You Don’t Hate Mondays, You Hate the Modern World

Tom Érglis

“How long can men thrive between walls of brick, walking on asphalt pavements, breathing the fumes of coal and of oil, growing, working, dying, with hardly a thought of wind, and sky, and fields of grain, seeing only machine-made beauty, the mineral-like quality of life. This is our modern danger one of the waxen wings of flight. It may cause our civilization to fall unless we act quickly to counteract it, unless we realize that human character is more important than efficiency, that education consists of more than the mere accumulation of knowledge.” – Charles Lindbergh

I work for a department store, mainly in inventory management however sometimes I’m asked to go downstairs as a customer assistant. This usually involves offering help, being told by the customer they don’t need it and then I resume straightening up mugs.

Strolling through our toys and even clothing sections made me reflect on the waste society that capitalism has produced. All around me in toys were plastics. In homewares there were hundreds of the same mugs just with different prints on them. I knew we had hundreds more of everything on the sales floor upstairs too. Who buys all this shit? It turns out according to an ABC article published in November that we are shopping as if in the midst of economic crisis. Though it sounds strange, I think this is good news.

Unfortunately, this spending pattern is the result of economic pressures being put on families which I obviously do not endorse. I am hoping that this slump in sales sends a message to the big stores that people will not be buying random trinkets. I am also hoping that this attitude will continue after the economy improves.

It is important to acknowledge capitalist economies have functioned for a millennium without the scale of waste that we see today. It is only because of advancements in production and competition (supposedly the great selling points of capitalism) that we are in the present predicament.

Capitalism functions in a vicious cycle. A person works, often in a job they don’t enjoy and to generate money for a place they don’t really care about to receive a portion of the capital which is imbursed into another company for products to distract them from the numbing processes of modernism. As production and purchasing of goods becomes more a part of our lives this numbing effect is only amplified.

In the last century before supermarkets and shopping centres, even the poorest child had one or two toys that would last them a lifetime (usually their lack of wealth meant they made sure the toys WOULD last a long time). These were often hand-crafted by skilled workers and distributed from the very place they were made, by the maker. There was never any need to create high speed, high efficiency production of these toys because there was no market for that. Toys weren’t something you threw away. They were cherished and passed down not because you grew tired of them but because you appreciated the skill it took to create, and the memories it stored. Will a Tickle Me Elmo™ Global Conglomerate Edition Faux Fur Toy™ ever be looked on the same? How does the toy made by slave labour in the Guangzhou Toy Factory #305 make you feel compared to the meticulous craft made by the little toy shop down the road run by the same family for generations? This doesn’t just apply to toys of course, but toys are the best example of things that are nowadays often enjoyed briefly then discarded. We can talk about cars which used to be made of metal instead of plastic composites. When a dent in the side door back then was as expensive to fix as just buying a whole new car, people tended to look after those things. Leather interiors are only recently ‘extras’. A few decades ago, they were standard. How could we afford to make cars in Australia years ago out of quality materials by skilled labourers, but now Holden has to close when all they did was assemble parts from overseas? Shouldn’t the process have become cheaper and more efficient? It would seem not.

Sometimes when I go to the baby toys section of our store there are toys that make obnoxious amounts of noise and almost leap at you from the shelf without even touching them. I’m convinced that this has nothing to do with its function as a toy, but more to do with the way the company demands a consumer’s attention and thus increases the products chances of being purchased. The time when a toy manufacturer was passionate about their craft has been replaced with the need to make as much money as possible by whatever means.

The competition of capitalism can be critiqued very simply in this context. If you make objects constantly available, advertising that penetrates through constant exposure and produce them at such a scale where a person is commanded to try the competition a person will become stuck in an infinite cycle of having an inferior product and be constantly reminded of this state. This breeds jealousy, envy, want and other vices that separate a person from society.

“The modern world has invented a thousand useless luxuries and turned them into necessities; It has created a thousand vicious appetites and satisfies none of them; It has de-throned God and created a shekel in His place” – Mark Twain

Whilst competition that promotes advancements makes life easier, it doesn’t make the process ethical. And making life easier does not necessarily equate to making life more fulfilling.

Returning to the words by Mr Lindbergh that prefaced this article, the overarching quality of humanity is its character. There is no character in the modern day, and I fear the time when civilization has fallen that he warned of has already passed.

Those who have read up to this point could accuse me of being a Marxist. I wish to clarify that I am just as happy to abuse that point of view as I am capitalism, but I can’t help but give Marx some credit. He foresaw that there would come a time when unrestricted capitalism would mean that an employee cannot even afford the products of capitalism, thus the whole system can no longer be maintained. The first things to go will be those stupid mugs, I hope.

Arts, culture, music, architecture and science are all vitally important to character. Art that excites and inspires, culture that is shared yet unique, music which is the rhythm of life and science which is not raw and purely rational but asks questions that sometimes can’t even be answered.

So how do we break free? What is the point of this wall of text? The answer is, I really don’t know. It’s a personal thing to confront and I hope this article has planted the seeds of thinking about how to deal with modernity. Rejecting materialism is a good first step, especially as we see the effects of mass production and consumption being wreaked upon the planet. Next, I would suggest connecting more with the community. The same joy can be brought out of the smallest act of kindness than any object can provide. Finally, explore something higher than yourself and of course higher than the material. Art, culture, religion and reading are all great avenues. Even visiting a park with friends can have a great impact on your mental wellbeing and it’s totally free. You’ll notice in moments of joy shared with other people how quickly your worries disappear. The goal of modernism which is becoming increasingly clear is to create a world full of people whose only thought is work and negative play (e.g. recreation that seeks to mitigate the effects of work, not enhance the human experience). For the sake of our future, do not go blindly into this fate.

Everyone dies, but not everyone lives.” – William Wallace

On Anti-Intellectualism And The Cult Of Self-Proclaimed Millionaire Jack Bloomfield

Ben Wilson

Jack Bloomfield is seventeen years old and a self-reported millionaire. If we trust the account delivered by himself and his parents in a television interview, he has earned all of the money himself and has had no assistance from his parents. In an opinion piece published by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp, he wrote:

‘Is there a profession called “arts” outside of being an artist? Not that I’ve ever heard of.’

His derision of the liberal arts is cliché and uninteresting in and of itself. Equally uninteresting to me are his businesses and the existence of his e-Commerce courses for which he charges thousands of dollars to be instructed by him through a series of online modules. What is more interesting to me is that this wealthy seventeen-year old has been the subject of numerous articles as well as interviews and photo ops with politicians and public figures including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and LNP Leader Deb Frecklington. If the comments sections discussing and reporting on Mr Bloomfield are any indication, reaction to his success consists of peoples’ admiration, dismissal, derision or a combination of the three. What I find interesting is the question of why Jack Bloomfield is newsworthy in the first place.

A scan of headlines suggests one answer immediately – his age. Most people aspire to be wealthy and here is someone who has apparently achieved that goal while still in high school. But I think our society’s obsession with someone like Mr Bloomfield is tied more to how he has made his money, and that he has made money at all, than anything else. His dismissal of tertiary education that is not obviously tied to a profession, and some peoples’ admiration for that dismissal, is similarly telling.

College With A Capital C

Mr Bloomfield made me think of the film It’s A Wonderful Life, made in 1946. For those of you unfamiliar with it, it tells the story of a man named George Bailey who, while trying to kill himself on Christmas Eve in the face of personal hardships and a crisis of self-worth, is saved by an angel who shows him his value by showing how much worse the world would be had he never been born. The film is saccharine sweet and utterly lovely. But the specific scene I thought of was when George gives up going to college to help the family business, using his college tuition on his younger brother instead. We are never told in the film exactly what George intended to study. We are told only that George was going to go to college and that by giving up that opportunity he was making a great personal sacrifice of his potential future prosperity. This is in spite of the fact that, notwithstanding his lack of tertiary education, he is managing a building and loans bank which appears to do a decent trade supported by the goodwill of the town. The bank is so well-loved and relatively prosperous that we are told it survives the Great Depression in a time when most small-town banks folded. The movie does not explain how college would have made George Bailey wealthier. It is knowledge assumed of the audience. The word college is spoken with a capital C – a magical word implying social mobility and return on investment.

The Death Of Old Narratives

I believe firmly in the value of tertiary education, perhaps especially the liberal arts, for their own sake. People much smarter than I have pointed to a growing disdain for parts of history and civics as being a possible reason for the declining support of democratic institutions and liberal ideals (whatever you think those things mean). It is difficult to see the benefit of such systems without a context for why they exist and the reasons for their forms. Where I think I differ from some who decry the corporatisation of our universities is in the idea that there has been a period at all in the past century where the majority of people did not attend university primarily for the sake of personal prosperity. Even if historically universities and the academics who resided within viewed their role primarily as the advancing of intellectual inquiry, I think that the majority of their students viewed the expansion of their minds as an ancillary benefit. People attended university when they could because they were told that a degree was how a person becomes better off. And to be fair, on average that is still true. People with university educations tend to make more money over their lifetimes than those who do not. But the degree is no longer a guarantee of future employment and students find themselves seeking endless internships and work experience opportunities to flesh out their resumes for the job market. There are people leaving universities with tens of thousands of dollars of debt who earnestly believed that their degree alone would guarantee them future prosperity. Some of these graduates are finding that is not the case. The narrative that existed of university as a guaranteed pathway to future comfort is dying.

And it is not only university graduates. Young people are being told they may be the first generation to be worse off than the generations which preceded them. The welfare state is struggling to adequately support the elderly whose life savings are proving insufficient to support them in their ever-lengthening age and who are considered less desirable in a modern workforce. Those in the middle are being squeezed to pay the costs of the latter while facing the justified outrage of the former. Narratives which I think we were all raised to believe were true of our society (in Australia and western-liberal democracies generally) are beginning to fail.

