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In this bar everyone gets a shout

Jack Robertson

Jack's archive is here

I’ve been writing in cyberspace for five years, most of it as a contributor to Webdiary.

Like every technical advance in its history – cave wall, papyrus, paper, ink, printing press, typewriter, ballpoint, PC – the internet has been heralded as an ‘evolution in writing’, but whenever words do drive an evolution, or a revolution, or even just modest progress, it’s always because of what they say, not how they are delivered.

This is important to remember whenever the battle of ideas is joined, and especially in what is now a saturated and cacophonous blogosphere. At this stage by sheer weight of numbers most bloggers are repetitive, derivative and preaching only to their own niche audiences. Good luck to them all - but with most blogs now you've figured out what ideas you’re going to encounter when you click on them by about the second or third visit. While the blogsite platform may have been briefly evolutionary, as usual it's the words alone that will determine whether any given species survives or dies out. Sadly, it appears that what most internet writers contribute to humanity's ‘battle of ideas’ these days is nasty, brutish and short.

Webdiary has always taken a different approach, since Margo Kingston has never seen the interplay of competing ideas as a battle at all, more an ongoing exercise in collective construction in which opposing views build on each other’s complimentary strengths instead of bashing against one another, winner take all.

This constructive approach demands that those complimentary strengths be sought out by opposing sides in the first place, of course, and here is where Webdiary defines itself. Call it intellectual masochism, but since she set out on the Hanson Trip MK has strived to engage with opinions which her instinct would normally have her avoid. Yet more: she’s been enormously generous with her media space in airing those views too, including the bile of her nastiest personal critics. No other writer in Australia has given their obsessed enemies more room to shout in their face from up close.

Can you imagine Andrew Bolt routinely granting Green Left Weekly unedited elbow room in his chatroom? Janet Albrechtsen giving half her Oz column to David Marr every week? Those towering super-egos Rupert and Kerry wouldn’t even let their editors review Margo’s best-seller Not Happy John!, presumably because it criticised them – compellingly.

And here lies a key to understanding the nature of the battle of ideas today. Tilting the battlefield is no longer a matter of outright censorship or blatant bias in mainstream coverage of issues - the ubiquity and speed of internet critique is quickly putting paid to those traditional blunt-axe mogul tactics.

Shaping the Information Age in favour of the powerful is increasingly a matter of the mainstream media controlling debate far more deftly, by choosing not if, but which, opposing views will be engaged with in their pages and broadcasts. In the battle of ideas the media players so love to pretend to champion fearlessly, rest assured it won't ever be a winning opposing view they deign to air.

Instead, everybody who is anybody in the Information Age has long recognised that maintaining your information supremacy is now more easily achieved by arguing your opponents’ ideas into a losing position than by arguing your own into a winning one. Most public debate now consists of distorting the view of the enemy as a priority - in order to tear it down more easily - rather than concentrating on presenting your own.

In the post-9/11, reactionary opening years of the third millennium, the strawman fallacy reigns supreme; together we dumb our human aspirations down, relentlessly ramping up the flaws in each other’s bold visions rather than applauding, or at least conceding, their strengths. Hence the mainstream battle of ideas gives us losers and non-losers only; there can be no real winners on a terminally sinking battlefield.

Margo Kingston’s Webdiary has never been like this.

Here everyone speaks only for themselves. Here only you get to say what your ideas and opinions are. Only you describe your grandest beliefs, dreams, aspirations and fears. There are no pigeon-holes at Webdiary - unless you let yourself be pigeonholed. There are no 'biases’ – unless you let biases go unbalanced. If someone’s being illogical in Club Chaos you are free to point it out. If someone’s dropped a smelly little orthodoxy on the beige carpet, you’re free to clean it up. When someone builds a strawman out of your ideas – and they will try – you can have all the space you need to tear it down and set them straight - before they do, not after.

You don’t have to be a professional writer to have your say here with dignity, clarity and brevity (and if needed, length and depth and complexity, too). You don’t have to be a loyal lieutenant to Kerry or sleeping with a Murdoch or sucking up to a potential Fairfax buyer; nor a ‘Sydney mate’ or a Riverside alumni or a paid-up ABC Trot or a Baby Boomer ‘usual suspect’ or any other part of the little gang that constitutes the mainstream Op Ed in-crowd - and who seem to me at least to have dominated Australia's battle of ideas for about five hundred thousand years, now.

You just have to have an opinion and a desire to contribute its complimentary strengths to the constructive Webdiary mix. Nobody else on this planet can express the unique ideas in your head - claiming to know what you think, or aspire to, or mean, or believe, or hate, or are frightened by - except you. So long as you follow Margo’s house rules you are warmly welcome to do so. Share your ideas with the front bar crowd and you’ll soon learn why those who have been returning to drink here again and again for years are so loyal to the generous, tenacious, optimistic and bighearted publican leaning on the counter behind the bar.

