Friday, November 30, 2012

You cannot be a follower and an atheist

Vanitas II
Often criticism of atheists is that they simply "believe" there is no God with the corollary assumption they'll eventually come around to belief in the existence of a greater power in the end. Atheism though isn't a belief system along the lines of a religion. Because you are an atheist does not therefore mean you are searching for the right belief system with which to belong, to become a follower, just a believer who does not yet know it and have somehow lost their way to God. 

The point of difference is no quibble over the word belief. To state a belief is not to present a point of fact based upon evidence and reason. To argue atheism is just another form of belief is in part a distraction but in the main is used as a counter argument to maintain religion and atheism within some form of equivalence of position. It is a redundant argument but one the religious seem happy to consistently present as proof of atheism's flaw. 

If we agreed atheism was a 'system' comparable to religion then perhaps we'd have a foot hold for comparison, but atheism is not 'organised' or a 'system' to compare with religion/s. It is a position of thought but not a system of thought unless you determine that reason is a 'system' and therefore a format similar to 'religion'. Atheism can be a form of self determination like religion but this says only that an individual is characterised as being religious or not. An atheist does not simply not 'believe' in a god or god system they instead use reason (not necessarily scientific proofs) to determine the absence of deities of any type and to explain the world around them. 

Atheism is in my assessment the default human position before imagination turns or is turned into superstition. Religions manipulate superstition into indoctrination and pressure to conform and comply. Events man made or occurring in nature become evil portents, confirmations of doctrine, dogmatic distortion of human behaviour follow and a world better explained by reason, science and the imagination and not a holy spirit, shaman or prophet becomes a dangerous place from which to be saved by a greater power. Religions are out of control human obsessions, fears and doubts, not forms of human enlightenment.

Organised religions are systems striving to survive, grow and dominate. If necessary to survive some prop up, direct and at their worst inspire evil where it might otherwise have may remained obscured. 

Atheists can make no claim for absolution to their actions because of what is written or spoken by an unseen all powerful anthropomorphous entity. An Islamic suicide bomber calls upon Allah and the Koran as his guide and justification for what he does. Madness exists regardless but religion can be a vehicle for its physical realisation.

A much more complex set of external and internal events and characteristics of a society are at play than the presence or not of atheism to have brought about a Stalin, a Pol Pot or a Hitler. Totalitarianism and despotism do not require atheism to emerge. The process of transformation into a religious like entity with strict belief systems and controls is what makes these totalitarians successful. Characteristics of which atheism is the antithesis. Though religions can and often are used to inspire and direct mass control in the manner of Hitler; who as pointed out in this essay by Demetrios Vakras, was "the perfect Christian" and not as claimed an atheist or pagan. See:  

Religion, not atheism, is the effective way to galvanise a population, organise and justify oppression, and inspire the control and dominance of 'enemies' internal or external. It is outstandingly successful and effective especially when it additionally taps into tribalism, nationalism and racism. Cruel acts perpetrated upon those who are not of the "right" or endorsed religion and because a sacred text supports such acts expose that religion to valid criticism. It is why Christianity is so determined to disown Hitler. It is why Islam is so determined to deny the existence of such passages in the Koran that support violent acts by followers upon "unbelievers" instead claiming the entire text is a message of "peace". A peace which upon closer inspection though is not of co-existence, but one of submission to Islam. If you submit you will have peace. Simple.

Religion is a simple enough formula, you worship a god, you follow his rules, you will be rewarded somehow in death and punished, damned, overlooked if you transgress. To the faithful it becomes defensible to, as part of their aspirations to conform act in the defense of what and who they worship by doing harm to others. Religion is used compellingly to jell populations into war or reinforce tyrannical control over ones own people, neighbours or opponents.

Atheism cannot prevent madness but can and does seriously threaten religiously inspired domination and oppression by replacing belief with reason which introduces the conditions for producing more free thinkers rather than followers.  