The New Narrative Of Entrepreneurship

My theory is that people want an understanding of how they can succeed. That is why people pay money to self-styled entrepreneurs who not only provide an answer but offer themselves as a living, breathing example of that answer’s truth. That is why people pay hundreds of dollars for a man named Gary to tell them that they need to ‘eat shit’ and suffer the hard times if they eventually want to make it. That is why people will pay thousands of dollars for an eCommerce course taught by a seventeen year old. The old truths that a university degree, or a trade, will let you buy a home and support a family seem to the eyes of many to have expired. And these entrepreneurs understand their market. They have identified the backlash against so-called intelligentsia and elites. The liberal arts are the subject of particular ire because there is truth to the assertion that for many graduates it can be difficult to find well-paying work in the field they studied. People want a path to prosperity. Whether or not the path offered is easy is less relevant than that it seems real. Our society is increasingly unequal and even our culture’s idea of what it means to be prosperous has shifted for many from a home and a family to the lifestyle of the wealthiest people we read about and see online.

What I think is terrifying to some people when confronted with a lack of clear paths to wealth and social mobility is that there are only two possible answers for that lack. Either they have not discovered the path yet, or the path does not exist. Humanity is always going to want to be successful but we also crave the familiar. Forging a new system, a new path, is intimidating. So instead we seek out those who seem to have found the path. That is why I think people are as interested in Mr Bloomfield as they are. Not merely because of his age, but because he gives the impression of having found a path to wealth that, while perhaps being difficult, is nevertheless achievable. Increasingly, that does not seem to be true for some university graduates. That’s why, consciously or not, he writes a line deriding the liberal arts in our universities. He’s not trying to speak to the people who went to university and succeeded. He’s trying to rally and profit from those who did not.

Nicholas Comino

I would like to begin this piece by stating unequivocally that I am a capitalist who supports free markets, trade and enterprise. But never before have I been more struck with despair than I was when reading seventeen year old entrepreneur Jack Bloomfield’s opinion piece published by News.com. While it seems that Mr Bloomfield is successful in business, many of his statements reflect a trend in social opinion that I believe is becoming more prevalent than ever. The view that higher learning and tertiary education is outdated, a waste of time and purely about the end result of getting a job.

‘Is there a profession called “arts” outside of being an artist? Not that I’ve ever heard of.’

It’s a shocking line of thought, one that is gaining ever more purchase. But with the current state of our universities, who could blame people for feeling this way? These days, universities are spending more money than ever on external advertising and administration. At the cost of genuine academic inquiry and scholarship, armies of administrative staff have been deployed to our universities to focus on their “student experience” ratings. Thanks to the uncapping of places by the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd Governments, universities have become corporatised machines, determined to get butts into seats without any actual care for the creation of academic community or the production of anything of social value.

The public does not care for our institutions. Bloomfield summaries their attitude perfectly, however coarsely. He notes that contemporary Australian university educations produce: “A mountain of debt and a piece of paper that carries absolutely no weight in the working world”. This is the perspective those that run university administrations across the country want us to hold.

Why fund the humanities, social sciences, and the language departments of the world when we can pour endless money into marketing our business schools to overseas fee-paying students? This is the remorseless, cold logic of those that run Australian academia. Scholarship isn’t the only field being gutted. All the things that make our universities matter: student activism and social engagement are increasingly hollowed out in order to transform students from active learners into consumers. Across Australia, we see University Student Experience departments trying to crush student unions, student run clubs and student run societies in order to replace them with a sanitised university administration PR-approved mono-culture that costs obscene amounts of money to maintain while engaging precisely no one.

Take the University of Queensland for example, where the failed “UQ Mates” initiative promised a social media platform that would advertise university sanctioned and approved events. While seemingly innocent in nature, students actively engaged in the social life of their university saw this as a malign attempt to control all aspects of student life and kill whatever student culture, communities or activities deemed hostile to the corporatized administration’s interests. Against this alienating backdrop, students suffer an epidemic of loneliness and isolation that threatens the mental health of young people across the country.

How do our university administrations respond to this criticism? We hardly hear a peep from anyone outside our student unions and student run publications. You would think the self-proclaimed freedom fighters over at the Institute of Public Affairs would be up in arms about such a monstrous move to bureaucracy and the strangling of academic and student freedom. But no, instead we are subjected to the absurd beatings of the culture war drums as they desperately seek to import American political controversies to Australia. Think the whole: ”Campus free speech is under attack! Conservative students are being overrun by social justice warriors!” line of attack that should have been left in the year 2015 back with the irrelevant Milo Yiannopolouses of the world.

If you are like me, upset by the comments made by public figures like Mr Bloomfield, don’t direct your anger at him. Direct your anger to the university administrators and lawmakers that have created the world that allowed him to take this perspective. If we are to make universities socially relevant and seen as places that are worth attending, we must dismantle greedy administrations and start holding them to account.

Maddy Taylor

‘Is there a profession called “arts” outside of being an artist? Not that I’ve ever heard of.’

Having opened five eCommerce businesses by the tender age of seventeen, this is Jack Bloomfield’s expert commentary on the state of tertiary education in this country.

First, let me explain the concept of drop shipping, the model through which Jack supposedly made his millions.

Drop shipping, in essence, consists of buying products from one website and selling them on your own website at a marked-up price. Sounds pretty simple, right?

Yes, it largely is.

This model, as Jack has proven, can be picked up with a bit of time and dabbling and a few YouTube tutorials. Or, if you’ve got an extra $3,500 to spare for a one-hour phone call with Bloomfield, you can pick his brains as an expert entrepreneur, joining the hive-mind of e-businessmen selling the millionaire dream. According to this cult, those not motivated by money are both losers and failures, part of the ”mediocre” hogwash that comprise the slave-like masses.

I don’t cast doubt on the work Jack has put into developing his image. Credit where it is due, he has mastered Brand Management 101 by deleting comments criticising him on his Instagram page and blocking critics from commenting on his Facebook page.

All in all, however, it is disingenuous and pig-headed for him to make inflammatory statements about the worth, or lack thereof, he perceives in higher education. It is also disingenuous of Bloomfield to claim he was not in a privileged position to begin with; Bloomfield attends an extremely expensive elite Brisbane private school and his father is a CEO. Due to his position at birth, Jack enjoys tremendous social and economic capital from which to draw on. The vast majority of teenagers don’t possess such advantages by virtue of family connections, and thus cannot become ”self-made” millionaires. Not everyone can afford the minimum $10,000 investment required to take part in Bloomfield’s 12-month mentoring program where he deigns to impart his divine knowledge to us mere mortals.

It is sadly ironic that a year of Bloomfield’s mentoring program costs thousands of dollars more than a year of university education at a high-ranking Australian tertiary instititution. In light of his claims that Arts degrees are worth nothing more than the pieces of paper they are printed on, I would like to see the results Bloomfield’s vapid mentoring program have produced. I suspect Bloomfield could not demonstrate said results, for his program is fundamentally a meaningless exercise in rent-seeking, exploiting the ignorant and  gullible alike.

We must start to think critically as a society about ‘self-made millionaires’ and other ‘entrepreneurs,’ giving motivational seminars, selling online courses for thousands of dollars and telling us there is no value in the pursuit of intellect and knowledge. How did a seventeen-year-old who has not yet achieved a high school education develop a full online university course in eCommerce all by himself? (Hint: he probably didn’t). What qualifies him to deliver an absurdly expensive mentoring program as some kind of Tony Robbins-lite business guru? (Hint: he probably isn’t qualified). Why is a one hour phone call with Bloomfield aparently worth $3,500? (Hint: It isn’t worth anything).

Where did we go so wrong as a society? Drop-shipping is essentially a parasitic economic activity for it produces nothing of productive economic value. It is for all intents and purposes simply an exercise in rent-seeking. Why then is Bloomfield being splashed across the Murdoch papers and celebrated on Australian network television as some kind of latter day Adam Smith, champion of capitalism and free enterprise? What exactly is respectable or admirable about reselling the cheap products of sweat shop labor online?

Hint again: there’s nothing worthy of respect here. Bloomfield and the hive-mind of influencers, entrepreneurs and snake-oil salesmen want you to believe their illusion so as to keep selling you their online education courses and ‘motivational’ seminars, where people like him and Gary Vaynerchuk will tell you you’re failing if you haven’t broken out of your comfortable 9-5 to embrace your entrepreneurial spirit and resell products manufactured through forced labour, like Jack.

This is a dangerous narrative that we must begin to resist, both individually and collectively. It is unfortunately easy to get sucked up by the charisma of huckster businessmen giving their well-scripted sales pitches about the worthlessness of life outside their hair-brained programs. It will be tempting for impressionable teenagers and high school graduates, unsure of their futures, to buy into this anti-intellectual narrative and abandon the pursuit of tertiary education altogether.

This is not to say that there are no alternative avenues to a university degree. I am a fierce advocate for vocational training and trade apprenticeships. But following in the footsteps of a wealthy, privileged 17-year-old with the advantage of existing business connections through his affluent parents is sorely misguided and a dangerous path to embark upon.

I admire the entrepreneurial spirit of those who genuinely build themselves from nothing by spotting gaps in the market and innovating. Drop shipping is entirely alien to authentic entrepreneurial activity. It is simply exploiting cheap overseas labor to pedal more cheap, worthless low-quality products to consumers as the world burns and stares down ecological catastrophe. Bloomfield, despite his insistence on his status as an expert, would not know entrepreneural spirit if it knocked him in the face. Bloomfield prices his advice at around seven times the hourly rate of your average Queen’s Counsel barrister and around thirty five times higher than the average professional hourly consultancy fee. What a joke.

