Class, gambling & pornography

6 Jun


Yesterday, author and playwright Van Badham wrote this piece in The Guardian titled “The moral case for gambling,” in which she considers the role class plays in the current campaign to curtail gambling opportunities through legislation. Van Badham writes:

Given the popularity of gambling in this country, I wonder if the public shaming of Australian gamblers has more to do with bourgeois loathing of working-class habits than any genuine moral crusade for public good. It must be very confusing for those who base their social self-esteem on the accumulation of money to witness a pastime that involves the happy sacrifice of it.

I do recommend reading the piece. It’s caused some controversy, and raises points worth considering.

In 2011 I wrote this piece for The Drum, titled “Pornography, the Internet and class”. I’m republishing it here in full, because it seems to me many of the questions I pose are compatible with the current prevailing attitude to gambling. I’m not suggesting the two are interchangeable, however I agree with Van Badham that class does indeed play a significant role in determining prevalent attitudes, and this is a factor we probably need to be aware of when considering legislation.

Pornography, the Internet and class. The Drum, September 8 2011

It seems reasonable when faced with strident action against social mores to require those opposing them to put forward their preferred alternative.

In the case of anti-pornography activists, it’s apparently impossible to persuade them to offer a framework of how they think sexuality ought to be expressed. Like Opposition Leader Tony Abbott they just say no, without proffering any other policies. 

Viewed in the best light, anti-porn activism is a cri de coeur for the protection of women who some activists believe are exploited and degraded by the very existence of pornography; for the protection of children who may access internet content they are emotionally ill-equipped to process, and for the prevention of possible individual psycho-sexual harm that might interpolate itself into the fabric of society. 

At its worst anti-porn activism is an attempt to control and shape the culture to fit particular religious, ideological and/or moral agendas. The moral entrepreneurs who are at the vanguard of the anti-porn movement are overwhelmingly middle class, and it is from a middle class platform that they launch campaigns that express the horror, disgust and outrage evoked in them by pornography, as well as what they believe to be its ruinous effects on sexual relations. 

All pornography is positioned by activists as deviant, regardless of the content. It’s extremely difficult to ascertain just what their range of “normal” sexuality includes. One activist, Professor Clive Hamilton, refuses to use the word “vagina” when attempting to describe close-ups of “well, I don’t know what” in early editions of Playboy, for example. Many would find this male squeamishness towards female genitalia offensive. Are we to regress to such euphemisms as “down there?” 

Those who produce, create and consume pornography are perceived as deviants who must be rescued, punished when appropriate, and hopefully redeemed to participate in non-pornographic sex. Global eradication of anything other than “normal” is the goal, without ever stating just what that “normal” might be. 

Accounts written by activists of what they have seen in their forays into the netherworld of porn are like dispatches from Dante’s second circle of Hell:

The new porn zeitgeist is hard-core sadism. Hard-core porn turns misogyny into sexual fascism and sells it as freedom. There are countless “18 and abused” sites showing young girls being gang-banged while crying, drunk, vomiting, with guns and knives to their heads. Incest porn with girls being bashed about sexually by fathers, grandfathers, uncles, brothers. There is bestiality porn with dogs, horses, with eels. Torture porn, where young women are tied up and strangled, defecated on. There is Nazi fetish porn, lots of racist porn.

Feminised gay men being beaten and anally raped by hyper-macho gangs. Granny porn where older women are subjected to the now compulsory triple penetration and spat on for being old. There is even “retarded asian porn”, “retarded and horny”, “full on retard porn . . . legless sluts being triple penetrated”, amputee porn, dwarf porn, anorexia porn. 

In this account of internet porn by academic Dr Abigail Bray the porn world is entirely comprised of victims. Young girls, women, grandmothers, feminised men, and animals are subjected to horrific violence, and all of it done to them by men.

I haven’t viewed any of these sites. Taking Dr Bray’s descriptions at face value and imagining myself part of such a world feels unspeakably awful, but that’s my personal reaction, not a universal absolute. Pornography is an expression of the vast and sometimes very frightening range of human sexuality, whether I like it or not.

It isn’t made clear if the victims (other than children and animals) have been forced to participate in these acts, but it is an assumption with which the reader initially co-operates. The description asserts “countless sites” depicting such pornography, so there must be correspondingly “countless” numbers of adult human beings engaging in its production, either by choice or under severe duress.

Who are these human beings and how did they arrive in the Second Circle? As yet there’s no comprehensive answer to those questions. Women who work in hardcore porn are, unsurprisingly, resistant to inquiries by outsiders.