Friday, November 9, 2012

What ever happened to the separation of Church and State?

glass head sculpture with cancel symbols over mouth, eye brain and ear.
Censorship Australian Style 2012

"The Christian lobby says children as young as 11 are regularly accessing porn online. Research had also found that 84 per cent of boys and 60 per cent of girls had been exposed to internet sex sites accidentally." Michelle Gratten, 9th November 2012:

As a child growing up in the 1960's - 1970's I was "accidentally" exposed to porn, not through the internet of course which was only available widely in Australia by the time I was in my mid 20's. My father had a "collection" of porn magazines, hidden badly, we found them "accidentally" as Michelle puts it. When you are 5 you are not looking for porn, you are looking for secrets, lollies, treasures. You are at your nosiest as a little child and those who will remember know that curiosity takes you for a walk and you just have to follow. We were all very little and went through this "collection" with eyes ever widening, utterly transfixed amidst much giggling. Even when you are little you can't look away from some imagery. Colourful and intriguing? Yes, but harmful? No. In the years that followed New hiding spots for the "collection" were randomly discovered. Some of the imagery I encountered remains vivid to me and it taught me a little about the naked form in a way. Not in a disturbing way the Christian Lobbyists will be sad to know or find difficult to understand. Images are powerful but they can't alter the essence of who we are. We are more than the sum of our individual experiences which include what we are ingesting or digesting through seeing, hearing and reading. Statistic such as those quoted by The Christian Lobby, if correct, only tell us that children encounter porn (who'd have thought) but not that this is harmful. Statistics also tell us a significant percentage of sexual abuse of children is perpetrated by religious leaders such as priests or similar, nuns,  or officials belonging to various denominational religious bodies, which we know, without requiring statistical proof, is harmful to children.

Why the Christian Lobby is not concentrating more on addressing the sexual or physical abuse of children by Catholic, Anglican etc, nuns, priests and others belonging to the Christian Church realm is beyond reasonable comprehension. Abuse of children within these bodies existed prior the internet and still does. A form of Nanny cam lock on the Australian internet is not any sort of solution to protect children but represents a real and potentially damaging attack upon what  freedoms of expression, thought and access to information we do have in this country. Such an act of parliament would open the door wide to do so for any purpose deemed to be harmful to the public palate. Art, literature, music, poetry, thoughts, ideas, politics all could slowly be sucked into a sticky web of censorship for reasons of public protection. Political rivals labelled harmful etc. And, all in secret. Suddenly and without warning a site and or its content could be deemed harmful and blocked. Attacking the perpetrators of any internet visible crime such as child porn and shutting down that industry at its source is the solution. Finding and shutting down the physical criminals, the who and where they operate. Technically internet filters will be detoured around by correctly skilled and resourced criminal networks. Use of the internet to locate and target them using their own medium is the logical remedy. Still this does not address the ultimate aims of The Christian Lobby of course which deems all porn harmful. It isn't, it never will be and it isn't criminal though some forms of porn may be, normal adult consensual porn is not in and of itself evil, harmful or illegal.

The internet is of course a kind of unfettered filter in itself and mostly it is a valuable delivering in its warts and all way a summation of human generated content. Good, bad and ugly the public domain needs to remain visible to us, not hidden. The laws and processes to address the criminal aspects of the net additionally need to remain transparent and open to challenge when wrongly or unfairly applied. Just as with the physical world, open and transparent works best in the digital space. Secrecy in law supports suppression of information which conceals actions that may further suppress our natural freedoms and rights. Then we will have censorship and Government power over the individual is ensured to be lead out of balance. If Government is pliable, yielding and swaying to suit a Lobby or Faction with greater influence than the general public then the temptation for Government is to widen the ambit of legislation beyond its original scope. In order to curry or gain favour in tough political times a Government under the influence can be tempted to make changes that suit a few but damage the rights of many. This is never more the case when acceding to religious or cultural pressure when it is the case that human rights must come first and foremost before the religious or cultural. Bad legislation by weak Government leads to bad Government through corrupted decision making. Religious influence over Government decisions is undesirable any way you look at it. Religious causes that successfully apply pressure to produce legislation of questionable benefit outside of a religious criterion is religiously inspired cronyism and it is insidious as it will ultimately destabilise secular democracy. 

Barely concealed attempts to enact legislated censorship such as the internet filter bill must not take 5 years to fail. Though we can't blame the Christian Lobby necessarily for attempting to pursue their religious agenda by influencing our socio-political framework via their political sympathisers, that they are formally being give so earnest an ear by our Secular Democratic Government is of great concern. 

What ever happened to the separation of Church and State? 

