About two and a half thousand years ago Plato suggested that a truly civilised society would identify and educate ‘the best people’ and put them in charge of things. These ‘guardians’, he believed, being unusually wise, would bring about good government.
Plato didn’t think much of the idea of democracy (rule by the people), which he saw as the penultimate step in a gradual decline from aristocracy (rule by the best), through timocracy (rule by the honorable) and oligarchy (rule by a few), then democracy and finally tyranny (rule by a tyrant).
This is a concept eagerly embraced by people who see themselves as natural guardians. Politicians, stars of stage, screen and radio, sportspeople, shock jocks, newspaper columnists and the like – all self-appointed guardians of our moral and physical welfare.
One of my favourite guardians wrote recently in his column that Cate Blanchett was ‘the target of a tightly focused hate campaign’ for ‘having the temerity to put her name to an advertisement in favour of a carbon tax’. Furthermore, Dame Elisabeth Murdoch is in for more of the same, he writes, having put her ‘far wealthier’ name to an open letter calling for the carbon tax. Good heavens, ‘I mean if they did that to Blanchett because of her wealth, what on earth will they do to Murdoch’s mother…?’ And if you attack his Mum, you attack Rupert, and that’s surely not on!
This is great propaganda. By claiming that criticism is ad hominem you can avoid discussion of the idea. By making the claim in advance, if criticism arises you can say ‘Told you so!’ It shifts attention away from the idea. If you’re a guardian it’s better to be seen as a martyr than ill-informed.
Julia Gillard is a great guardian. She knows exactly what we need. Never mind that she promised she wouldn’t do it, and that the majority of voters are against it, she knows we need it, so she’ll bravely soldier on, and she won’t apologise for that.
You’re either for her or against her. It’s no use saying, for example, that Australia is a very small player in the creation of carbon emissions, and that it might be a good idea to follow the rest of the world rather than trying to lead it. What do Julia and Kate and Elisabeth want? A carbon tax! When do they want it? Now!
In the interests of gender balance, I need to point out that Greg and Ross and Tim agree. Carbon tax! Now!
Being one of those who had the temerity to criticise Cate, I want to set the record straight. I think Cate Blanchett is a truly great actor – I love her work. I go to movies just to see her. I believe she is entitled to every penny she has earned. By no stretch of the imagination can it be said that I hate her, and I’ll bet the same goes for most Australians, who like to see her as a worthy icon.
I don’t think Cate knows a lot about the issue of climate change. I think she lives a very affluent lifestyle, and has a far greater ‘carbon footprint’ than most. I think she is very rich, and a carbon tax will have no more effect on her way of life than it will have on the environment. I don’t think she is in any position to tell me what to do. From her, it tends to be ‘Do as I say, and not what I do’. I think she’s wrong.
But I do believe that she has the right to express her opinion, and that I have the right to criticise that opinion without any suggestion that I’m indulging in some kind of ‘hate campaign’. Same goes for Dame Elisabeth. I’m an admirer, she does lots of great things for the community, but this isn’t one of them.
I can’t resist pointing out to the journalist in question that if a campaign exists aimed at Cate personally, ‘tightly targeted’ is a tautology, with only one purpose – to add a little emotion to a ridiculous assumption.
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