Women who have consented to interviews disassociate themselves from the kind of porn Dr Bray describes. They also express considerable aggravation with anti-porn activists, who they feel are insulting and patronising. They accuse anti-porn activists of making life more difficult for them by portraying them as psychologically sick, morally bad, victimised, and in need of rescue. In so doing, the women claim, activists are in fact supporting porn producers in their opinion of the women they hire as disturbed, and highly exploitable. They also feel unfairly lumped in with women who endure more extreme hardcore violations. In the pecking order of the porn world, some women are proud of the choices they make and resentful of those who see them as part of a homogenous victimised mass.

Activists put forward hypotheticals in an effort to explain why women participate in violent and degrading porn. For example, they claim they are frequently women who were sexually abused as children. They are women who have developed high levels of tolerance for abuse, and have “abnormal” attitudes that permit them to accept degradation and violence others would find abhorrent. They are women who can’t or believe they can’t obtain employment in any other field. They are poor women, uneducated women, ignorant women. They are women who have sustained such damage that the question of choice doesn’t even arise: they don’t know that they are suffering because they have lost or never had the ability to recognise abuse.

There is little research available to confirm or deny these assumptions. The hypotheticals originate from middle-class sexual morality and values, and/or religious beliefs about women and sexuality. There is often little attention paid to the social and political contexts in which the alleged early life abuses take place, or the economic systems that cause female poverty. This lack of analysis could lead to accusations of attempting to treat the symptoms while ignoring the cause, always an exercise in futility.

Assumptions about women who perform in porn need to be investigated through empirical research before they can be evaluated, rather than accepting classist, moralistic and religious prejudices as a basis for public policy. As things stand, a deviant underclass is constructed by anti-porn activists, against which the moral values of middle classes voices raised in protestations of “isn’t it awful” and “what about our children” can be reassuringly measured. This is not helpful.

Very little hardcore porn is currently produced in Australia. There is not much home-grown activists can do to rescue women in sovereign nations that do produce it, and many of those countries already have legislation against some if not all the violence that is acted out.

However, activists are concerned that hardcore porn is easily accessed on the internet and is inserting itself into everyday Australian life. It’s claimed that a degradation of sexual values inevitably occurs, particularly amongst young people, many of whom are allegedly taking their sexual education from sites such as those described by Dr Bray, and enacting loveless, violent and genital-focused sex that uses women as objects for male gratification, and not as equal participants in a mutually satisfying act.

Anti-porn activist and academic Gail Dines claims that 11-year-old boys are viewing violent porn that “deforms their minds,” though she offers no research to substantiate this claim. If 11-year-old boys are accessing hardcore internet porn, the responsibility for that must rest with their parents, who also bear the responsibility for offering their children intelligent sex education. Presumably middle-class parents are considered more likely to do this, so are Dines and her followers referring to lower status families who apparently can’t be trusted to do the right thing? Where do Dines’ porn-consuming 11-year-olds come from? She doesn’t reveal the demographic.

Many activists such as Clive Hamilton see the problems presented by the internet as a matter for the state. They want internet censorship. In other words, the state must assume the role of disseminator of middle-class religious and ideological sexual values, by imposing a ban on anything that class considers deviant and polluting. The activists apparently do not trust parents, or at least parents of a lower socio-economic class to monitor their children’s internet adventures, for example with software that will filter content on the home computer. They argue that this responsibility belongs with government, and they seem to be entirely oblivious to the dangers of giving any government control over what its citizens may and may not view in the privacy of their own homes.

An Australian internet filter will do nothing to assist women who are unwillingly enslaved by pornography producers. It quite likely will exclude innocent sites, or be easily bypassed. The proposed list of banned sites is itself banned from public scrutiny, and that restriction alone should give us serious cause for alarm. As the link also reveals, there are already strict if somewhat mysterious classification laws in place in Australia.

But activists need to justify their existence, to show effectiveness, and to win respect from their peers. In this situation, the only possible measure of their “success” will be an internet filter. Their message is: you can have a sexual life like ours if you follow our sexual rules, (though we have yet to be told what they are) and our Government will help you do that by forbidding you access to anything else. This places the Government’s authority above God’s: at least God apparently permits free will, and the right to go to hell any way one chooses.

As the late Susan Sontag, American author, feminist, literary theorist and political activist, put it in her 1967 essay The Pornographic Imagination:

If so many are teetering on the verge of murder, dehumanisation, sexual deformity and despair, and we were to act on that thought, then censorship much more radical than the indignant foes of pornography ever envisage seems in order. For if that’s the case, not only pornography but all forms of serious art and knowledge – in other words, all forms of truth – are suspect and dangerous.

