On Holidays.

No, this isn’t about going away for a break, although I could definitely use one.

Rather, it’s about public holidays, and the supposed unfairness of Christmas and Easter being public holidays while Jewish, Islamic or pagan holidays are not, and major events scheduled during Ramadan can disadvantage observant Muslims – an athlete who is fasting, for example, won’t be anywhere near the top of their game. It started out as a Tumblr reply (of course) but developed into a full post, which ought to stand on its own.


Recognising only Christian holidays in a pluralistic society is, on the face of it, unfair. But many of the proposed alternatives are no better. The idea of having to never schedule big categories of events for a whole month, which moves every calendar year and whose commencement technically is uncertain until it happens, is ridiculous. And, at the end of the day, while we might argue about whether we really have control over what we believe internally, religious observance is a choice. If you choose it as an alternative to some other recreational activity, or even your job, that’s your right, but demanding that others accomodate your choice is not.

As far as I can tell, there are a few fair options:

  • Choosing one or two holidays per major religion to officially observe. “Major religion” would be defined as one followed by a certain percentage of the population, which could easily be as low as one or two per cent, especially if the branches of a given religion agreed on their holiday as Catholics and Protestants do. For non-observers, the days in question could be either ordinary public holidays, ordinary working days, or something else. I could easily see this inviting sectarianism and unpleasantness, however.
  • Removing any and all holidays with religious or cultural baggage. The only pertinent difference between a religious holiday and a cultural one, after all, is metaphysical, which hardly seems a relevant ground for distinction. Of course, this would mean removing Labour Days, war memorial days, national holidays, and just about anything with any more significance than “this stretch of the calendar is too empty of breaks, so we’ll just put something in to even it out and call it September Bank Holiday.” This is, of course, ridiculous, and defeats the primary purpose of observing holidays in the first place.
  • Recognising that Christmas and Easter are not just religious holidays, and haven’t been for a long time. This is the option we’ve effectively chosen, and I think correctly. I’m not religious by any stretch of the imagination; I despise organised religion in all its forms, reject any notion of supernatural phenomena whatsoever, and consider personal spirituality harmless but silly. But I love Christmas, because it’s time spent with my family, and time for gift-giving and summer holidays. Although the way it’s practiced usually leaves a lot to be desired, the concept of ritual self-denial to be found in Ramadan and Lent, so long as it’s actually voluntarily entered into, can be worthwhile. Rituals can help keep us grounded, connected to our culture (whether that of our birth or adoption), and sane. For that matter, both Christmas and Easter evolved from multiple pre-Christian holidays, and many of their traditions are either pagan or entirely secular in the first place.
  • Related to this is the fact that a pluralistic society has to be more than the sum of its parts; there have to be things that everybody accepts, even if they’re such basic principles as equality, the rule of law, democracy, or driving on the left. But a successful pluralistic society has more than these bald tenets in common; it develops a culture of its own that is compatible with its subcultures, and indeed grows from their interactions.
  • There is another potential option, albeit a variation on the first, and that would be to allow every person a given number of paid personal days off for holiday observance (as many as four or five per year would not be unduly generous), on top of annual leave, to be nominated by the person. Unlike annual or sick leave, these days would be entirely unconditional, expected to be used for religious or cultural reasons rather than merely as extra leave, nominated in advance, and it would be the employer’s responsibility to accomodate them (by, say, rescheduling events). This would still mean that people may have to choose between one aspect of their lifestyle and another, but we all do that anyway, and we don’t have anything approaching an unlimited right to accommodations.

On Responsibility.

I recently got into a discussion about how a big problem with “modern leftists”, whatever that means, is that their ideology paints people as responsible for things they had no role in bringing about. I’m a straight white cis man, therefore I’m somehow culpable for the oppression of people less privileged. This is not a part of any mainstream modern leftist ideology I’m familiar with, but it is a common misconception (or deliberate misrepresentation), so I think it deserves an explanation.

On the one hand, we’re only directly responsible for making amends for wrongs we ourselves have done. On the other hand, leftist ideals like human rights, empathy, compassion, and so on impose on us some sense of responsibility (commensurate with our means) for fixing harms wherever and whomever they may befall. The misconception is that since, on such ideals, we are responsible for fixing these harms, those ideals claim we are somehow responsible for causing them, perhaps by virtue of unwittingly benefiting from unequal power structures or being raised in casually bigoted societies.

