Even to the point of trying to program in LISP to generate ‘virtual morality’ in software agents ! -grin-. Failed dismally, but see Peter Danielson and Artificial morality: virtuous robots for virtual games’; if you want to see how its done….

    There is a fair amount of work in the biological field on how cooperative stratergies work, a certain amount of ‘noise’ in the responses turns out to be crucial. Both as a confounding factor and as a means of avoiding the confounding factor of mistakes in a ‘noisy’ environment. Last time I looked a 4-ply Pavlov was the winning stratergy in any non-zero sum interractional, multiple agent senario….
    I found it interesting that while reciprical cooperation, tit-for-tat, is the dominant stratergy in social groups, depending on the ‘punishment’ imposed for ‘cheating’ – or its rewards, a certain proportion of ‘saints and sinners’ can coexist in a society of cooperators. Saints are people who DONT retaliate to sinners, sinners are agents that always cheat. There is no ‘moral’ import to these results, they are just logistical consequences of the reward/punishment system within any virtual society.

    The research in this field has more recently branched off into complexity theory encompassing multiple interacting adaptive agents with some interesting results and insights… Well I find them interesting! -grin-!

  19. farmerbraun says:

    Here is a comment on the review of The spirit in the Gene, part of which review I posted above. The comment seems not to favour the idea of hard-wiring for mysticism:

    “I assume I am agreeing with Morrison and Kurtz when I assert that the thoughts that reverberate in our brains are part of the experiential matrix, just as are sensory inputs, in which we make our analyses and decisions.

    * If we wish to be innovators, we have to be aware of the baggage, or conditioning, that constricts our freedom, whether we attribute it to traditional belief systems or to “hard-wiring”.*

    We have to be bold enough to question and revise some traditional beliefs to accord with present knowledge of the world, on the grounds that the original “religious” instructions were not “timeless”, but appropriate to conditions at the time. This, of course, has to be done with care and discrimination. By whom? There’s the risk.

    We also have to keep an open mind as to what to include in our world of experience and discourse, not arbitrarily excluding some spheres of interest as “superstition”, — or metaphysics, for example, as “nothing but” genetic effluvia.

    * I question the popular assumption that our destruction of the environment and our overpopulation are to be attributed to our religious beliefs. I am not sure that we need any more explanations other than:- small span of perception, narrow sphere of self-interest, and short time-horizon — in other words a lack of imagination, or deficiency of thinking-span. (An aspect of our hard-wiring, perhaps.)*

    I confess to a dissatisfaction with the classical scientific framework, which confines discourse to what can be found within the realm of the five senses, i.e. the “material” realm. Free Will cannot be found within this realm, for example, except as an illusory feeling that may or may not have advantages for genetic survival. The same with the experience of extra-sensory perception. I think it is time we left this pretense behind.

    It does not correspond to how we think, and act, not even to our actual range of experience. See Gary Zukav (The Seat of the Soul), for example, on the evolutionary transition from the five-sensory human being to the multisensory human being. My suggestion may be heresy to the community of professional philosophers, but I find the “rigour” of the professional philosopher now not very useful.

  20. izen says:

    @- farmerbraun
    I would share the reviewer’s skepticism for ‘hard-wired’ explanations of complex human behavior. What is hard-wired as part of our biological inheritance is a general purpose problem solving machine. Our brains are wetware that can run a variety of software.
    There is some evidence that there have been quite fundamental changes in human behavior over the ‘recent’ past. The explosion in tool-making and changing social structures around 50-30 kyrs ago and the big change to agriculture, literacy and city societies ~6 kyrs ago are too rapid and recent to be genetic variance.

    But I dont think we need to reject rational materialism, or include supernatural New Age Woo to improve our understanding of the universe and our place within it.
    Materialist philosophy considers reality to be accessible to reason, it assumes it is computable in the jargon of mathematics. It is not reliant on ‘five sense’, an old error of definition. As anyone who has had labyrinthitus and lost their sense of balance will be aware it definitely IS a sense – its loss is completely disabling! There are more than five senses, but none are necessary for rational cognition.

    One of the most important senses was only recently identified. We have the ability to read the minds of our fellow human beings – just by seeing them move. Mirror neurons are systems in the brain that fire when we make physical movements – including those forming speech. But they also fire when we see (or hear) another person making those movements.

    Because our pattern of physical movements is shaped by our mental state this mirror neuron system by copying the brain-state of another gains insight into the mind-state. (to perpetuate a needless duality).
    When we talk of a person waving their arms ‘angrily’, that charterisation is backed up by a perceptual system that ‘tells’ us the actions are made by someone angry with as much fidelity as our eyes tell us the colour of the shirt on those angry arms.