Welcome to your temporary digs, Margo and fellow Webdiarists. Good luck in the new millennium non-battle of ideas.

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re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

Margo and the crew at Club Chaos,

A new beginning, new digs, new paradigm - all so scary but so full of potential still. Congratulations and best wishes for this forum and the country we all call home.

It will only ever stay ours if we claim it and embrace it warts and all. That is what Webdiary has meant for me. Civilised discourse and robust exchange of ideas and opinions of the populace strengthening democracy. You can't ask for more than that.

This is the place for our collective voices to be heard. It is a national treasure as is its founder.

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

I hate change.

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

Thanks MS. Hi MP. Just dropping by to wish MK the best with the transition.

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

Jack I will have a virgin Mary to this piece. I love the changes, the new, the different arriving all the time.

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

G'day Jack!

Can I assume way too much and conclude you may be back? Or is this more just a stop at the local for "the one" before heading home?

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

Drop by more often, Jack R, have a whisky and relax with some old friends.

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

To the moderator: I tacked this on here even though I believe it ought to have stood alone. As I have not found any 'initiating a subject' option I assume that you are only open to responses to issues raised.

If I am wrong, perhaps you could enlighten me.

It was Jack Robertson’s In this bar everyone gets a shout, which set off this train of thought.
I wrote my first letter to the editor of a national paper in 1953 or 54. I have written many more down the years. Over the past two years or so I have not had a letter published in the Sydney Morning Herald and very few in the Australian, although I had had a reasonable amount of success previous to that time.

When somebody took the initiative to set up Rejected Letters I assumed that it would be a ‘hit’. As the contributors to Webdiary are obviously writers, perhaps somebody can offer an insight, or opinion as to why so few of the writers of rejected letters post them to the site?

In some ways Margo’s Webdiary provides an environment that closely resembles letter pages of 40 or 50 years ago. An example is The Dominion, of Wellington, which was New Zealand’s national paper at that time. Issues were let run so long as contributions added to, or expanded upon a subject. Ideas and alternate views readily found a home on the letters page and I cannot recall ever having seen the ‘me too’ letters so prevalent today.

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

It is pleasing for me that Webdiary has moved from the under the wing of the corporate giant and its vested interests. I am not an academic, nor bureaucrat, but just a bloke from Tasmania. It would be great to get some articles that actually give us hope for the future and are not too semantically challenging, as sometimes people forget that this world is filled with people that understand plain words and not the waffle we constantly hear from the ruling class. In that I mean, alternative policies and approaches that will get us out of this mess.

If that is so, then I would like to submit some ideas that I beleive would help a great deal to overcome the problems we have. They are not radical, but purely commonsense and designed to provide for all people, not just the elite. If that is possible, then could someone tell me how I can do that. Thank you, I look forward to learning from this and expanding my understanding of my fellow Australians.

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

Hey DC, nice to hear your soft low tone again. Will keep one eye on the new joint but I've been trying to focus on other writing for the last few months. Best regards and luck to all.

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

In this post-SMH environment it is now most important that we continue to critique the dominant cultural and political forces complicit/complotted in hierarchies of privilege. We should rigorously analyse, de-blur and illuminate, the maintenance of power relationships, and resist cultural and ideological dominance. We must reaffirm (and commit to) intellectual resistance. We should de-marginalise the subjugated alternative narratives, expose the ideological prejudices and partialities of the powerful, and refuse to participate in exploitative processes.

We need to develop value adding connections between and across Webdiarists, broker new configurations of intersubjectivity, and construct phatic relationship between addresser and addressee. This confluence of the homogeneity/heterogeneity contrapositive allows the possibility of a pragmatic holistic management of conflict, with the possibility/probability of a collegiality, rather than a fragmentation, of ideas/ideals.

Of course, to pathway into this art of engagement requires a flexibility of information exchange, multiple approach strategies, focused cultural awareness, supportive environments, and a dynamic community discipline. Facilitating and implementing this delineated trajection, although fraught with realigning/maligning counter-signals, allows of a vibrant stakeholder engagement, empowered to investigate, reflect, understand, create, communicate and thereby participate effectively in a global village/society.

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

Glad to see all of you guys made the move.

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

Das Rivell. In this post-SMH world indeed. With the appointment of Ron Walker, the situation will no longer be Tweedledum and Tweedledee, but Tweedledum and Tweedledumber!

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

ed Kerri: “We hope ‘been ill’ remains past tense, Peter. Welcome back.”

Thanks Kerri – much appreciated. It’s just a work-in-progress, really, rather than a past tense.