Bloomfield has seemingly constructed a magnificant artiface of lies and deceit. While breakfast talk show hosts fawn over him, it is worth noting the fact that Jack’s ABN was only registered in December last year. This is despite the fact that he claims to have made millions in business ventures stretching back five years. Open-source domain information also shows his domain is registered under his father’s name, and his parents’ tennis equipment business is listed as the organisation. It is curious none of his feted apps or businesses, including Next Gift, Best Bargain Club and Blue Health, are available on the App Store or searchable on Google.

It seems as though Jack Bloomfield is a con-artist and a snake oil salesman, and the apparent widespread support for him and his work is a sad indictment on our ability to think about and look critically at self-made millionaires and entrepreneurs. I deplore Jack’s message about university education, and encourage all who seek to improve themselves through the pursuit of knowledge to do so. After all, gaining a deeper insight into our world and what makes it turn might allow us to see through the lies of those making money off forced labor and ripping off aspiring businesspeople for overpriced ‘consultancy.’

Do not buy into the influencer narrative. Do not buy into Jack Bloomfield.

Against Hollywood Cinema: An Anti-Capitalist Rebuttal of Riordan’s ‘In Defence of Hollywood Cinema’

Tom Harrison

In this article I do not aim to offend Liam Riordan, nor any other person. Rather, I write this piece to express my feelings towards the debate around the ‘quality of Hollywood cinema’, as I feel many have been bogged down in the question ‘is Hollywood cinema good?’ rather than the far more important question ‘why does Hollywood cinema exist, and what does it do?’.

Liam Riordan’s article In Defence of Hollywood is not ill-conceived, as I too feel shame and despair when confronted by the plethora of cultural critics who construct monoliths – such as ‘the category of Hollywood cinema’ – merely to tear them down with rhetoric. Such ‘intellectuals’, often disciples of Jordan Peterson or of a thoughtless ‘popular’ feminism, invariably decry ‘mainstream media’ simply as bad. On this point I agree with Riordan, these uncomplicated critics have nothing to offer in terms of nuanced critique.

But such arguments, loosely described within Riordan’s article, must not be engaged with uncritically. At the risk of betraying myself as a reader of Foucault – a charge I may indeed be guilty of – the very notion of a Hollywood cannot remain unchallenged if it is to be honestly and critically discussed. Rather unfortunately, Riordan met his opponent on their own terms: he defended ‘Hollywood’. He defended, as I shall argue, the indefensible. He defended a system of production that is designed to subjugate the worker and prolong work itself, all in order to expand and enforce capitalism.

The ‘Hollywood’ that Riordan engages with does not exist. There is no unified force, no table of executives, no board of directors that creates films. But to say there is no ‘Hollywood’ is not to say there is no ‘culture industry’. Rather, the term Hollywood does not adequately or accurately describe the late capitalist emergence of manufactured culture; manufactured by and for those under capitalism in order to remedy the cultural chaos caused by, among other factors: the death of God, the dissolution of any precapitalistic restraints, and social and technological differentiation and specialisation. Such a system, as described by Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, differentiates itself from the liberal notion of ‘Hollywood’, as the ‘culture industry’ is not a collection of production studios, but rather, production of culture itself. It is not conscious, nor reducible to the individual. ‘Hollywood’ is controlled by men, the ‘culture industry’ is controlled by the leviathan of late Capitalism: reducing all in its attempt to expand production.

The product of this system is the production of films for the purpose of ‘mass deception’ and uniform indoctrination, according to Adorno. Riordan describes a similar system himself:

“Hollywood is an industry, just like any other. It works on supply and demand: the smaller “sub-­studios” like Focus Features cater to an audience that wants smaller, more emotional, perhaps more specific experiences, where the bigger studios cater to a wider audience, as well as to those who want to see something that necessitates a huge budget.”

All tastes are catered for within the ‘culture industry’, but not because of supply and demand. To quote Adorno, “Something is provided for all so none may escape” (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2016, p.123). Riordan is correct in claiming that the totality of Hollywood is due to its capitalist structure, but wrong in assuming there is ‘demand’. The ‘culture industry’ is not driven by demand, there is no demand for the specific entertainment offered by the ‘culture industry’. No worker needs Toy Story, John Wick, or Love, Actually like they need food, medicine, shelter, etc. The worker seeks amusement, a distraction from the hell of late capitalism, and the culture industry provides it. “Amusement under late capitalism is the prolongation of work” (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2016, p.137). The worker seeks distraction from his existence and turns to amusement rather than confronting his radical freedom and thus ability to change. He seeks a tranquiliser and the culture industry provides.

In doing so, the ‘culture industry’ no longer pretends to make art: “the people at the top are no longer concerned with concealing their monopoly … They call themselves industries; and when their directors’ incomes are published, any doubt of the social utility of their product is removed” (Adorno and Horkheimer, 2016, p.121). The ‘culture industry’ is merely an extension of the mechanics of late capitalism, which perpetuates its workforce and sustains it, as painkillers sustain a crippled man.

This claim may appear to be a wild Marxist conspiracy, written by a wild Marxist. Such an accusation is deeply offensive to me, as I am not a wrenched Marxist but an Anti-capitalist.

I couldn’t possibly hope to achieve a total description and deconstruction of the ‘culture industry’ within this piece, so instead I shall turn the reader’s attention to Chapter 5 of Dialectic of Enlightenment, The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as Mass Deception.

Riordan’s piece came to the wrong conclusions, due to its being a response to the most pathetic and thoughtless cultural criticism imaginable. To say ‘the culture industry is incapable of producing art due to the profit motive eclipsing all intentions of meaningful expression and artistic creation’ is a fairly compelling argument (expanded on by Adorno) but to reduce this to the level of ‘Hollywood = Bad!’, well, on that I do sympathise with Riordan. It is a distraction from real analysis and inquiry.

This piece did not fully address whether Hollywood can produce good films or ‘art’, simply because such nebulous questions are almost impossible to answer and doing so would be tedious. Any definition of art is likely inadequate, as is any category of ‘good’. Rather, I expressed my feelings towards the ‘culture industry’ as an answer to the unspoken question, “what does ‘Hollywood’ do?”, hopefully correcting the otherwise pointless course of the dialogues surrounding ‘art and Hollywood’. The quality of the cinema the ‘culture industry’ produces should be as irrelevant to the consumer as it is to the producer, for ‘quality’ is merely a method of differentiation within a totalising system, which attempts to momentarily unify the schizophrenia of late capitalist signs within a product.

The Spectacular Success of Seleucus, the Great Opportunist

Spiridon Raikos

After the death of Alexander the Great in 323 BCE, his empire, which covered land all the way from what is now Albania to the edge of the Indian subcontinent, was split among his generals. These generals, known as the Diadochi, were to wage wars over Alexander’s territories that would characterise the next fifty years, and mark the beginning of what was known as the ‘Hellenistic period’ – the time when Greek influence over the Mediterranean and West/Central Asian world was at its peak. One of those generals in particular, and his rise to power, is worth our attention, if only because it demonstrates the enormous role of opportunism throughout history.

Seleucus I Nicator arguably had the most illustrious career of the Diadochi. In 315 BCE, initially having lost his satrapy and military to Antigonus Monophthalmus (a rival king and Diadochi), he would through the years of war come to regain his seat in Babylon and then rise to be one of the most powerful rulers in the ancient world. At its peak, the Seleucid Empire spanned territory from the western coast of Asia Minor to the Indus River, and was a testament to the monumental victories Seleucus had achieved. Given his unexpected ascent to power and prominence in the history of the Wars of the Diadochoi, the degree of Seleucus’ agency and fortune is a topic of great debate. Yet, his career clearly indicates a tendency toward opportunism.

Seleucus was an opportunist, not a long-term schemer, drawing upon key milestones in his rise to prominence such as his role in the murder of the Diadochi Perdiccas and subsequent promotion to satrap of Babylonia at Triparadeisus, his conflict with Antigonus (another Diadochi), and his flight from Babylon. Seleucus had seized opportunities out of both fortunes and misfortunes, and never had any sort of long-term plan.

The impressive rise of Seleucus I Nicator is made ever more so when considering his rather less prominent occupation during the campaign of Alexander in Asia. He is first mentioned in antiquity regarding his actions in the Indian campaign of Alexander’s conquests, as commander of the Hyspaspists, an elite infantry unit. Unlike the other successors, Seleucus was not one of Alexander’s primary generals. His rise to prominence occurred only after Alexander’s death, and over the course of years in the emerging power struggle among the successors. His first major position was as Perdiccas’ chiliarch, second-in-command to the appointed regent – up until his role in Perdiccas’ murder on an ill-fated Egyptian campaign. He was appointed satrap of Babylon as a result by the treaty of Triparadeisus, having made gains from his assassination of Perdiccas. In 316 BCE however, he lost his position due to a dispute with Antigonus, forcing Seleucus to flee for his life to Egypt under the protection of Ptolemy, another one of Alexander’s successors. While Seleucus’ power was limited during this period, his influence could be felt in his use as a propaganda tool by the other successors opposed to Antigonus. Seleucus, over the course of the struggle against Antigonus would regain his seat in Babylon and from there ascend to be one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful kings of Alexander’s successor kingdoms – his new ‘Seleucid Empire’ stretching at its height from the western coast of Asia Minor to the north-west of India. This spectacular rise from complete nobody to indomitable leader begs the question – was Seleucus’ ascension part of a long running scheme, or did he simply grab any opportunity he could reach, and get lucky?