    The assumption that free will can be no more than an illusion in a strict materialist philosophy is wrong I think. I derives from a rather narrow view of causation. The classic error is to see our actions as pre-determined like people on a roller-coaster. The inexorable laws of causation constraining them to the path determined by the rails and gravity.
    But an equally physically valid metaphor would be to see us as ice-skaters. Moving freely in any direction with very little effort and constrained only by our skill in skating – and the throng of other skaters all zooming about!
    We can never have ‘free will’ in the sense we can defy the basic physical constraints of material reality. But it refers meaningfully to our ability to act in the social realm.

    And I will have to apologise to Ozboy for topic drift. Here he posts a thread on the expediency of politics and the venality of politicians; and I can think of no way of linking all this metaphysics of collective belief back to that bit of grubby political opportunism.

    You’re no more or less guilty of it than anyone else here (myself included). So apologies unnecessary. Maybe I should do celebrity gossip instead? – Oz 🙄

  21. Kitler says:

    Izen it’s the Anunaki and the space aliens they have been buggering up our genetic code. Or maybe it’s the hybridization of two or more human species outside of sub Saharan Africa?

  22. Kitler says:

    Izen or the fact that humanity became co dependent on another pack species the dog we have both been altering each others genome to make us both cooperative and receptive to each others needs. Having dogs around gave us a competitive advantage they are useful for guarding the uber pack and warning of danger and we could take down larger game than they could ever do by themselves meaning more food and more idle time to think about things other than dinner.

  23. Kitler says:

    Ozboy as for grubby Australian politics please keep it up, there is something about Oz politics that beats all others for open corruption. It’s not that they are any better at corruption it’s just they don’t seem to hide it very well unlike in the UK or the USA. Terry Pratchett satirized it in his alter Oz on the Discworld where the PM newly elected was immediately sent to jail on account of they would be guilty of something saving time. Apparently Oz Discworld fans love that bit.

  24. Luton Ian says:

    Mises has a neat explanation for human cooperation,

    All it requires is for individuals to want more rather than less – cooperation is the most effective way of getting more – it doesn’t need to assume that anyone starts off by having a pre-disposition for being nice to other people, Mises thinks that such things (and he praises them highly) may have developed as a result of cooperation.

    Crimminality (of the common and nasty sort, thieves, muggers rapists and the like – critters who commit crimes against nice people, rather than so called “crimes” against the legalised crimminal class), low IQ and low time preference are all strongly correllated.

    Such individuals cannot master their urges for goods now, and so sacrifice their chances of getting far more goods later through cooperation.

    Politicians in democracies also have very low time preferences…

    There we go, back on topic, for one line at least 😉

    I’m working on a longer comment about the evils implicit in empiricism.

    Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance is an enjoyable exploration of the limitations imposed by a perceptual tool, in that case the subject:object dichotomy.

  25. fenbeagleblog says:

    Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance was a book I enjoyed Ian. Thank you for reminding me.

  26. Kitler says:

    Is Slippery Pete. Stan Laurels secret love child? The public needs to know.

    Not skinny enough I’d say.

    Andrew Bolt on radio down here this morning was of the opinion that new revelations regarding Father Slipper (he didn’t elaborate on details but said he was in the process of authenticating certain material) would make it likely he would be forced to resign in the near future. If that’s the case, and no more Coalition MHRs are minded to defect, then the numbers will stack up the same as they did a week ago – Oz

  27. Luton Ian says:

    Britain had a state sector strike yesterday. I’ve just had tea with a friend who has a jewellery shop. She had an excellent day yesterday. It seems like the Christmas rush came early, big traffic jams in town centres and around out of town malls – so much for the buggers being short of money…

    The lefties are busy toasting Jeremy Clarkson, after a comical Clarkson rant, which included something about the strikers needing to be taken out and executed in front of their families – the sort of thing you hear on a regular basis on the BBC from lefties, but now that it is aimed at lefties, it’s different, it’s no longer humour / artistic license / freedom of expression, it’s a disgrace etc etc et puke the eff up…

    Ireland had a “day of national solidarity” a year or two back, when austerity measures were being planned. So much for the nationalism, the M1 over the border to the north, and the roads into Newry, the closest town with shopping centres to the border have never been so busy.

    Poor hard pressed state sector, handsomely paid with stolen money, for providing services no one would ever choose to pay for – if they had a choice.

    If you heard there was a mugger operating on a certain road, and you took an alternative route to avoid being robbed, then the mugger found out and sought you out for an even bigger robbery to punish you for avoiding his thieving – he’d be doing nothing different to what the state revenue service does.

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