The key is in the word responsibility. It’s one of those annoying words that are very easy to equivocate; here, it’s being used in at least three different senses. The first is that of causal responsibility: if you hit someone while driving, you’re causally responsible for their injuries, which means that (and only that) you had a causal role in bringing them about.

The second is moral responsibility, which we can also refer to as culpability: if you hit someone while driving, you can be morally responsible for injuring them — although, if they were being reckless, your culpability may be lessened. Causal responsibility is a necessary condition for moral responsibility — you can’t be culpable for something you had no role in causing — but not a sufficient one.

The third sense is that of liability or duty, which we can refer to as normative responsibility, or more prosaically responsibility to as opposed to responsibility for. If you’re morally responsible for hitting somebody while driving, then you can be held liable for covering their medical bills, and perhaps some compensation over and above that. If, on the other hand, they deliberately hid and jumped in front of your vehicle (say if they were feeling suicidal), as your moral responsibility is lessened, so is your liability.

It will be seen that each of these senses supervenes upon the former. You can’t have normative without moral, and you can’t have moral without causal. But normative responsibility can arise from things we don’t usually consider when we think about the first two (although in strict ethical terms, they do count). We can incur liability from things other than moral transgressions. We can be liable for repayments due to entering into a loan contract, for example. We can be liable for sales taxes as a result of making purchases. We take on many diverse responsibilities when we choose to have children.

The responsibilities we have to the unfortunate, to alleviate poverty and inequality, to create a better and fairer society — these are responsibilities we incur through the basic social contract, and we would have them no matter how little we were (as individuals) causally responsible for the situation. All that said, though, it is the case that we can be held culpable for actively doing things that make the situation worse, and that those in positions of particular power to make it better — the wealthy, the privileged, the politically powerful, the media — have a bigger obligation to do so.

A Delicate Balance.

I’ve been sitting on this post for a while. I wasn’t sure what I ought to do with it: each paragraph could easily be a whole post in its own right. But I think now is the right time to put them out there. Many of these beliefs are more than a year old in my mind, but I have been thinking about them a lot in the past year; and as I look back, I realise that I haven’t really gotten them out in a coherent, accessible form. They’ve mostly appeared in the form of ephemeral comments on Facebook or Tumblr, and it’s high time I put them in one place. The ideas discussed below also follow a common theme to which I find myself returning again and again, and I could easily find more to which it is applicable.


My beliefs are not typical of any particular orthodoxy. On the whole, I think this is something to be proud of. One should not believe a thing just because other people do, but rather because the thing stands on its own merits. That said, you simply can’t investigate everything fully enough to be justified in believing it from first principles; but in cases where you can’t afford the effort, it’s not appropriate to just throw up your hands or to believe what you like. It’s imperative to accept the expert consensus, if there is one, or the null hypothesis, if there isn’t. This is precisely an example of the sort of nuanced balance I’m talking about. It’s not that both sides of an issue necessarily have a point, so much as that it’s very rarely the case that any given “side” has things entirely right; and that one side has a given thing wrong is no guarantee that the other doesn’t also.

Some other examples:

I’m a feminist, and I think both that Germaine Greer is a bigot for thinking trans women aren’t women and that Caitlyn Jenner doesn’t deserve most of the praise she gets just for transitioning — she’s still a privileged conservative and wholly unrepresentative of most trans people’s experiences.

I’m an environmentalist, and I think nuclear power is not nearly as objectionable as fossil power. I believe this for environmentalist reasons, such as that it releases less carbon dioxide (and, for that matter, radioactivity), and is orders of magnitude less dangerous per GWh. As such, it would be far preferable to use it as a stop-gap rather than keep burning coal and oil until renewables take over. The only reason I’m not advocating more fervently for its use is that we don’t need it as a stop-gap any more — we can already make the switch to renewables in the time it would take to replace fossil power with nuclear.

I’m a Bayesian rationalist, and accordingly don’t believe in things like gods or the utility of death. But I think a lot of the things that are popular in the “rationalist” community, such as strict utilitarianism, advocacy of cryonics or the idea that the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is the only coherent one, are utter bunk. And the common disdain for “politics” among rationalists generally only serves as a mask for libertarianism or even neoreactionary beliefs, which are hardly rational.