The key events of Seleucus’ adult life involve the murder of his general Perdiccas and the resulting treaty of Triparadeisus, which gave him his position as satrap of Babylonia. It would be easy to claim his prominent role in Perdiccas’ murder proves that Seleucus had a constant plan from the beginning: but the general’s death was the result of a mutiny by dissatisfied troops, and Seleucus had joined on a pre-existing conspiracy against the regent’s life along with two other officers, Peithon and Antigenes. The apparent motivation for the assassination of Perdiccas (according to extant, if incomplete, historical evidence) was the regent’s ill-fated campaign in Egypt against Ptolemy, who had challenged Perdiccas’ authority, which subsequently lead to war. Ptolemy’s dissent against Perdiccas’ regency was not exactly a unique position, however, as the latter sought absolute control; his claims as guardian of Alexander’s interests conflicted with the fact that Alexander’s widow, Roxana, was pregnant and could potentially give birth to a male heir,

In historian David Braund’s analysis of these events, Perdiccas also rejected the claims of another possible heir, Herakles, son of Barsine and said to be Alexander’s son (though illegitimate) so Perdiccas’ denial of this claim is reasonable given the importance of Alexander’s blood. Ptolemy also suggested the empire be ruled by the successor generals as a joint council, which would undermine Perdiccas’ authority as regent. Perdiccas had thusly made enemies, and in 320 BCE he would face his downfall when the campaign against Ptolemy resulted in disaster. According to Diodorus Siculus, more than two thousand of his men, including some prominent commanders, were killed, prompting dissatisfaction that lead to mutiny. The resulting mutiny led to his assassination, the details of which are not fully known; Peithons’ involvement is recorded by Diodorus Siculus, with the implication that Antigenes led the coup, and Seleucus is mentioned in passing.

Seeing that Seleucus is given less attention in this event and is not the leader, it is hard to imagine this being somehow part of a grand power play. Perdiccas’ actions both in regards to the other Diadochoi and his failure in leading his troops to victory were unpredictable, and thus it would be safer to assume Seleucus was acting on opportunity. The following regent, Antipater, nearly met the same fate as Perdiccas at Triparadeisus, and would have succumbed had Seleucus not had joined with Antigonus to quell the mutiny. It would be strange to think that Seleucus’ plot involved an alliance with someone so unsuccessful, whose views actively contradicted those of the other Diadochoi (especially Ptolemy). It also makes little sense to believe that Seleucus was merely continuing his role in service of Alexander’s military – with Perdiccas at first, then acting as the representative of Alexander’s will until the appearance of a suitable heir. Seleucus’ role in the assassination seems more driven by dissatisfaction with Perdiccas’ leadership than by adherence to some grand plan for ascendancy.

The other key event precipitating Seleucus’ rise was his loss of the satrapy of Babylon in 315 BCE, leading to his reconquest of the same satrapy and the subsequent establishment of the Seleucid Dynasty. Seleucus’ first period as satrap began from 321 BCE, but due to conflict with Antigonus, he was forced to abandon his posting in 315 BCE. The roots of Seleucus’ conflict with Antigonus are found in Antigonus’ own rise to power, particularly in Antigonus’ symbolic acts, and his possession of the royal army (a significant military force) enabling him to take on rival satrap Eumenes, with Seleucus’ aid. Contemporary historians believe the principle source of conflict between the two satraps was the power vacuum left in Alexander’s wake – the account most supported by ancient evidence. According to Appian, conflict between Antigonus and Seleucus began when Seleucus insulted one of the latter’s officers in his presence, without consulting Antigonus first, a great public offense. Antigonus responded by demanding to see Seleucus’ accounts. Appian makes no mention of exactly how Seleucus responded here, but describes Seleucus fleeing Babylon, knowing that he could not openly fight Antigonus.

Diodorus Siculus, our other primary source, describes Seleucus’ response in more detail: Seleucus chided Antigonus, stating that the satrap had no authority to investigate Seleucus’ administration, and his position was his by right, a reward from Macedonia for his loyalty to Alexander. Seleucus subsequently travelled to Egypt and allied himself with Ptolemy. His new role as a propaganda tool, while it lacked actual agency, led to a coalition of the remaining Diadochoi against Antigonus, consisting of Ptolemy, Cassander, and Lysimachus.

Assuming Seleucus had planned his ascension, it would be difficult to comprehend his rise as a careful plot, by him or any other actor in this time, when Ptolemy had allegedly only given him ‘eight hundred foot-soldiers and about two hundred horses’, according to Diodorus, though Appian cites only a thousand foot soldiers and three hundred cavalry. Details of his extant military forces greatly enhance Seleucus’ characterization as an opportunist. No matter which primary source is consulted, Seleucus lacked the requisite forces for a recapture of Babylon. It may also be the case that Ptolemy rewarded him only in passing, clearly keeping larger forces for his own aims and giving a little to spare once Seleucus was no longer of any use to him.

Standing up against Antigonus in 315 BCE on account of personal pride and issues with Antigonus’ authority and being forced to run to Ptolemy, only to be given practically nothing in the way of military might as a token reward after years assisting Ptolemy is not the best plan one could conceive of if one were making long-term plans to become the next king of Alexander’s empire.

To say the least.

With this puny military might, however, Seleucus did manage to retake Babylon from Antigonid control in 311 BCE. Diodorus explains that Seleucus hoped for local Babylonian support, given their warm reception to him in his time as satrap: yet, as a result of his initially small force, Seleucus was required to raise their morale first. He allegedly accomplished this by appealing to Alexander’s success as the results of experience and skill: both attributes also associated with Seleucus due to his extensive military experience. Seleucus as an opportunist here appears to be the best way to explain his actions – he appears to understand his strength in military experience is the most expedient tool, and it was more expedient to convince the locals of that fact that than carefully planning and raising an army somewhere else.

Seleucus saw victory after victory (other than a single defeat against Indian king Chandragupta Maurya), and his empire wasestablished in 312 BCE, not to fall until the Roman conquest in 63 BCE. This impressive rise to power is a testament to his skill as a commander, and his ability to take advantage of misfortunes which occurred to him, and perhaps of his personal fortune as well – but it is not evidence of his skill at long-term planning. His role in Perdiccas’ assassination was not as leader – he merely latched onto something that existed long before him, and came out on top. He was given Babylon, but had never planned for it, and so his undiplomatic refusal to acquiesce to Antigonus’ demands to investigate his administration escalated to the point of outright hostility. His service under Ptolemy gave him nearly nothing in return, but Seleucus was able to make use of his few resources anyway. His is an empire that began with the grasping of opportunity, with chance, like so many others.

How Brisbane’s Paniyiri Festival Lost Its Way

Peter Calos

As May draws to a close, it is time to once again revisit, and mourn, that classic festival venerated by philhellenes all over Brisbane: the Paniyiri.

Yes, the weekend is a tried-and-true vehicle for the consumption of gyros, honey puffs, dolmades, calamari, and that other thing you can’t quite remember the name of but you tried once on holiday in Mykonos and thought was pretty good.

But is it worth anything else?

Sure, there’s a cultural exhibition in the club next door, and dances late into the night. Not to mention a mock village made of a few deck chairs. (Let me tell you from experience – that’s as far from a “Greek village” as we are from Alpha Centauri.) We’ll have fun despite ourselves, since at heart it’s a social event – but everyone will eventually acknowledge at some point in the proceedings that it’s not what it used to be. Every year for at least the past three years, as far as I know, some strapped-for-a-story young journalist has tapped into the mostly-unspoken Greek consensus: that the festival has lost the connection it once had to their Greek community of Brisbane, and is now a mere commercial venture. And the trend looks set to continue: advertisements for the event now feature, and I quote, ‘Greek Yum Cha’, as a product on offer.

It is immensely hard to see how we reached the point of apparently needing to claim cultural practices from China to service a Greek festival, given that we have the same thing which can be found in a two-second Google search for ‘mezes’! But nonetheless, this is the bed Brisbane’s Greek community has made, and we can either lie in it or sleep on the floor – give up on the whole thing and just sell it to Channel 7 already.

It’s an accepted fact, at this point, that the spirit of the thing is, if not gone, then at least noticeably corrupted.

In response to my arguments, a philhellene will make two claims: it’s an excuse to meet friends and enjoy a social outing, in an otherwise drab time of the year filled with overly grim political role playing both on HBO and the ABC.

(I think you know what I mean.)

And, second, “at least it shows off more culture than Australia usually has on display.”

The first point – that it is a fun social outing – no one could take issue with. The second?

What is ‘culture?’ Allow me a slight diversion here, for the sake of a fuller understanding.

‘Culture’ is something that results from multiple singular perspectives coming to a consensus, assigning value based on shared values. Historically, the purple dye known as ‘Tyrian purple’ was reserved for the colouring of imperial robes, and the robes of higher statesmen, because harvesting the specific dye was difficult, compared to the more common colours. Hence the idea of purple as the ‘royal’ colour throughout much of Roman history. To give a more modern example, if a novel exemplifies a particular national outlook, captures a moment in time for a certain culture, or outlines a movement with enough accuracy, it becomes a ‘cultural icon’ – i.e. Nikos Kazantzakis’ novels are held up as ‘Greek literature.’ The Notre Dame is an expression of Gothic Catholicism, the combined efforts of hundreds of French workmen over hundreds of years that were able to come together to create a ‘cultural icon.’ These things are what is meant by ‘culture’ – but none can exist without acknowledging the frameworks of shared understanding which underlie their existence.

