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Culture War Roundup for the week of October 9, 2023

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The ABC's called it: the Australian referendum to enshrine special Aboriginal representation in the Constitution has utterly failed. They needed a majority nationally and a majority in four of the six states; they've gotten at last count 41% (possibly less; pre-polls are counted last, and while I wasn't expecting it they seem to have more No than the on-the-day vote) of the national vote and have lost in all six of the states (again, I was expecting Tasmania and/or Victoria to buck the trend - Victoria being the most urbanised Australian state, with 75% of its population in the state capital of Melbourne, and Tasmania having a long tradition of hippie-ism and being the birthplace of the Greens; they were also polling the highest Yes).

Most of the Yes campaigners - at least, those the ABC talked to - seem to be going with the line of "the No campaign was misinformation and this doesn't count because they were tricked"*. That's wrong (there were a few people with crazy ideas, of course, but for the most part what the SJers are decrying as "misinformation" is true or plausible), but it's at least wrong about a dry fact and not nearly as divisive as going "this proves Australia's a racist country".

The result does seem to have emboldened people to actually stand up against SJ; Opposition Leader Peter Dutton was very hesitant to go with No (though he eventually did), but in his speech upon hearing the result he specifically said that this result was Australians rejecting activists' claims.

At-least-partial credit to @OliveTapenade, who said:

If No wins, I think it will be taken as evidence that the Australian people are deeply racist and ignorant (hence the need for Truth)

...the last time we discussed this on theMotte. They mostly seem to be leaning on "ignorant" rather than "racist", but yes, they're saying "this demonstrates need for Truth".

*NB: this doesn't, for the moment, include Prime Minister Anthony Albanese; all he's said on the matter of "why No" IIRC is that referenda never succeed without bipartisan support.

This is veering pretty close to waging culture war and, while not building consensus, assuming consensus.

My understanding of the spirit of the Motte is that when you write on the Motte, you should not assume a background of people who share your political views.

That is, my understanding is that this is not supposed to be a place where you share excited "inside opinions" about how your preferred politics are going.

I say this not as someone who is for the "Yes", but just as someone who does not want more culture war waging here.

Is there something I assumed that you'd like explained in more detail?

Might as well be proactive regarding the "misinformation" issue. Using the top result on Google (the people on the news tonight IIRC didn't specify what they objected to, with one exception that I'll come back to) and the official No case mailed to every Australian at government expense (along with a Yes case of equal length).

1 - "Australians will lose ownership of homes Variations of this claim include: Australians will be forced to pay reparations or the voice will increase taxes (ie, the voice will cost you money)"

Certainly, the idea that the referendum would directly imply reparations, that's false. The more measured case (and this one definitely is in the official No campaign) is that a Yes result would have a) built a Pro-Aboriginal consensus, which might make people more friendly to reparations, b) directly provided some level of soft influence to Aboriginals - that's the whole point, giving them an advisory body - which they might then use to advocate for reparations. I shy away from using this as motive to vote - feels a bit Machiavellian - but it seems plausible enough to me in terms of the facts (on both counts) and the Uluru Statement which inspired the voice does call for a "treaty" of some sort.

As for the latter part, certainly "voting for the Voice will directly raise taxes" is clear misinformation. The official No case merely said the Voice "will be costly" and said we don't know how much funding would be allocated to the Voice. It's not misinformation to say that government bodies cost money - that's extremely, obviously true - and "we don't know how much funding would be allocated" is also true.

2 - "The voice is legally risky Variations of this include claims that the voice is a third chamber of parliament, will dictate laws to the government, or will destabilise democracy"

Basically, the question here is "would the Voice have the power to block legislation". The No claim is that because the proposed change to the Constitution gives the Parliament the power to decide what powers the Voice has, Parliament might give the Voice the power to block Aboriginal-related legislation. The claim of misinformation is that this wouldn't or couldn't happen. To refute that claim, I cite the very article claiming it's misinformation:

Constitutional law experts are largely in agreement that there is nothing in the voice’s addition to the constitution which would lead to legal risk.

"Largely". That is, there are some that disagree (and indeed the official No case quotes a former High Court judge). So on the "could" question, there is some chance that trying it might work.