I’m in favour of many fundamental structural reforms to the way society is run, such as a universal basic income funded by very high externality and rent taxes on harmful activities like mining, polluting, or being Rupert Murdoch. I’m equally certain that no matter how revolutionary some of these reforms may be, revolutions are almost always terrible means of achieving them. (This particular dichotomy is one of the main themes of my forthcoming novel, of which I wrote what I expect will be the final line a few weeks ago, although there do remain a few crucial chapters still incomplete.)

I am a keen believer in the usefulness of having a standardised language, especially for such a broad lingua franca as English for most of whose speakers it is a second or third language. And I don’t think this contradicts my similarly firm belief that those who speak nonstandard dialects shouldn’t have to unlearn them in order to be taken seriously. Similarly, I don’t like linguistic prescriptivism as a principle, but I abhor misuses like alternate for alternative that only serve to muddy the language’s ability to make often useful distinctions. (I’d like to think that these dichotomies and others like them make me a good editor; having solid reasons for supporting certain prescriptivist practices makes it much easier to let go of any prescriptivist instinct in the cases where the reasons don’t apply. Conversely, it also makes it much easier to objectively explain my work in the cases where they do, and providing quality feedback is one of the most important parts of an editor’s job.)

This does make it difficult to explain myself concisely, and it’s very easy to be misinterpreted. People assume that because I hold one belief I subscribe to an entire ideology of which it is a part, when that is seldom if ever meaningfully true. In acknowledging that Islam deserves much of the blame for acts of Islamist extremism, for example, I don’t want to be taken as condemning the rest of the Muslim population, because they are not to blame — much less as condoning violent and misguided retaliation.

Gods don’t kill people…

…people with gods kill people.

Sure, it’s a somewhat facetious way of putting it. But the parallel to the clusterfuck that is the American gun control debate is, I think, warranted. After the horrific attacks on Paris on Friday, #prayforParis was, understandably, trending. But such an attitude is deeply and fundamentally insulting to victims of religious violence, especially but not only those without any religion at all (of which there are rather a lot in France). Explaining why does take a little bit of backgrounding and qualification, so I’ll come back to it presently.

As plenty of smartarse atheists have pointed out, which god are we supposed to be praying to? The one who inspired the massacre (and daily atrocities like it in less white, and therefore less likely-to-inspire-outpourings-of-first-world-grief-and-flags-on-profile-pictures, parts of the world)? The one who just sat by and let it happen? But quite apart from all the problem-of-evil stuff, prayer is immeasurably more useless than the oft-decried “slacktivism” of awareness-raising and petitioning. If all you’re doing is praying, the least you can do is keep it to yourself and stop pretending you’re doing anything actually useful or helpful.

Such attacks invariably provoke a backlash against innocents who happen to share the same (very broadly speaking) religion as the attackers, or who don’t but look like it. (Sikh men, because they wear beards and turbans, are frequently victims of misdirected anti-Muslim bigotry.) This is very much deliberate on the part of the attackers; as Waleed Aly informed us on The Project the other night, Da’esh expressly wants Muslims to feel rejected by Western society, so that they will turn to it. And we know they don’t give two shits about Muslim lives; most of the direct victims of their violence are Muslims themselves.

But in turn, in response to this despicable behaviour, a lot of usually sensible, intelligent people have been at pains to assure us that Da’esh’s ideology is “not Islam” or even “not religion” at all. And this is simply not true. The peaceful, moderate majority don’t have a monopoly on what “real Islam” is, any more than Da’esh does, or than the Anglican church has one on what “real Christianity” is. Religion doesn’t stop being religion when it’s used for evil purposes, any more than for good. All that’s required to be a Christian is to believe Jesus Christ is God; literally anything else is up for interpretation. A similarly broad definition applies to Islam, which can be in principle summed up in one sentence: “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his prophet.” There’s nothing in those propositions that either condones or condemns violence in their name (although there’s plenty in the Bible and the Quran that does).

The real distinction, the one that ought to be made, is between Islam and Muslims. Helpfully, unlike for most other religions, we have quite distinct (although etymologically related) words for them. One can condemn Islam as a violent and autocratic ideology without also condemning its adherents, most of whom are not violent and autocratic. It is not the case that most Muslims are terrorists, or even that most terrorists are Muslims. Vastly more Muslims are oppressed by Islam than are oppressors in its name. Even on the fundamental matter of god’s existence, on which they’re simply factually wrong, that doesn’t make them stupid. Most importantly, Islamist violence is not a valid excuse to deny protection to Muslim refugees, most of whom are fleeing Islamist violence in the first place. But when a Muslim is violent and autocratic, and himself cites his religion as backing up that behaviour, it’s insane and wrong, and I believe counterproductive, to suggest that the religion is not playing a causal part in the violence.

