For conservatives, the problem with last night’s Q and A was summed up in 1866 by John Stuart Mill:
"I did not mean to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it."
Although I am a young conservative, I find it terribly difficult to disagree with Mill’s assessment. Ruslan Kogan — after chomping at the bit for most of the show about how Prime Minister Gillard "lied" — went full crazy in the dying minutes. Notable only for selling televisions over the internet, the young neo-con let us know that he had personally checked out the science on the issue and discovered that anthropogenic climate change is nonsense.
James Paterson, meanwhile, let his adolescent rejection of authority run rampant. Repeating the same tired complaints of last generation’s neo-cons, he whined that the ALP is trying to set up a "nanny state".
Is this really the state of young conservatism in Australia? Are we really so bereft of ideas that the ABC could only find Randian lunatics to represent us?
There’s nuance in mainstream left-wing discussion that’s sorely lacking from the right. For example, it’s easy to think of four left-wing commentators who disagree with each other on major issues. The young progressives on the panel last night managed to express differing views. Even within the progressive political parties, there’s differentiation. There’s the socialist left, there’s the environmental left, there’s the unionised left, and so on and so forth. Over here on the right of politics, you basically get a choice between radical libertarians and xenophobes: the Woolworths and Coles of conservatism.
It’s a thousand times worse within the Young Liberals — basically the one stop shop for news and current affairs programs desperate to find a conservative under 30. Ask any of them for a creative, innovative, fresh opinion, and you’ll get Ludwig von Mises and Ayn Rand quoted to you.
At so much length.
The result is an impoverished public debate where everybody loses. Being part of a pluralistic society, we evaluate the ideas of others and have our ideas evaluated by others. Those others will have a wide range of opinions, beliefs, backgrounds, and experiences. They will interpret the information through different contexts and contribute views which we are incapable of forming on our own. Drawing upon those differences enriches public debate. By not contributing productively or constructively to the public debate, conservatives deny themselves the opportunity to have their views challenged and to challenge the views of others.
Worse, the debates don’t go anywhere. How is it possible that we’re still having the same tired discussions? Each week, ABC’s Q and A covers pretty much the same topics: climate change, refugees, gay marriage. It’s not that these debates aren’t important — quite the opposite. It’s just that they never progress beyond right wing commentator saying exactly the same thing that last week’s right wing commentator said, who repeated the views of the right wing commentator the week before. Last night, we had the same, except the mouthpieces were from my generation, just for a change.
There is a deeper problem on show during last night’s Q and A: is this the future of conservatism? If today’s young conservatism is so devoid of its own ideas, shallowly and uncritically repeating the mantras of yesterday’s political vandals, what hope do we have for a constructive political debate tomorrow? This isn’t the way forward for a productive political sphere.
Adam Brereton is a card-carrying Geny Y progressive. Read his response to Q and A here.
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