I ran the numbers, and was quite confident that the Parliament would not in fact do this; even if they tried, it would almost certainly fail to pass the Senate. But "the chance of X is very low" doesn't make "X could happen" misinformation; small probabilities of harm can be relevant to a vote if the harm is large enough. So on this one, I'll go to the wall on "plausible if unlikely; not misinformation".

3 - "The voice will divide the nation"

This is the one which was explicitly mentioned on the ABC coverage I saw. Not by an interviewee - one of the ABC journalists was interviewing the head of the No campaign, said this "wasn't factual" and asked him whether he regretted lying.

I don't understand the claims that this is misinformation. The claims that it's false (including the journalist, although not the article I'm beating up on) mostly just say "the Australian Constitution already gives the power to make laws for a specific race". The Constitution definitely does do that (it's extremely rarely used), but I'm not seeing why that makes "a specific body created to advocate for one racial grouping is dividing people into buckets by race" false.

The article I'm beating up on said that there are lobby groups already. Yes, there are, but not Constitutionally-recognised ones representing specific races. Again, not seeing the relevance.

My verdict: this is entirely true, the claims of misinformation border on misinformation themselves, I'll go to the wall on that.

4 - "The voice will force treaties"

See above under #1. The official No case said that this might lead to "Treaty" via people listening to the Voice and/or activists being emboldened, not that the Voice would directly force it. So the strawman/weak-man they're attacking would be misinformation, but the official case's point on this is quite plausible.

The article gets classy and says "There is no evidence for either, as the federal government has not indicated it will be engaging in those processes no matter what the outcome of the vote is." - do I really need to lay into this?

5 - "There are no details Variations of this claim include: you don’t know what you’re voting for and the voice is a Trojan horse for ‘secret agendas’"

I'm just going to quote the words in the article immediately following this:

There is plenty of detail. None of it is set in stone, because that is the parliament’s job, but we have an in-principle guide of what the voice under this government (because legislation can always be changed) would look like.

Exactly. We didn't know what we were voting for, because they had the legal option to change their minds afterward. Unlikely, perhaps, but not impossible.

Verdict: Largely accurate, not misinformation, I'll go to the wall on that.

6 - "The voice will allow the UN to take over Australia"

This is complete misinformation, no objections. (As you might expect, this one did not appear in any form in the official "no" case; this is just crazies.)

7 - "The Australian Electoral Commission will tamper with your votes"

Misinformation in the most blatant form that they're quoting, no objections. The AEC is highly trustworthy.

However, attention was drawn to the fact that ticks are counted as Yes and crosses are counted as invalid (not No). This is a known fact, the AEC went to court defending it against the alt-right UAP and won. This isn't tampering per se, the AEC told people to write Yes or No rather than to use a tick or cross, and it's not new for this referendum, but objecting to this policy isn't "false", it's an Ought statement saying that the speaker would prefer a different policy. On that one I'd say "not misinformation"; no Ought statement can be misinformation and the AEC 100% did the thing being objected to.

Note also on this one that the Yes campaign chose a colour representing itself that is identical to the AEC's official colour. They got in a little bit of trouble over this, although not a lot. So there were some things in AEC purple that were not impartial - they were Yes campaign material - although that's the Yes campaign being scummy and not the AEC.

Overall, I think it's fair to say that the No campaign's "misinformation" largely wasn't any such thing*, although as I noted there were crazies who said false things.

*There's one thing in the official No case that I think borders on misinformation. That's when they said "there is no comparable constitutional body like this anywhere in the world". Out of context I think that's false, although it's in the middle of an argument that there would be legal questions raised and in that sense it's justifiable because while similar bodies exist, it's not a 1:1 clone of them. Definite side-eye on that one, even if it makes a bit more sense in context.

The more measured case (and this one definitely is in the official No campaign) is that a Yes result would have a) built a Pro-Aboriginal consensus, which might make people more friendly to reparations, b) directly provided some level of soft influence to Aboriginals - that's the whole point, giving them an advisory body - which they might then use to advocate for reparations. I shy away from using this as motive to vote - feels a bit Machiavellian

Only if you think reparations are just and good but you just personally don't want to pay for them. If you are against reparations for fundamental or even pragmatic reasons, then "vote against a proposal that will have bad consequences further down the line" is perfectly reasonable.