Coming back to my headline, it applies not just to the Paris attackers, but to the morons who decided it was a good excuse for some payback, which makes it doubly inappropriate and offensive. Such people tend to be just as religious as Da’esh’s soldiers. In both cases, religion is playing a causal part, and to deny that severely hampers our understanding of the issues. Indeed, fundamentalist Christianity and hardline Islam are much more similar than their followers would like to admit; they are both horribly autocratic, misogynistic, apocalyptic, reactionary and so on, and they mainly differ on the relatively less important (especially in the real world) matter of theology. Yes, non-religious ideologies can be violent and destructive too — communism being the obvious example. But fascism and tyranny have almost always found religion, especially organised religion, to be helpful to their cause, and that’s not an accident.

The parallel to the gun control debate comes when those advocating prayer for Paris accuse atheists who point out how insulting it is of “politicising the tragedy”. There’s a time and a place for debating theology, they say, and the aftermath of religious violence is not it. This cuts uncomfortably close to the arguments of the NRA, trotted out after every gun massacre in the USA, that those who respond by demanding gun control are taking advantage of a horrible event for their own political ends. But religious violence is a prime example of why religion is often a Bad Thing, as surely as gun violence is a prime example of why a laissez-faire attitude to gun control is a Bad Thing.

You can take the analogy further. Most religious people are sane and peaceful. Most American gun owners are likewise — otherwise we’d see several massacres a day, rather than roughly every week. It might even make sense, as an individual, to carry a gun, given the situation in the States. Likewise, professing a religious affiliation can be the sensible thing to do, even if you don’t privately believe in it, if the alternatives are discrimination, ostracism, violence, or outright murder, as they are in many parts of the world. At its heart, a big part of the issue is simply that humans are notoriously bad at solving collective action problems.

Where it falls down, of course, is that it’s possible (politics notwithstanding) to ban guns. Banning religion, by contrast, would be a terrible idea, even if it were possible. The solution to the problems of religious extremism, by and large, has to be in education and dialogue, and those in good faith, not in coercion. And pointing out how advocating prayer in response to atrocities is unhelpful and insulting is an important part of that.

Splitters!

There have been rumours of a coming split in the Liberal party. I expressed my hopes for this last week, and while I certainly wouldn’t put any money on it now, it will be very interesting to see how the story plays out. Will there be repercussions for Senator Bernardi for publicly admitting to the possibility? Either way, I wouldn’t put away your popcorn just yet.

Now, it would never happen while the party was in government. Of course I wouldn’t mind in the slightest if it did, but I don’t think even the most pigheaded Liberal MP would be stupid enough to try it. But if (and now it is, unfortunately, if rather than when) they lose next year’s election, I wouldn’t put it past some of them. It wouldn’t necessarily be political suicide for those concerned — a new Conservative Party, let’s call them, would ironically have the advantage of incumbency, with a full term of Parliament to prove themselves, as we don’t kick out MPs for changing parties — and so it’s not all that far-fetched.

The name Liberal has always been at odds with the party’s conservative platform.* A bit of a fuss was made last week when somebody noticed that Bernardi’s twitter bio lists him as a “Conservative Senator” and makes no mention of his party affiliation, and while he denied that this was a recent change, I think (I hope) it might be significant in itself. When he was directly asked to rule out defecting, he had no comment. And he’s got a book out. That’s never a good sign. A politician with a book out can be safely assumed to be more ambitious than one without — especially if they’ve dropped the price from $30 to $2, as someone pointed out to me. Although that might just be due to the fact that nobody is, so to speak, buying his bullshit.

Now, why would I of all people, a bleeding-heart leftie, possibly think that a new rabidly conservative major party might be a good thing for our country? A major advantage of our preferential system, after all, is that you don’t tend to get vote-splitting, so it’s not like it would directly lead to a landslide victory for the ALP (which I don’t necessarily want either; I’d much prefer hung parliaments and especially hung Senates).

Well, there are a few reasons. With my policy hat on, number one is that the appearance of disunity would hurt both sides of the split; they’d be unlikely to get as many votes or seats combined as the single party would have, although you could never prove that. The ALP has fractured twice in its history, and in both cases the split hurt them electorally, for a long time. They’d spend time and effort fighting each other and less fighting the ALP and the Greens. It would spell the end of the Coalition as we know it — there’d be no way of knowing whether the Nationals would side with either side post-split, and it’s been very rare that the Libs haven’t needed the Nats to form government.