The Greeks, upon our dispersion to America, the UK, and Australia over the last century, have offered the Western world many aspects of our old culture that amounted to the following: honey puffs, baklava, gyros, Zorba’s syrtaki dance, the uniforms worn by soldiers during the Greek War of Independence, and My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

Unfortunately, without an excessive time and attention investment, it’s difficult to understand the underlying reasons for those things, or their composition (For example: what is the Zorba – is it one dance? No, it actually borrows from two different types of traditional dance). The Greek customs and symbols mentioned above fit into the Anglo-Saxon mould because they have universal appeal and they become ‘symbols of Greekness’, trappings of Hellenism that don’t require their original meaning to make sense anymore. Does anyone remember the origins of Zorba’s dance, or the traditions it borrows from? (Who even remembers who Zorba was?) Why did the soldiers of the Greek War of Independence wear shoes with pom-poms? How could anyone in their right mind actually find My Big Fat Greek Wedding funny?

It takes time and investment to learn the answers to these questions, time and investment that most don’t want to, or can’t, put in. In a grand vindication of Baudrillard, the symbols have assumed substance from outside their place of origin – given new meaning by a Western tradition seeing them for the first time. I am Greek. That means I must also constantly eat baklava, spend half my life on beaches, always do funny-looking dances, wear a silly uniform, and so on and so on.

Of course, because these symbols are so distinct, it’s easy to make money off them. They are excellent advertising tools, which attracts Channel 7 et al. And so we return to the discussion at hand. Oh, the festival’s lost its way a little, yes. But are things really so bad as the pessimists say? Is there a medicine for the popular complaint?

Up till now I was able to excuse the slight bastardisation of custom as a translation done for convenience. Very few people are attracted to a culture by a desire to understand its underlying assumptions, after all. People are interested in something initially by the trappings, by symbols divested of their true meaning. Fair enough. You can’t start off rambling about rebetiko culture from the 1910s and expect anyone to really care – you have to show them the dancing, and if they’re interested enough they’ll start exploring from there. Nor can you attempt to celebrate a smaller culture within the context of a larger one without excising the more specific, unpopular, obscure cultural artifacts – no one will be eating lentil soup, for example, at Musgrave Park this year, or wearing a Chi-Rho emblem. Obviously, they serve gyros, and those passionate enough to dress up will wear togas. One cannot fault the Paniyiri’s organisers for exploiting the very marketable symbols of Hellenism, as laid down in this country by their milk-bar-owning forefathers 80 years ago, for the chance to show off a tiny bit of the real Greece. There’s quite literally no other way to do it than that.

However, surely the desire for recognition and popularity has reached a complete nadir when this translation is done through an unnecessary third party, when radio ads advocate for ‘Greek Yum Cha’?

Yum Cha is Chinese. It’s not Greek. Therefore, this is not Greek food, but a fusion. I have nothing against that in and of itself, but it shouldn’t be present at a Hellenic festival. What an utterly ridiculous disgrace this is, that we apparently can’t stand on our own cultural merits and have to resort to leeching off Chinese customs to get people to like what we eat! Those Greeks who would protest at my words – are you averse enough to your own culture that you can’t tolerate it without a familiar Asiatic balm? Where is your respect for your ancestors? You never had to do this before, Paniyiri organisers – there’s no need to embarrass us all by starting now.

This is one of very few moments where I have been ashamed of my own culture. The organisers have stooped so low in order to draw in a new audience that they have created a festival not just out of sync with, but counter to its original intentions. You’re no longer showing off Greek culture to Brisbane – you’re actively trying to disguise it as something else, to erase what it really is, to get people to pay attention to it.

I cannot be the only person in this city who finds that absolutely disgusting!

Try not to misunderstand – even as it was commercialised I had some appreciation for this festival, because, Westernised or not, as annoying as Effie’s voice is, the symbols it was showing off were true to their origins. Oh, they were draped in too much honey, you had to pay exorbitant prices for them, the announcers kept mispronouncing the names and talking about them in a silly manner, but we still acknowledged what they really were.

Now that even the token veneer of Greekness has been stripped away, and traditional Hellenic customs are presented in a manner utterly counter to their origin, quelling all curiosity and distorting people’s image of what Greek culture really is, I see little reason to attend the Paniyiri again. It’s no longer even pretending to be Greek. I can’t respect this festival if the organisers don’t – and they clearly don’t.

Lee Chang-dong’s Burning: A Momentous Achievement

Tim Page

When considering the state of Hollywood in 2018, it is hard not to be overcome by a wave of depression. Every year our cinemas are filled with sequels of big budget blockbuster franchises – Fast and Furious 9 perhaps representing the nadir of this trend of seemingly endless series.  Even the ‘serious’ fare nominated for Academy Awards fails to inspire – note the excretable Golden Globe winner Bohemian Rhapsody. South Korean cinema, however, is a stark contrast. Perhaps unbeknownst to many here in Australia, for decades South Korea has been producing some of the finest, most innovative films in the world. 2018’s Burning, directed by Lee Chang-dong and loosely based on a short story by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, is no exception. Burning was first screened at the Cannes Film Festival last year and recently concluded a limited theatrical run in Australia.

Burning is a film of great power – a haunting, deeply unsettling work which you will revisit in your mind over and over, questioning what you previously believed and your reasons for doing so. This film makes you feel as if you’re slowly falling into a suffocating trap. It’s ambiguities and contradictions almost necessitate multiple viewings.

A young man, Jong-su, (Yoo Ah-in) has a chance encounter with a female childhood neighbour, Hae-mi (Jeon Jong-seo). Both are lonely young people adrift in the world. Hae-mi departs for a trip to Africa and requests Jong-su sit her apartment and watch over her cat ‘Boil’- a mysterious feline that never shows itself to Jong-su, somehow hiding away in the tiny, cramped apartment.  Hae-mi returns from holiday accompanied by Ben (Steven Yeun, known for his role as Glenn on The Walking Dead) – an effete, cosmopolitan ‘Gatsby’ living in a penthouse in Gangnam, one of Seoul’s most affluent suburbs.

The contrast between Jong-su and Ben is obvious from the beginning. Ben is the very image of a modern, Westernized Korean. Rich, confident, charming and comfortable with his place in society. Jong-Su is a precariously employed ‘writer’ who seems to do very little actual writing, living on his imprisoned fathers rustic farm, surrounded by the noises of North Korean propaganda from across the nearby border. His distaste for Ben is obvious from the start – he resents not only the theft of his erstwhile lover but the very facts of Ben’s existence.

In a sequence that almost borders on comic, Ben continually invites Jong-su to high society dinners and dates, alongside himself and Hae-mi. His motivations are somewhat unclear – does he genuinely see Jong-su as a potential friend or is he merely poking and prodding, toying with  a hapless social inferior?

One day, as dusk approaches, Ben invites himself and Hae-mi over to Jong-su’s farm, arriving in a luxury sports car. While watching the sunset, Ben reveals to Jong-su his odd hobby – finding abandoned greenhouses in the countryside and burning them every two months, as a way to find meaning in the meaninglessness of life. The South Korean police, Ben explains, do not care about mere greenhouses – they are unworthy of existence. Shortly after this encounter Hae-mi goes missing. Jong-su is drawn to the conclusion that Ben is a serial killer and ‘burning greenhouses’ is a euphemism for his murders.  Jong-su stalks Ben, finding new pieces of ‘evidence’ that only strengthen this belief – in Ben’s apartment he discovers Hae-mi’s plastic watch and a cat that answers to the name Boil. In the final scene, Jong-su lures Ben to a lonely stretch of road and stabs him to death, burning the bloody clothes and Ben’s corpse in his vehicle, seemingly having gotten away with the perfect murder.

What then, are we to make of all this? Is Burning really just a simple thriller about a man seeking revenge for his murdered girlfriend? To be sure, the film is perfectly enjoyable viewed merely on this level. But so much more can be found by peeling back the layers. The film’s primary storyline revolves not around romance but around the feud between Jong-su and Ben – the female character Hae-mi in many respects seems to exist only as a plot device, something to be fought over between the two male characters. However, it seems plausible that the character is deliberately written in such a shallow way to make a point about the status of women in Korean society and beyond.  Hae-mi is not so much a real person to Jong-su but a fantasy, a cypher, a character he wishes he could write about.  At a party hosted by Ben, Hae-mi shares a concept she gleaned from time spent amongst the Kalahari bushmen – that of ‘Big Hunger’ and ‘Little Hunger’. Little Hunger denotes actual physical malnourishment, whereas Big Hunger is a kind of spiritual malnourishment – a failure to find something bigger and more meaningful than oneself.

To Jong-su, Hae-mi is a way of filling this hunger, but she is an unreliable, potentially dishonest person. At one point, she shares with him a story from their childhood – she had once fallen in a well and been trapped for hours before finally being rescued by Jong-su. However, several other persons – the owner of the property where the incident supposedly happened and Hae-mi’s mother – dispute the tale and conclusively state that no such well ever existed in the village. Jong-su’s desperation to believe her fantasy – his desperation to believe in a world where he is a saviour figure, a knight in shining armour riding forth to save a lost and damaged woman, is particularly telling.

In the same way Hae-mi in their first meeting acts out a pantomime of eating an orange, so too does Jong-su act out his own pantomime – of being a writer, of being a man in love and a saviour of women. This is one reason why he reacts so negatively to Ben: Hae-mi’s relationship with Ben shatters this delusion. Jong-su does not care about Hae-mi as a person – he cares about an idealised portrait of her in his head. When this idealised portrait of the virtuous ingénue is undermined by her behaviour on his farm – drinking, smoking marijuana and dancing in the nude – Jong-su lashes out, condemning the object of his desires as nothing more than a whore.  The intermittent masturbation scenes – which may be initially viewed as somewhat pointless – are demonstrative of the fact that Jong-su’s relationship with Hae-mi is little more than an act of ‘self-love’.

