This morning's Sunday Essay is triggered by offerings from my fellow bloggers.
Over on Club Troppo, Gummo Trotsky's George H W Bush & The Broccoli Wars reminded me of a footnote in recent US politics. It appears that President Bush Snr's dislike of broccoli, a dislike shared by many, actually has a physiological base. However, one commenter managed to put his own very particular slant on the matter:
Supertasting is a pretty good analogy for what researchers like Jonathan Haidt have observed: people with conservative views have a strong sensitivity to fear and disgust, while progressive types don’t.
That’s why, where the Right sees a community of grotesque abominations and a dire threat to western civilisation, the Left just sees gay people and isolated acts of terrorism.
Over at his place, Don Aitkin's How important is this election? seeks to correct the view that this is the most significant election ever and in so doing has a shot at The Conversation. This drew a comment from Peter Kemmis:
For a university-supported site, I think "The Conversation" is quite disappointing. It reflects a narrowness from many contributors and feeds what may in many cases be a narrow readership. There is an opinion piece by Nick Cater in "The Australian" today, where he discusses the media and current politics. He defines the Chatter Zone as comprising 13 Australian electorates, where 9 seats are held by the Coalition, and the balance by Labor and the Greens. Within 5 of these electorates live 2,000 of Australia's 20,000 journalists. In the 19 electorates:
- 20% vote green (compared to 10% nationally)
- 2.85% of couples are in same-sex relationships (0.57% nationally)
- 20% of adults have a degree in arts or the humanities (6% nationally)
- 33% state 'no religion' (20% nationally)
- 40% of mixed couples are de facto (10% nationally).
Cater's telling point is: "The prejudices of the Chatter Zone set the agenda on ABC1's Q&A. Planetary warming? Check. Gay marriage? Check. The depravities of the Catholic Church? Check. Turnbull for Liberal leader? Check. It is an inner-city dinner where the only saving grace is the absence of couscous."
As it happens, I'm inclined to agree about the narrowness of The Conversation. It's on my reading list for I find some useful material there, but there does seem to be a perceptual bias among its writers. I would also agree that the inner city electorates that Cater is referring too lie on a particular edge of the Australian social and political spectrum. I, too, have complained about that, about the way that views from those areas are presented as a value norm.
However, it's not quite as clear cut as that. To begin with, journalists living in particular areas focusing on particular slices do tend to absorb the views of those that they write about. For example, and long may this continue, journalists writing on rural issues or living in country areas are far more likely to be interested in National Party or country political or life issues. No one accuses them of bias.
Now take the issues that Mr Cater lists.
It is true that climate change scepticism is greater in country areas, that certain sets of environmental views are most deeply entrenched in the electorates that Mr Cater talks about, However, the position is far more complicated than that. You only have to consider the environmental wars that have raged across New England, wars that have had a direct affect on NSW and national politics, to see that the changing coalitions of interests are far more complex, that the views of inner city Greens are largely peripheral to the New England debate. They just don't matter. Lock the Gates did not spring form Mr Cater's electorates.
Or consider the depravities of the Roman Catholic Church.
It is, I think, true that there are particular negative views about religious faith that are more common in the areas that Mr Cater talks about. But if you look at the real hot spot issues in this area, they are not in the inner city areas but in places like the Lower Hunter, in Armidale, or in regional Victoria. Further, the people they most affect are those who were devout, who trusted their institutions, and they are far removed from the sometimes brittle dinner party or restaurant chatter of a Marrickville or Balmain, to take Sydney examples. Broken Rites is hardly an inner city organisation, at least as I understand it.
Gay marriage and, more broadly gay rights, is a different case. Here, I think, we can say that certain inner city Sydney areas provided something of a haven for changes that spread across Australia. But that had little to do with the then chattering classes, more with the ability of people to organise.
Like Mr Cater, I get annoyed with the way that the chatter zone seems to dominate certain aspects of media coverage. But then, I remind myself that it doesn't actually matter. In the diversity that is Australia, it is the interaction between personal and area concerns that finally sets the agenda.