Additionally, without the most batshit consies in it, what remained of the Liberal party would by default shift to the left on average, while almost certainly (if the popularity of the Abbott government is anything to go by) commanding more if not most of the pre-split Liberal vote. They might be in Opposition for a while, but they’d be a more moderate Opposition. This could in turn put pressure on the ALP to shift leftwards in order to differentiate themselves.

Most importantly though, and this is where I put my meta hat on, it might even spell the end of majority government in Australia. It would certainly be a shake-up to the whole system, which every system needs now and then. The two major parties are far too conservative (in the organisational sense), and fresh blood would definitely be a good thing. They’re used to being either in government or in opposition, as though that’s just the natural order of things — and so is the electorate. A split would illustrate most clearly that it doesn’t have to be that way, and would likely force them all, including Labor, to actually stand for something.

And more major parties can only be good for democracy; the more parties, the more likely a given person’s opinion will be represented among them. And for better or worse, democracy must give representation to everybody’s opinion — and, historically, it’s almost always been for the better.** A Liberal Party to represent centrist economic liberals like Turnbull, and a Conservative Party to represent the social consies, including the batshit ones like Bernardi, would be much more democratic than the entirely artificial conflation of the two stances we currently have; and that’s not even starting on the Nationals, who might reemerge as a force in their own right, making coalitions according to their own policies rather than serving as the half-fossilised country wing of the Liberal Party.


* It does accurately describe their economic approach, but then, economic liberalism and especially neoliberalism shouldn’t be something to be proud of. Most of their crusted-on voters are social conservatives who don’t give a toss for economics, or at least don’t give a toss about understanding it; while Labor is just as neoliberal as the LNP these days.

** When it hasn’t been, that’s usually been down to a failure of the system itself, such as FPTP giving governments large legislative majorities with a distinct minority of the vote, as we see in the UK and Canada, or to outright corruption, as with the epidemic gerrymandering in the USA — neither of which problems are indictments of democracy in principle. I intend to write a full post on the matter, but a footnote will do for now.

The tide is turning.

That was sudden.

In case anyone didn’t notice, Tony Abbott has been dethroned as PM, and not a moment too soon. I wouldn’t blame you for not noticing until it was all over; it was a scant (if exciting) few hours between Malcolm Turnbull’s announcement he would challenge for the leadership and the party room vote last night.

That it was over so quickly doesn’t come as a surprise to me. Abbott brought forward the previous spill motion in February in part so as to avoid giving his opponents time to organise and campaign against him. In situations of uncertainty, the devil you know always enjoys extra support. I’d be pretty confident that he was trying to do the same thing this time. And it almost worked — the margin by which he survived last time was over 20%, and this time he lost by half that margin.

But much as I spent a fair portion of the evening cackling over the whole mess — and there was plenty to cackle over, from the fact that the Liberals had finally managed to get Q&A off the air (so the ABC could cover the spill), to memes of Julia Gillard eating popcorn, and the poetic justice of Abbott’s comments about a house divided coming back to bite him — I do not believe that the result of last night’s debacle is necessarily a good one.

Malcolm Turnbull is not a small-l liberal. At least, if he were, and if being one actually meant anything to him, he would have left the LNP long ago. He has already confirmed that the government’s policies on climate change and marriage equality will not change under his leadership, and we can bank on the horrific treatment of asylum seekers continuing under his government (as, for that matter, we could under Bill Shorten’s milquetoast ALP). His cabinet will be made up of most of the exact same individuals as Abbott’s was, most of whom are incompetent wankers in their own right, even if the really evil ones like Peter Dutton, Joe Hockey and Scott Morrison happen to get left by the wayside. (And if they do, it won’t be because they’re evil, it will be because they supported Abbott last night; and it’s far from a certainty that they will be cast aside at all.) The most substantial difference between Turnbull and Abbott is that Turnbull has better PR. And that’s the worrying factor.

With Abbott in charge, almost no matter what happened over the next year, the LNP had a snowflake’s chance in hell of getting re-elected. And they knew it, of course, which is why they’ve now replaced him.