Note that "it will cost money without achieving anything useful" is also a valid reason to be against something, even if it doesn't come out of your pocket.

Here we're not talking about "if I vote for the Voice the Voice will be able to extract reparations, which is bad", we're talking about "if I vote for the Voice it will shape the national conversation in a way which might lead to people voting for reparations, which is bad". The latter, unlike the former, is going into the Dark Arts realm of treating people as manipulable and prioritising optics over ground truth, hence my term Machiavellian.

It's not a matter of me thinking reparations are good, it's a matter of me saying "these corrupt means are not justified by this good end".

Now, I happen to have plenty of non-Dark-Arts justifications for voting No - "Aboriginals are already overrepresented in Parliament", "special racial privileges are bad", and "vague language that could be twisted into veto" are the ones I can think of offhand - so I did indeed vote No with a clear conscience. But I frown on this one particular motivation; we're Rats and we're supposed to be better than that.

The latter, unlike the former, is going into the Dark Arts realm of treating people as manipulable

But people are manipulable, and pretending otherwise is not going to help you navigate politics. If you're worried about the signal of your vote being misunderstood by other people to bad effect, it's perfectly valid to account for that.

I also think the worry is less that a yes vote would by itself naturally lead to support for reparations, but rather that it would be used by proponents as an argument to make it seems to have more support that it actually does. In which case the proponents are the ones employing Dark Arts, and you're merely depriving them of their tools. That would just be recognizing Dark Arts and taking countermeasures, i.e. Defense against the Dark Arts.

prioritising optics over ground truth

The point of voting is to signal the will of the voters, not to figure out some sort of "ground truth". A vote is always a public signal, and it's entirely fair to think about what exactly you're signalling compared to what you want to signal.

The latter, unlike the former, is going into the Dark Arts realm of treating people as manipulable and prioritising optics over ground truth, hence my term Machiavellian.

That's politics. If you're not willing to think that way, you'll get steamrollered by people who do.

I don’t really get your point. Let’s say you think the voice is a mild good thing, but are 100% opposed to reparations. Clearly your Yes vote helps reparations, invites reparations, legitimates reparations to a degree. Imo it’s perfectly acceptable to vote No as a signal, and action, indirectly targeted against the outcome you really care about, reparations.

Often governments will use referenda as a show of support. Is it machiavellian to vote according to your support for the government instead of the relatively unimportant question being asked?


"100% opposed" is not entirely clear; I'd describe myself as 100% opposed to reparations IRL but I still don't think they're, like, Holocaust-level bad. If I did think they were Holocaust-level bad and I also thought the Voice was a mild good thing, I'd probably vote No and feel bad about it. Dark Arts can be the lesser evil, and even I do use them on occasion, but they're still Dark Arts and becoming inured to their use is a bad idea.

What is your objection? That it’s a sort of lie, because you vote no when you really believe yes?

For me, every referendum has implicit questions baked in, such as ‘do you support the current government’, or here ‘do you support reparations, the woke stuff, the ‘yes’ side generally, etc’, and although it is not official, it is legitimate to vote on those.

My theory is that a lie is only a lie if the counterpart expects the truth, and the more he expects it, the more it is a lie. But in this case, other voters, and the government, expect you to answer based on those other questions too, so it’s not a lie (or rather, any answer would be a lie in some way, so any answer is morally fine).

More comments

>Is there something I assumed that you'd like explained in more detail?

>>Might as well be proactive regarding the "misinformation" issue

Huh? What was the assumption you felt went against the rules? What is and isn't misinformation is a different argument. You wrote a lot here without address your initial objection.

Edit, I'm an r-slur.

The posts you quote are both mine; I replied to myself. I made the first post you quote, and then later (later enough that editing felt like people might miss it) decided to not wait for a reply and proactively explain the one controversial claim I made in the OP (that the claims of misinformation were mostly wrong).

Sorry for the confusion, although they both do say "magic9mushroom" at the top.

D'oh! I need to start looking at user names.

It makes sense, I should probably drink a little less on the weekends