It is clear that ‘burning greenhouses’ is indeed a euphemism for the treatment of women, but it is dubious whether it is an allegory for murder. No hard evidence exists to prove Ben’s status as a serial killer, only innuendo and suspicion. It is clear he uses and discards women emotionally – he is seen with a new girlfriend mere days after Hae-mi’s disappearance. It is in this quick discarding of women when they no longer serve the purpose of men we can see the true meaning of the term ‘burning’.  Whatever is the cause of Hae-mi’s disappearance – murder, suicide or running away – she is ‘burned’ by the two most important males in her life.

Ben simply moves on. He finds that the best way to feed his ‘great hunger’ is to enjoy all the trappings of a luxurious modern life. Jong-su however, cannot accept the consequences of his actions and so crafts a grand narrative in his head – with himself cast as the righteous avenger against a dastardly villain.  Ben not only represents the man who ‘stole’ Hae-Mi from him, but something greater – the societal forces plaguing Jong-su’s life. Ben is modern Korea – the Korea that is in some ways more American and Western than Korean. Jong-su is the underclass left behind by this new society, dealing not only with economic struggle but the weight of history. Consider Jong-su’s proximity to the North Korean border – the weight of Korea’s turbulent history is omnipresent in his life.  Ben is a scapegoat, a lightning rod for all Jong-su’s resentments, and he pays the ultimate price for it – his life.

This is a film that, to pardon the pun, burns itself into your consciousness, but it is perhaps not one that can be entirely classified as ‘enjoyable’. It works like a puzzle, and like most puzzles it is at time frustrating and confusing. However, once you get the pieces to fit and see the full picture, your admiration and appreciation only grows.

So, in the end, what is Burning?  Is it a film about men and their relationship to women, a parable of social class and the weight of history, or just a simple murder mystery and revenge thriller?  Like Schrodinger’s cat, ingeniously referenced by the presence (or non-presence) of Hae-Mi’s cat Boil, it simultaneously exists as all of these things and none of them, and so much more. Several things can be said for certain however – the stifling atmosphere created by Lee Chang-dong’s sublime direction and script and the performances of the three lead actors – Steven Yeun, Yoo Ah-in and Jeon Jong-seo – are worthy of the highest plaudits and praise. Burning is another fine example of the best of Korean cinema, and I highly recommend seeking it out to enjoy for yourself it’s pleasures and mysteries.

Reviving the Heartland

Stephanie Saal

“At eventime, the shadow,
Of one great giant lies,
Across a pleasant homestead,
That sits upon the rise.”

Australia has an agricultural problem. It’s not a problem that is based simply on economics or ethics or politics – it’s a cultural issue that encompasses all influences and elements of Australian society. It is an issue that has caused a formerly strong and stable industry to be exploited and mocked by leaders and workers alike, leaving farmers and regional workers exposed.

It’s a problem that has caused a variety of incidents to surface in the past year; the industry has been wracked by climate change, national food scares such as needles in strawberries, and the exploitation of crucial environmental systems such as the Murray-Darling Basin.

Unfortunately, and fortunately for Australia, our country is big. You can fit Britain into Australia 59 times and still have room left over. It’s a blessing to live in such a large nation with such beautiful natural resources, but it’s also a curse for our ever-growing population centres that sit at the edge of the Australian coastlines, far from the farmers who work miles inland in the heat and the rain and the dirt. Due to its size, farming is often overlooked in the typical ochre Aussie style of ‘she’ll be right mate’. We see news of 500,000 dead cattle in the Townsville droughts and send some thoughts and prayers. We hear about the news of needles in strawberries and begin to throw away perfectly good growth on the back of trucks. When the long lasting drought became newsworthy, only then did we think to financially support our farmers.

These issues are complex, and were caused by complex problems. And the solutions will be complex, with rigorous debate, research and trial before we even begin to reform the industry. But just as a farmer sows seeds of fruit, this article will attempt to sow seeds of change.

The Problem

“The monarch hills above it,
Are crowned by sombre trees,
That billow to the skyline,
Like dark, Titanic seas.”

The hurdles facing the agricultural industry are intrinsically cultural, but we can attempt to define them according to three separate categories: first, the exploitation of the natural environment and other species; the gap between settler culture and Indigenous cultures within farming communities; and lack of concern for native flora and fauna.

These problems are arising from multiple factors, including a lack of serious policy formulation and vision for the farming industry. As said before, there is no simple definition that could be condensed to 1000 words. But by highlighting these issues, we can begin to envision an industry that is supported by urban development and modernisation, instead of resisting them.

Cultivators, Not Conquerors

“Here came – to wage with Nature,
the old uncertain strife –
A stalwart, young selector –
and his newly-wedded wife.”

The natural evolutionary response to oppression is rebellion.

When settlers first arrived in this country, they gazed out at the forests and the fields like conquerors. They took what they wanted for themselves and carved up the land regardless of Indigenous ownership or knowledge. But this was not sustainable. The land fought back through drought and fire and regrowth, causing the farmers to work obstinately to produce food. There were many accounts of starvation during the first years of settlement – farms were not equipped with the knowledge or tools to handle the land. And yet, with a tenacious spirit, the settlers continued to farm the land only how they knew – instead of adopting the Indigenous farming techniques of the First People.

Because of this, the agricultural industry is largely built on Indo-European methods of cultivation. On a deep-rooted level the cultural ‘image’ of the Australian farmer is thus one that depicts the white male taking to the land, carving it in his likeness, taming the wild Australian outback. This image is accompanied by a depiction of the Australian farmer as a man possessing a fierce, unrigid work ethic, matched by a ‘larrikin’ disposition. This cultural image has been normalised and perpetuated through poem, song and book for centuries. It is why today when we see farmers on our television screens the images are of cracked, dry, middle aged men in overalls and dirty shirts, wiping their brows with sweat as they stare out across endless plains and fields. It is fundamentally a misconception of the Australian farmer.

If Australia wishes to reform the Australian agricultural industry, it must first reform the branding and image of the Australian farmer. To achieve this Australia must begin paving the path towards Indigenous agrodiversity and separate itself from its settler roots. Australia must separate itself from a past in which our ancestors rejected the wisdom of Indigenous men and women. We should be working with the First Nation people and relying on their knowledge and their talents to redevelop the land; and above all we should be willing to work with, not against, the raging nature of the Australian outback.

Europeans historically have constructed false narratives surrounding the Indigenous people, portraying them as nomadic hunter-gatherers that killed fauna when they needed to. But this is hardly the reality, and merely served European colonial propaganda efforts.

Tribes such as the Kuku-Yalanji performed their own process of farming now known as polyculture. The tribesmen would sow species of yam, ngardu, bush tomatoes and kangaroo grass with broadcast seeding [freely planting seeds without patterns to allow plants to grow together]. The natural plants grew together and complemented one another in a flourishing, cultivated ecosystem, and withstood the dry and wet seasons appropriately. In the 21stcentury, polyculture would be a welcoming sight for farmers. No longer would they need to fight the land for resources – the food would grow naturally because it has evolved to flourish in these climates. Further, polyculture does not rely on human intervention, therefore harmful pesticides and fertilizers would not be needed. Other negative impacts of agriculture, such as tillage [soil displacement] and biodiversity control would provide essential microbes and bacteria in the soil to strengthen nutrient intake. Additionally, polyculture systems embrace biodiversity of food. Only 70 plant species are estimated to be responsible for the majority of the world’s food intake (Altieri, 1999). In the face of biosecurity scares a polycultural system would introduce hundreds of potential new foods to the market, allowing us to have greater, safer choices for food consumerism. Indigenous tribes regularly cultivated native yams, riberrys, finger-limes, kutjera seeds, warregal greens, and quandongs, while intricately working to redirect riverways in order to trap eels and yabbies for catch. In the hot months of December to April, Indigenous tribes would sow fields of kangaroo grass to make their own form of wheat and feed, then burn the remaining reeds down so that it allowed new vegetation to grow through for kangaroo herding. They even knew how to dry lemon myrtle into a powder and rub it into the flesh of fish, giving it an acidic taste. They knew how to cultivate the land but respected it enough to not conquer it.

Where to from here?

And courage on his face is,
And love is in her eyes –
Some city folk might envy,
The dwellers on the rise.

Much like the settlers that stepped forward and cultivated the land with courage and pluck, we now must reform our farming industry with fearless and innovative imagination.

We must address the issues climate change will have on our farming ecosystems in this country. We must begin to re-develop our farming procedures from Indo-European practices to Indigenous agroindustry. We must begin to prioritise a subsistence economy that respects the environment rather than tramples it. And above all, we must begin to close the divide between urban populations and regional centres. It’s not going to happen overnight, and not everyone will be positive towards it. But a harvest doesn’t happen when the fields are full – a harvest occurs once the hard work is done and the crops have weathered the storms of the season. All we have to do is be diligent and be ready for change.

On Mathematics As Art

Oscar Smee

For many, mathematics is a stultifying series of rules and mechanical computation procedures guided by, at worst, nothing but rote memorisation and at best, intuitions and heuristics. Outside of the very best advanced classes the concept of mathematical argumentation is foreign and the idea of mathematics being creative or beautiful is downright alien.

But formal mathematics could not be more different from the perception of mathematics fostered by schools. Formal mathematics is unlike almost every other domain of human inquiry, in that it entails the almost pure application of logic. The fundamental analytic tool of mathematics is the mathematical proof, a sequence of logical steps from one conclusion to the next, originating in axioms or statements that are assumed to be true. From such axioms one can derive stable, truly complete and artful conclusions about the world and the nature of reality.

The creative potential inherent to mathematics can be seen when examining the key process of abstraction. Abstraction is the method of collecting the ‘essence’ of a phenomena of interest and generalising to capture a wider set of phenomena. The process and power of abstraction can be seen in the very earliest mathematical developments of ancient civilisations. Many ancient cultures developed basic mathematical computational tools to measure distances, areas and volumes. The ancient Egyptians were particularly interested in consistent measurement tools for the proper placement of things like property markers, which tended to wash away in the Nile’s yearly floods.