And I didn’t pike it just because one of my recent Webdiary Mk I mega-fans referred to some work as “gibberish”.

Although it was extremely kind of him to say so.

He (the Curran lad) referred to the perfectly accurate and inoffensive report presupposing a Howard-Bush White House manage a trois and covering the gang’s notorious but somehow likeable transvestism.

I DO hope he comes along to the new Bush Picnic at Club Chaos. Kom schnell, bittle, Herr Curran. I’ll look out for ya stuff.

Who was it who said “When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro”?

Many Webdiarists have written many kind words about that spray, and for that, thanks kids.

Gard… it just makes me wanna live ten hundred lives, all preferably without the putrescent gangrene of Howardism and his gang’s race hate 'culture wars'. But then that’s just me.

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

Ah Peter Le Great, returns. I'm tickled pink to see you back mate; hope you have fully recovered from your illness.

Just as well Howard did staunch the Muslim headware thing for if he didn't it would have been only fair to ban all female impersonators from wearing girly attire. At least the op-shop nearest Ms Bishop's abode would have welcomed her/his wardrobe.

re: In this bar everyone gets a shout

Jack Roberston: “Can you imagine Janet Albrechtsen giving half her Oz column to David Marr every week?”

I got news for ya, Jaques – all them Doric columns (Janet A’s shrill rants) ARE penned by David Marr.

The boy’s not only a clever and witty biographer, journalist, broadcaster and lawyer, but also a cracking and droll satirist.

Sorry I missed the opening KABOOM!! of the MK II torpedo, but I’ve been ill.

I do note, however, that no sooner was SMH’s Webdiary taken off air, than Howard goes mad and instituted some kind of crazy new mood in the Party of the occasionally bored, wealthy and sometimes naturally horrid.

I don’t mean his shitfight over taxation with Costello and Mal Turnbull, but the new strange flavour of events over race, just after numbnuts Brendan fouled up in the wake of the Moslem-baiting conference called by Howard and the boys.

It’s not a U-turn by any means, more a change of inflection and mood. And I don’t think the Ku Klux Klan faction of the coalition have quite yet hung up their bedsheets.

But truly we live in an age of miracles.

First, the Liberal NSW Leader of the Opposition contritely retracted a vile racist remark about the spouse of the former NSW ALP Premier.

Mrs Carr’s only crime had been that she is Asian – nothing more. Brogden’s comments were untruthful and deeply hurtful.

One of the less important things that can be said about them was that they were politically self-destructive. What mattered above all were Mrs Carr’s feelings, and the chance for such poison as Brogden’s to seep out, like Howard’s, into the wider community.

After all, this is the state that spawned the federal opposition leader and now PM who reckoned it was time to curb Asian immigration – ending political bipartisanship on migration, and ushering in a prelude to Hansonism.

Then the PM defused a very nasty Liberal Party campaign sneering at the modest and sensible headwear of Moslem women and schoolgirls.

The campaign was “impractical,” Mr Howard wriggled. He might also have added “immoral,” while the rest of Australia noted that Bishop and Panopoulos were a notorious pair of barking mad airheads. But their poison seeps out, too. It was good for Howard to staunch it.

Still, Australians shouldn’t get too optimistic.

Nothing will make the extreme right’s big ticket holders shrink from the votes of racists. The Liberals have been slyly campaigning on race for years - the NT Country Liberal Party can tell you the value of it in the Territory, where an Abo-bashing campaign, even in an electorate with so many indigenous voters, once meant big bucks all round.

Tampa, Kids Overboard, and SIEV-X were race-hate driven poll “issues,” as was the Pacific Solution and all the repulsive atrocities called up on the Ruddock-Vanstone watch.

To win an election means access to the public purse BIGTIME – bloody loads of it, and for all the mates.

And some media have a role in this too, going by recent ABC exposes of one gutter newspaper (the loathsome Herald Sun), a revolting squawkback radio show (the loathsome Zemanek) and a shopping channel’s pathetic “current affairs” program (the loathsome $even’s loathsome Today Tonight).

Despite what these people want to believe, Australia may not be a naturally racist country - as Mrs Carr has graciously affirmed.

Could we be returning to a fair go, or even to the virtues of Simpson and his donkeys?

Some ’opes, cobbers.

But after all, Simpson, in a flash of characteristic ill-discipline, had seeped into an Indian Army turnout - Hindus, Moslems, Sikhs, Parsees, Buddhists and Christ only knows who.

And our standard Australianisms “fair dinkum” and “dinky di” are Chinese expressions learned in colonial gold fields.

Keep fighting the good fight, youse mob at Webdiary.

ed Kerri: We hope “been ill” remains past tense, Peter. Welcome back.

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