It is more than of passing concern now that this Labor Government, since Kevin Rudd, are not just seeming to be but are full on emerging as more religiously reactive, sensitive, acquiescent and influenced overall.The Christian Lobby and the current Labor Government are obviously too close. It would otherwise never have taken 5 years to rule out this filter nonsense and if they were listening to public temperament at all, we'd have legally recognised same sex marriage in Australia by now. Clearly the Australian Government are not listening to what the Australian people want, it can't hear them as it is only a few are being provided their full attention.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

What does Defamation Law Cost - Part 2

"Newspapers, afraid of Britain’s strict libel laws, decided not to publish their suspicions, although several had conducted their own investigations over the years." 

This quote from a recent article on the Jimmy Savile case underscores a point contained in my immediate last post What does Defamation Law Cost? which was that bad laws protect bad behaviour and this needs to be pointed out loudly and repeatedly.

Threats of and actual legal action are financially crippling to defend. It is not as if it is any secret that defamation laws are used to silence critics through these means. This activity it seems is routine with defamation actions and when it succeeds it is an effective tool to further dissuade other potential critics from doing the same. Such criticism of legally sanctioned bullying is dismissed by the legal industry as so much sour grapes it seems or simply denied to be the case.  Take the Jacob Zuma matter in South Africa as a case in point. Fortunately Zapiro and his supporters stood firm. It would have been difficult. South African defamation laws take their lead and inspiration from UK's libel laws  just as do Australia's. 
Britain's "strict libel laws" are what the Australian Defamation Act 2005 and earlier iterations are based on. Prior to the 2005 reforms, which came into effect January 2006, the separate Australian States administered different versions of the act, it was administratively worse than it is now. Reform included in part enhancing the defences permitted for defamation defendants though did little to improve matters of balance overall. A defendant is considered guilty of defaming on a plaintiff's say so, regardless of truth and even though the act appears to support that truth is not actionable (see "Dancing in the Streets…" below). 

The defences that apply have to establish justification and/or establish why a the monetary liability of a defendant to a defamed plaintiff should be limited. The burden upon a defendant is considerable because establishing truth though perhaps not difficult is less important than establishing justification for making truth known. Even then if the system actually worked these steps could be followed by a justified defendant. But those who have experienced our legal "industry" know there are obstacles thrown at every turn to hamper and unduly lengthen the straight road that could be taken to reach resolution. 

If indeed it is the case that truth is not actionable why are so many barriers to establishing truth permitted?  It is a very rare event where there is found to be no defamation to answer. The statistics for why this might be the case, I would hazard a guess, are likely to be skewed as most defamation matters do not reach trial at all due to the burdens the law places upon defendants over plaintiffs, with the effect they either wipe out motivation, or finances or both. In the Zuma case the fortunate outcome after years of crippling attacks upon the cartoonist Zapiro and his newspaper employers (see above) was that Zuma recently withdrew the complaint in which he'd claimed millions in damages to his reputation. The tactic had been of course to affect the motivation of the defence by imposing so punitive a claim they would quickly backdown. Censorship has been dealt a blow in South Africa that they did not capitulate.  

What these defamation acts/libel laws variously demonstrate is they are relatively unconcerned with truth. Reputation good or bad is the protected element. In Australia's case the act itself helps to set up the ludicrous situation where circular reasoning establishes that it can be used (even in matters where the truth is clear). See if you follow: If a person is aggrieved by what another publishes, and claims defamation, then defamation has occurred, because that person is aggrieved. They need not present proof of falsity to do so. The PRIMA FACIE burden is all on the defendant. A plaintiff declares it defamatory, so it is considered defamation, that a criticism is true has nothing to do with it, it is the reputation which receives the protection of the law. The rest of the legal process is just about ensuring what level of remedy is owed by a defendant.

The Hon Justice Michael McHugh AC in his paper "DANCING IN THE STREETS – THE DEFAMATION TANGO", presented at the 2005 Australian Bar Association conference in Dublin just prior the alignment of the defamation act across all Australian jurisdictions, clearly notes... "In the common law States of Australia, truth alone provides a complete defence to a defamation action." just prior this sentence he notes "The plea of truth confesses that the matter is defamatory of the plaintiff but asserts that it is not actionable."