Part of Turnbull’s appeal to the swinging voters is down to differences in his stated beliefs, of course. But the fact that he’s a republican doesn’t mean we’ll get another referendum on that issue. The fact that he personally supports marriage equality doesn’t mean we’ll see a conscience vote on the issue — he wants a plebiscite, same as Abbott did, which could be incredibly harmful, and as far as I’m concerned is an abdication of the government’s responsibility. But these things do make him more electable. It’s sad to think that things of no material consequence can have effects on a candidate’s electability, but they do.

And that’s a real danger. I would have gladly suffered another year with the Mad Monk in charge if it meant the LNP got thoroughly routed at the next election. I don’t think it’s likely on balance that Turnbull will be able to turn them around in the polls, but Bill Shorten is so unlikeable, and the ALP so widely (and not unfairly) perceived as standing for very little of substance, that it’s certainly possible. At least this means the ALP will have to be less complacent.

So please, don’t think that the change in leadership means anything else will automatically happen. Turnbull is still an LNP prime minister, and if he wants to keep his job, regardless of his personal views, he will have to govern as such. I might be wrong; Turnbull might genuinely want to turn the LNP around, and he might even be able to do so without tearing it apart and alienating its base of bigots and paranoids. But we can’t expect that. It would be a most pleasant surprise, but it would be a hell of a surprise. Remember, 45% of the parliamentary party supported Abbott to the end.

Despite the pig’s breakfast the major parties have made of things lately, though, I’m very thankful for the system we have. Preference deals aside, the Australian electoral system is much fairer than that used in the UK, and light-years ahead of the incredibly corrupt American way of doing things. Preferential voting means you don’t have to hold your nose and vote for the less evil major for fear of splitting the vote and handing it to the other guy. We’ll hopefully never again see either major party with a Senate majority. The Greens have started winning lower house seats and might even become a full second opposition before long. And if Abbott really is as selfish and aggro as he appears to be, and if he can persuade even some of his rusted-on supporters to stay, he may well be able to tear the LNP apart from the inside, or splinter off a sizeable batshit faction, as revenge for last night. Indeed, they’re already acknowledging the possibility and trying to head it off, spinning Turnbull’s 55% majority as “overwhelming” and “clear consensus”.

Well, I can hope. This Saturday’s by-election just got even more interesting.

The tide is turning, for both sides. Austerity, neoclassical economics and cuts to things like education and health are all deeply unpopular, no matter who’s doing them. On the left, Bernie Sanders is climbing in the American polls, and Jeremy Corbyn just came from nowhere to win the British Labour leadership with a huge swell of public support — avowed socialists both of them. How much longer will the mainstream Australian left stand for a conservative inside man like Bill Shorten representing them, especially when the LNP has a republican, pro-marriage equality, centrist in charge itself?

So long, Lizard King. As First Dog said, don’t let the door hit you in the arse.

A theory concerning Abbott’s true motives.

The UN recently officially pointed out that Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers is inhumane and horrific, and qualifies as torture and a mass human rights violation. Which, of course, it is. I’d add racist, ineffective and expensive to that list just for starters. Our PM, as is his custom, had a massive whinge about it, saying “Australians are sick of being lectured to” on the subject. Today a human rights lawyer at the UN hit back at Mr Abbott.

Abbott has tried in the past to paint his “stopping the boats” policy as humanitarian. The idea, as far as I can gather there is one, is that if we make the conditions on places like Manus Island so deplorable that people would rather stay in places where they risk torture or execution, they’ll stop coming. Even if it did work (Abbott says the boats have stopped, but isn’t exactly to be trusted), no ends justify means which involve torture, epidemic sexual abuse, indefinite detention of children and any of a dozen other horrifying things that happen in our detention centres.

But carry this policy through to its logical conclusion and you can start to see that it informs all Abbott’s other policies. He talks big about providing jobs and strengthening the economy and balancing the budget, but his policies hurt those who can least bear it. Moreover, they demonstrably don’t help in the areas he talks about — the unemployment rate, which had been trending down under the previous government, has risen steadily since he took office and shows no sign of slowing, while the budget deficit has ballooned from $18 billion to $30 billion, despite a global economic recovery, in just one year.

Consider, then, this hypothesis. Abbott thinks the best thing he can do for Australia is to keep the brown people out. If that means ruining it for the rest of us (or at least those of us in the bottom 99%), that’s an acceptable price to pay. He’s running the country into the ground in the best way he knows how, because if he can make the very prospect of living in Australia unappealing enough, even people fleeing despotic persecution will stop coming.

Just a thought.