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Losing the ideas game

By Graham Ring - posted Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Let's invent a hypothetical hack called Graham King, who writes for a fictitious publication called the Notional Indigenous Times in the non-existent city of Topend.

Assume for a minute - and this may be stretching things a bit - that our hero Kingy has a Good Idea.

Bear in mind the aphorism which says that if enough monkeys spend enough time with enough typewriters one of them will write a Shakespearian sonnet. If this is true, then it's at least theoretically possible for Kingy to have a Good Idea, so just run with it for a bit.


Kingy will probably float his - OK “allegedly” - Good Idea in his sad little column in the Notional Indigenous Times. Then he'll pester editors of on-line opinion websites around the country to pick it up in an effort to further nourish his distressingly fragile ego.

When the piece is published, the two people who actually read his column will want to have their opinions about what he has said. This is as it should be.

Happily, his mum agrees with most of his offerings, but the guy from WA who writes those strange letters to the editor in the orange crayon is a bit harder to please.

And that's fine too. But things start to go wrong when the crayon-wielding correspondent's critique is based around his observations that (i) Kingy is a decidedly unappealing middle-aged, bald man with glasses (ii) Kingy is reputedly seen far too often around some of Topend's less salubrious entertainment establishments, and (iii) Kingy's column about Dancing with the Stars was unmitigated crap, so his views about global warming must be rubbish too.

It would be rather better if the savage sandgroper could say why he thought the idea itself wasn't a goer, rather than persecuting its promoter. It would be a shame if Kingy's only ever Good Idea disappeared down the gurgler, simply because all of his other views were ignorant and stupid.

Here endeth the laboured lesson - but you get the point. Kingy is a small fish and the world will survive happily without his Good Idea. But there are a great many people among the ranks of leaders, policy makers, politicians, and commentators who have rather more to offer. And we need to examine their views a bit more rigorously …


Because we are losing the ideas game.

Indigenous politics is the province of the passionate and that's a good thing. There are a great many desperate problems to be addressed, and people feel very strongly about their often divergent views. Robust discussion ensues. All good so far.

But the policy issues are incredibly complex and a good deal of effort is required to stay on the track. It's much easier to attack the personality, political party, publication, or previous offences of the protagonist. I know coz I've done it. Constructing reasoned argument is tough work.

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First published in the National Indigenous Times, Issue 165, on October 31, 2008.

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About the Author

Graham Ring is an award-winning writer and a fortnightly National Indigenous Times columnist. He is based in Alice Springs.

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