So what does that actually mean for the justified defendant? If the defendant in a defamation case demonstrates truth in what they've published, written or transmitted then they have confessed guilt that they have defamed the plaintiff. Furthermore as the current Australian defamation act confirms defendants must correspondingly rely upon and only upon the permitted defences for defamation to limit the "costs" that will be awarded the plaintiff. Eh!? A plaintiff it seems has the sympathies of the system more so than a defendant regardless of truth and any plaintiff with an interest in suppressing truth has the processes and the law in effect onside. This isn't balanced this is the privileged class weighting the law in their favour in order to retain status.

The imbalance is because:
a) the law is weighted to defend reputation (good or bad) by automatically presuming falsity of the claims made against an aggrieved plaintiff, And…

b) as McHugh writes "The imputation based approach has been criticised in that it 'fosters complex interlocutory skirmishing and distracts from the real issue.' Removing the imputation system is designed to reduce the complexity and cost of litigation, a result that, if achieved, would certainly be a positive development." [my emphasis]

Well unfortunately we do still suffer the "imputation based approach" so this criticism of the system remains. A litigious plaintiff will use the weapons of war made available to them and will launch countless spurious imputations in the attempt to detract from what was actually transmitted  by a defendant to increase and exaggerate the effect and ultimately claim more damages. This achieves the further aim to provoke fear of crippling financial damage so the defendant will back down quickly, and (as I say as a rort) to extort further financial recompense from a defendant by threatening "exemplary or punitive damages" if it goes to trial and they did not comply when they had the chance. 
This is an abuse on many levels but as the Australian act clearly states in s37 "A plaintiff cannot be awarded exemplary or punitive damages for defamation.". 

So why do lawyers for a plaintiff and even the mediation process attempt to compel the justified defendant to back down by levelling such threats? Attempts to convince a justified defendant they could face financial ruin are frequent and insidious. The "guilty" (defamation defendants justified or not are all considered guilty under the Australian act) it is determined will likely lose so must be warned of the consequences? I guess from experience I believe there exists a less noble reason for this tactic. If the act clearly states otherwise why are the plaintiff's lawyers, the system, and the mediation process constantly advising it could/may/will occur if you don't capitulate, apologise and pay up before it goes to trial? It is a blunt scare tactic. The system looks the other way and at least it appears there is no mechanism to limit such tactics. Other weapons at a plaintiffs disposal are to prolong interrogatory and defences processes so that the case drags on and on in perpetual concentric circles - logic and reason might suggest this is because the unjustified plaintiff does not want the case to get to trial. In any event these tactics are all designed to break the resolve of a justified defendant able to rely upon truth.

McHugh in the same paper goes on to defend the retention of the "presumption of falsity" in the Australian jurisdiction, adding; that a reputation is good, or not, is not the question to be answered. Essentially a reputation is presumed to be good and the defamer must first, if they claim truth, accept they are guilty of defamation, prove truth and then demonstrate justification of transmission, whether the reputation was good or otherwise upon release of  the information. Harm is measured in costs to a degree but it is not clear how this is measured. The question defamation law asks is does the transmission defame the person (could be a company or political entity) to a third party and was dissemination justified. I've no argument with the necessity that claims must be backed up by truth but the problem here is the law clearly marks the defence as presumed "guilty" in contrast to the plaintiff (and their reputation) which is without exception presumed "innocent". There is neither balance in this nor logic. The parties are presented with uneven ground from the outset. And though truth may be upheld, defamation according to the law likely will still have occurred. In the face of the assertion by the act that "truth is not actionable" then this is circular reasoning and is at best an unsatisfactory result in terms of justice.

So are the problems in the law or in the processes which under-pin it? 

As a brief an answer as I can muster I'll finish with the following experienced observation. 

In its current state, as administered and procedurally practiced, the Australian Defamation Act 2005 is easily wielded as a weapon of fear to extract censorship by threatening the very real consequences of ruinous litigation upon a defendant. Ultimately the worst excesses of British Libel laws are retained in the Australian Act and continue to operate within it as a disincentive to transmission of unfettered criticism, and free speech and this is a disservice to our country, state and community overall.

As long as defamation laws are weighted to protect reputation above all else I cannot agree with McHugh that there exists a "workable balance".

glass head model with circle and line symbol over mouth

About Leeanneart

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Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
We are first and foremost human with a responsibility to the humanity within us and not to any faith, political, apolitical, social or societal group, union or faction. We are responsible for our own reputation, and for what deeds we do and what achievements or otherwise in life we enjoy. The rest is nonsense.