One technique used by the Egyptians was to take a loop of rope and create marks at 12 equal intervals. The Egyptians knew if they then took this loop of rope and formed a triangle of sides 3, 4 and 5 intervals each, a right angle (90 degrees) would be formed at the corner of the 3 interval and 4 interval sides. This fact has obvious utility in marking out squares or rectangles (perhaps for fields), which have 4 corners at right angles.

To the Egyptians this was a procedure with straight forward practical use. Nowadays any high school student can recognise this as a simple application of the Pythagorean theorem. The theorem is named for Pythagoras (570 BC – 495 BC), the Greek mathematician and cultist who supposedly provided the first proof. The theorem states that for any right-angle triangle, the sum of the square of the two shortest sides is equal to the square of the longest side.

Modern high school students can recognise this technique and its broader significance thanks to the mathematical and philosophical advancements made by the Greeks, who took something like the Egyptian procedure for forming a specific right-angle triangle and generalised it to a truth about the dimensions of any triangle. As trivial as this sounds to modern ears, the use of the word ‘any’ requires a large philosophical and conceptual leap.

One can imagine that Pythagoras’ predecessors would have confirmed many specific cases of his eponymous theorem (possibly through practical work like the Egyptian measuring implement). With the success they had, perhaps over time a kind of ‘scientific’ inductive belief grew to hold sway over the minds of his predecessors – a belief that the theorem held for any right triangle. The ‘scientific’ version of the theorem could be and probably was used for practical purposes. However, the key thing that distinguishes mathematical truth from scientific truth is the fact that mathematical truth holds deductively so long as we accept its axioms. To establish the theorem as mathematical truth, Pythagoras and the Greeks saw that they  needed to make use of abstraction. The translation from concrete examples and procedures to the abstract requires taking the essence of the specific case and generalising to understand a broader phenomenon. The Greeks re-conceptualized the triangle as no longer a specific shape drawn in sand or etched in clay. They removed the unimportant details and re-framed it as a concept to capture any closed shape with three straight line segment sides and three vertices.

This is a bigger leap than it appears at first. Before the Greeks, the triangle and more generally geometric shapes were defined by their representation as etchings on clay or lines in the sand. After the Greeks, representations came to be defined by their abstract conceptualisation. We were able to draw an imperfect representation of a triangle on a piece of clay yet not lose sight of the fact that we were symbolically representing a broader idealised concept.

The power of this abstraction can be best shown in the simple diagram proof of Pythagoras’ theorem:

pythag.jpg

The proof proceeds by first noting that both outer squares have the same area due to having the same side length (a + b). Similarly, the triangles in each square have the same area (we will call this area TriangleArea) because they have the same dimensions. This leads us to the conclusion that, by the equivalent areas of the outer squares the sum of the internal shape areas must also be equal:

Pythag.jpg

We can subtract the area of the 4 triangles from both sides and still retain our equality (we are subtracting the same amount from two equal things) to obtain:

Pythag 2

This is the desired result, QED.

It should be clear from the above that even with this diagram we are not taking a specific triangle or square for this proof. The triangles and squares are simply representations or visual aids for any given right triangle. The actual properties of the triangles and squares utilized are from our abstract definition. While it would be much more difficult to illustrate, the entire argument could have been made in words with the abstract definitions, highlighting the unimportance of the diagram to the truth of the statement. The power of abstraction is clear. Once we re-frame our definitions to make sense outside of tangible representations, we can simply prove the Pythagorean theorem for any triangle in essentially two lines of actual mathematical statements.

The beauty of mathematics is that it is not static. Such definitions often generate new questions. For example, we could now ask of our triangle definition: how do we precisely define abstract lines at all and what makes a line straight? The famous Euclid would seek to answer these new questions in his 4th century BC book, Elements, a text filled with hundreds of precise mathematical proofs.

It is easy to see how abstraction requires creative thinking. The process is not simply an exercise in computational logic – it requires an ability to think imaginatively and inventively. It is not a machine-like process that takes us from our tangible definition of the triangle to our abstract definition but a process that requires the artfulness of the poet or the painter. Perhaps if more students were exposed to the underlying creative process inherent to mathematics, a subject dreaded by many could be made to reflect the liveliness of the reality it so perfectly describes.

 

“Sudanese Gangs”, or the Pernicious Effect of Anecdotal Evidence on our Beliefs

Kyle Clunies-Ross

There’s a joke I have often shared amongst my nerdier friends if our conversations have ever turned to anecdotal evidence. It originates from the brilliant webcomic Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (SMBC):

sudan

For those who have ever had to argue with someone over the validity of anecdotal evidence, it feels like an all too familiar jab at this experience (in the words of Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, “that wound will never fully heal. He will carry it the rest of his life”). But to those who have limited experience within the framework of science, or for whom their thoughts have never turned to the subjectivity of anecdotes, this may seem like an almost untenable position to hold. Isn’t science, after all, based on anecdotes? How else would we know to investigate a claim, if we had never heard of the claim to begin with? And even if that weren’t the case, if it’s so bad, why do so many careers – journalism and politics in particular – almost seem to rely upon them? Here, I will seek to explain why scientists divorce their work from anecdotal evidence, in addition to outlining why anecdotal evidence forms such a terrible foundation for our beliefs and the deleterious impact it has on our society more generally, referencing specifically the “Sudanese gangs” incident during the 2018 Victorian state election.

First, it must be outlined what I mean when I say “anecdote”. By that, I mean a personal account, specifically in this instance about the efficacy of a “cause and effect” relationship. So, for example, I drank some coffee and felt tired afterwards, therefore the coffee made me tired. Syllogistically, one could write this as:

1) I did A, and then B happened,

2) therefore B happened because of A.

Science is not predicated on anecdotes. Anecdotes are a bad form of evidence, if they are even accepted as evidence at all. They are far, far too prone to the post hoc ergo propter hoc (before this, therefore because of this) fallacy. After all, in my example prior, maybe I had decaf coffee and had just had an exhausting day. Maybe I’m a coffee fiend and I need an octuple-shot 16 oz. caramel macchiato with four equals to feel any effect anymore. There is also the possibility coffee really does make me tired. Or maybe I’m just lying to you to provoke a reaction (hands up if you’ve ever had this conversation: “coffee? No thanks, that stuff doesn’t even work on me. Did I ever tell you the time…”). The point is, anecdotes just aren’t very reliable datapoints. They are open to confabulation, deceit, or subconscious cognitive biases.

That doesn’t mean anecdotes can’t be good starting points for further research. Maybe you’ve heard that willow bark is an effective form of pain relief. As it turns out, the bark of willow trees really does help to relieve pain because it contains the chemical salicin. Investigating chemicals like salicin eventually led Charles Frédéric Gerhardt to synthesise acetylsalicylic acid, more commonly known as aspirin. But scientists don’t regard anecdotes as evidence, hence why – if they do hear of an interesting and theoretically sound anecdote – they research whether it’s true or not. The subjectivity of anecdotal “evidence” leads to an incapability of performing any useful statistical analysis on them. You can’t really produce any models from anecdotes, either. For that, you need empirically collected objective data. Scientists are human and are prone to mistakes in logic. Science, as a tool, aims to separate our subjective experiences away from objective reality. That is why, both for the good of a scientists’ reputation and the efficacy of their research, anecdotes are rightly disregarded. There is a reason the only medical “cures” which are based on anecdotal “evidence” are things like homeopathy and naturopathic remedies, and why anti-vaxxers rely so heavily on anecdotes;  scientists have done these studies, and they found no objective data supporting these conclusions.

That is science though. Why should we be so clinical in our approach to our own beliefs? It all relates to issues of representation, controls and sample size. Imagine this: you are mugged by someone with a beard. Then you hear all over the news that, according to politicians, there is a major problem with bearded people mugging random civilians. There are gangs of these bearded fellows roaming the streets. The politicians know this, of course, because they claim all their constituents called them up and told them their own personal accounts. The media too is getting calls about such anecdotes. Well, you’ve been mugged yourself by a man with a beard, so you come to the immediate conclusion that beards cause people to commit more crimes. You are now, in your mind, terrified and resentful towards bearded men. You call up your own representative and your favourite local current affairs program, A Present Affair, to report your own experience. There are three major underlying issues with this approach.

First, you are biased towards reporting your experiences. No one is reporting the tens of thousands of bearded men who go about their lives contributing positively to the community, but at this point everyone would be reporting every remotely bad experience they’ve ever had with these men. These experiences would also be tainted by people who naturally hate men with beards and will make up stories about them, and by minor events which are boosted to seem worse than they really were (an accidental bump in the street can become a deliberate shove upon faulty recollection). This is a problem with the representation of this data.

Second, the politicians and the news almost certainly did not consider alternative factors that explain the data and did not implement any controls to account for this. Let’s say people with beards really were disproportionately represented in the crime statistics. What if the bearded population tends to be younger than other groups of people, something which is correlated with higher rates of criminality? Or what if the bearded population is more dense in areas of lower socio-economic class, which is also correlated with higher rates of criminality? Or what if we didn’t control for the fact that people with beards are overwhelmingly men (no offence to Lettie Lutz), and hence our statistics weren’t compared to other groups of men like it should have been but against the population more generally? If we don’t consider how these factors colour our anecdotal “evidence”, then we might miss out on the real underlying cause of this behaviour.

Finally, our sample size simply might be too small. How many people with beards are there in, say, my home state of Queensland? Well, according to the 2017 census, there are about 2.4 million males living there. If we guess that 5% of those people have beards (a very generous underestimation), then that leaves about 120,000 people with beards. How many reports would we need of men with beards terrorising local communities before there would be sufficient justification that we should be afraid of bearded men? 10? 100? Even if there were 1,000 genuine reports of specific individuals, would that be enough to justify our vilification of that community? Probably not, because the caveat is always that there are 119,000 other bearded men who aren’t terrorising local communities. Of course, statisticians have many ways to account for sample sizes much smaller than the actual population, but since journalists typically aren’t well versed in statistical methodology, it would be highly doubtful that they have properly taken this consideration into account.

This example seems silly, of course. We know that just because men have beards, that doesn’t mean the beards lead to higher criminality. But of course, my example shouldn’t be too unfamiliar to any Australians, given this was exactly what the Liberal National Party (LNP) and the commercial news media partook in against the Sudanese population in the state of Victoria. Why did the LNP do this? Because there was an election soon, and the LNP wanted to scare people into voting for them as the political party that was “tough on crime”. Why did the commercial news media report on it? Because people wanted to consume more of these stories (I suspect out of confirmation bias), and they could make more money if more people were tuning in. The sad thing is people easily bought into the dog-whistling, the anecdotes and the shoddy statistics. People legitimately believed that because of where you were from – which they could infer from the colour of your skin – you were more likely to commit gang-related crimes. This is the general repugnant effect that falling for anecdotal evidence can have, however. People, based almost entirely on their skin colour, were now vilified by others, not because of their actions, but because of the actions of a minority of their population which had been overblown and shoved down our throats.

There was no evidence to support this claim beyond one datapoint that showed the Sudanese population was overrepresented in the crime statistics. There are multiple explanations for this beyond where they were from, such as the age distribution and the socio-economic class density of this group. Another possible explanation relates to sample sizes; the Sudanese population is only about 6,000, and so even if only one or two gangs legitimately existed, that would severely impact the overall statistics. None of this changes the fact that you were 11 times more likely to be burgled under a circumstance of aggravation, 51 times more likely to be burgled without a circumstance of aggravation, or 34 times more likely to be seriously assaulted by someone who wasn’t from Sudan in the year 2016-2017. You won’t find that reported by the commercial news media, but you will find it reported by the Victorian Crime Statistics Agency. Overall, people from Sudan – who make up 0.1% of the Victorian population – only committed 1% of all crimes for that year. That is an overrepresentation, but not one that is without reasonable explanation. Despite all this, people believed in the anecdotes over the objective facts.

It is true that, sometimes, anecdotes are correct. But it is also true that, if an anecdote is correct, then objective data and statistics will bolster it. We shouldn’t outright ignore personal anecdotes – consideration of people’s personal experiences is vital to empathising and understanding other’s perspectives, and can sometimes lead to the discovery of scientific breakthroughs or genuine societal issues – but we shouldn’t consider their claims valid until we can back it up with good science or good statistics. If we let people with an agenda dictate what beliefs we argue over, and what evidence is acceptable to substantiate those beliefs, then the argument is already moot. As a collective, we should be better than that. As a society, we deserve better than that. As a country, we are better than that.

 

 

 

Creationism in Schools: Why “Teaching The Controversy” Dumbs Our Students Down

Kyle Clunies-Ross

Picture this: you’re a science teacher in Tennessee in the year 1925. Being well-educated in modern scientific theories, you have what you would regard as a pretty firm understanding of the theory of evolution. Then you hear of a State Representative, one John W. Butler, who pushes for the passage of a law banning the teaching of evolution on the grounds that it “saves children from the poisonous influence of an unproven hypothesis,” (not his words, but William Jennings Bryan’s praise of Butler’s position). Butler even goes on record saying that he “[doesn’t] know anything about evolution.” Never mind evidence-based policy, then. To your shock, the bill passes through the Tennessee House and Senate by overwhelming majorities. The Butler Act now prohibits teaching any theory on the origins of humankind which goes against biblical origins in any state-funded place of learning. How could this happen? Was this just a fundamental misunderstanding of science and scientific methodology, or is there some more insidious corrupting influence at play here?

The American Civil Liberties Union approaches you and offers to finance a test case against the law so long as you agree to be tried for violating this new act. If you happened to be like John Scopes, you would accept this offer outright – never mind if you actually broke the law or not. Many of you reading this are probably aware of the matter of which I write – the infamous Scopes Monkey Trial (and if you’re not, I would highly recommend watching the 1960 film Inherit the Wind to learn more about it). Whilst the outcome of that trial was quashed on a technicality, the law itself wasn’t repealed until 1967. In other words, until 52 years ago, it was illegal to teach the evolutionary theory for the origins of humankind in any public school or publicly funded tertiary education institution in the state of Tennessee.

In our modern times, we probably think such a law, or anything similar to it, wouldn’t even be proposed let alone passed through a legislative chamber. Florida lawmaker Dennis Buxley would challenge that assumption. The State Senator recently introduced Senate Bill 330, which would require that “controversial theories and topics” be “taught in a factual, objective, and balanced manner” in science classes. Buxley goes on to clarify that the purpose of his bill is “to allow people to question and challenge certain ideas rather than saying ‘this is the way it is’.” Buxley then claims that we “‘don’t dare question anything that is set science,’ and the ‘’whole pursuit of science… is pursue everything. There was a time in science that the world was flat.” On the surface, this doesn’t sound too bad.

As someone studying a Bachelor of Science majoring in physics, I would like to think I know something about scientific methodology and the role that science education should play in our society. Based on my understanding, I think Buxley’s words, and the wording of SB 330, belie his understanding of science and his claimed intent. In doing so, it reveals why the modern “teach the controversy” movement doesn’t prepare students with the critical thinking skills an appropriate science education should provide them. Teaching the “controversy” would also upset the balance which maximises a student’s scientific literacy and understanding of the world around them.

Ask any scientist what the purpose of science is, and you won’t get any real consensus. It depends not only on their major, but their area of specialisation within that major. As a general answer, I think most would agree that a goal of science is to uncover the objective truth by explaining and understanding the world around us based on empirical observations. The scientific method demands these observations be repeatable – if I do the same thing over and over again, my results really shouldn’t change from the first time I did the experiment. Many of these statements are predicated on certain axioms, and I do not wish to bog myself down in the philosophy of science. But at some base level, there is truth to what Buxley says – we often challenge our accepted beliefs in science, because in a lab situation, our intuition has proven itself wrong far more often than it has proven itself correct.

But this is where Buxley’s understanding breaks down. There’s a reason only high school and undergraduate students typically perform tests like dropping two different weights to observe that gravitational acceleration does not depend on mass, or that shining a laser at two slits produces an interference pattern. We know these things are essentially true, insofar as science can arrive at an objective truth. For a scientist, there is no controversy in saying the world is round at an astrophysical conference because such an observation – and the theories predicated on that observation – are well established. Part of the point of science education at these levels is not to teach things that aren’t well understood, it’s to teach things that are well understood as an introduction to the framework within which science operates. That isn’t to say that science shouldn’t question fundamental established principles – without Einstein questioning the belief that time was an absolute quantity, he wouldn’t have arrived at his special and general theories of relativity – but that this isn’t really the purpose of high school and undergraduate science courses. We don’t teach the controversial stuff because scientific ideas are typically only controversial at the bleeding edges of our understanding.

High school science education is not just about moulding the critical thinking skills that guide our pursuit of knowledge, of course. It is also about explaining and understanding the world around us. But mixing “controversial” topics into that environment dilutes that pursuit also. There is only so much time in any given school day. We can only devote so many hours to teaching any individual theory. This is why we still teach Newtonian mechanics, even though it has been demonstrably shown to be inaccurate. No student can really understand special relativity without first being taught Newton’s laws of motion. With a finite amount of time, however, Einstein has to step aside. It is therefore acceptable that, at a high school level, we give Newton more precedence over Einstein. For all intents and purposes, it gives students an intuitional understanding of the nature of motion, energy and momentum, whilst also allowing other goals of science education to coexist. There are competing factors here, and “teaching the controversy” would upset the balance which best maximises learning outcomes. It is better to teach what is 99% correct than to waste time explaining that other 1%. At the undergraduate level, of course, we teach (what was) Einstein’s controversial theories, but only because we have more time to do so.

The final point I’d like to end on is Buxley’s notion of what is “controversial.” Buxley makes quite obvious that, to him, the theories of anthropogenic climate change and humanity’s origins through evolution are controversial. I cannot overstate how ludicrously rubbish this is. Evolution is a theory so well established that to challenge it is rightly met with scorn and condemnation from the scientific community. Is evolution wrong? There’s always the possibility, of course. But at this point, such a claim would be one of the most extraordinary upsets in modern science. Such claims, I think it is fair to say, would require some vast and extraordinary evidence to back up. Teaching that evolution is wrong is what’s controversial here, not evolution itself. As for anthropogenic climate change, there has been a near universal acceptance for at least the past few decades that, yes, humans are having a tangible impact upon our planet’s climate. Any misinformation on this point is either the promulgation of ignorance or the distribution of propaganda. The only people who really find this point controversial are those who don’t understand the science, or those for whom this understanding would negatively impact them. These beliefs are better thought of as Buxley’s delusions, and the delusions of his political donors, because there just isn’t any scientific evidence to back them up.

In summary, “teaching the controversy” may sound like a noble goal, but in reality it only betrays the purposes of a good scientific education and stunts scientific literacy. Buxley’s motivations may be genuine, but in frankness, they are misguided. I hope, for the sake of the Florida’s public school system, that SB 330 does not get promoted through the legislature. I have faith, but if the past has shown anything to be true, it is that such faith is sometimes misplaced.