61 Responses to “Class, gambling & pornography”

  1. Garpal Gumnut June 6, 2013 at 8:01 am #

    An excellent subject (s) for discussion. As a longtime RSL member it resonates. All the way from the innocent joy of youth, to the dastardly waterhousing of entertainment and yearning in the middle and older years.


  2. Ray (novelactivist) June 6, 2013 at 12:24 pm #

    Class has absolutely nothing to do with it. James Packer is a very wealthy man yet is well known for his gambling. Why do casinos have special deals to attract high rollers?

    The push for change has come from those organisations who have to deal with the negative consequences. Pokies come in for particular focus because they are designed to fleece the punter.

    If anything this is about moronic stupidity – pokies are designed to deaden the brain.


  3. doug quixote June 6, 2013 at 12:39 pm #

    Well written and well said Jennifer.

    There are too few sane and sensible voices like yours in the world. Thank you.


  4. doug quixote June 6, 2013 at 2:22 pm #

    The BACWA (Banning and Censoring Wowser Agenda) has always been a middle class “silent majority” type thing, right from the wowsers and temperance league of the late 19 century. It did not really exist before then because there was very little middle class in existence – most countries had nobles and peasants, with just a few merchants and professionals making up the rest. The Church usually sided with the nobility and the “natural order”.

    A working class with money to spend on gambling is an even newer phenomenon – it may date from the 1920s or thereabouts. The wowsers have been trying to keep a lid on what they see as licentious behaviour, with all the threats they can muster through religion and the lobbying of governments; these days they apply pressure to corporations through their loyal(?) flock. They certainly make plenty of noise through Christian groups and lobbyists who should remain nameless.

    A class thing? Undoubtedly, although many of the flock are lower class, indoctrinated and acting against their own interests, rather like the political situation where many lower class poms vote Conservative and many “Aussie battlers” vote Liberal (as if that makes any sense!)


    • Ray (novelactivist) June 6, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

      The only class aspect to gambling is the choice of gamble. How many middle-class people buy lottery tickets?

      Nor was I aware that wowsers were necessarily bourgeois, as I recall there were a fair few who were working class and sought improvement because they had lived through it.


      • doug quixote June 6, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

        The wealthier classes have usually bet on racehorses – you had to go to the track to bet legally until the 1960s or so. They also bet on the stock market, and have since the 1700s.

        The poor bet on cock fights and things like 2up (both illegal of course) and more recently poker machines and races of all sorts, football, cricket and other sports. These betting activities are currently under attack, of course.

        Class is alive and well in Australia; and I suspect that Finland had an hereditary nobility and a history of having peasants. Egalitarian and classless, Helvi?

        Support egalitarian values by all means. I do myself. There are no aristocrats in Australia, and certainly no peasants except in their own minds.

        One could argue that there is no society on earth that is less constrained by class.


        • doug quixote June 6, 2013 at 7:48 pm #

          But it still exists, a divide created by wealth and education which tend to be self-perpetuating.


  5. hudsongodfrey June 6, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    Basically I think that if we can say objectively that the house always wins and also that a certain number of punters fall into self destructive patterns of problem gambling then we have a much more substantive argument for harm from gambling that the rather subjective case that your common or garden BACWAs are making against porn.

    And I have a lot of trouble arguing anything from a class perspective if I am to regard myself as a supporter of egalitarian values. It’s just that it seems antithetical to me to delve into class based categorisations of people if we’re keen to invalidate their continued currency in terms of how we think about societies.


    • helvityni June 6, 2013 at 4:29 pm #

      Well said, Hudson. I’m would not even know how to ‘class’ people, especially seeing myself as an egalitarian, and coming from a classless society.


      • helvityni June 6, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

        Sorry about I’m, I changed mid stream..Please read: I would


        • hudsongodfrey June 6, 2013 at 8:12 pm #

          Don’t be sorry, but do tell us what you meant? I’m at a bit of a loss.


          • hudsongodfrey June 6, 2013 at 9:13 pm #

            Ah a spelling mistake. Sorry for the drama! I never even noticed it. I tend to read in sentences rather than individual words so I suspect that some of the time I’m processing context without noticing spelling.


    • helvityni June 6, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

      What I am saying that I agree with you, Hudson G, I am also not for ‘classing’ people into categories, classes…

      Anything else you do not understand ? I better employ a translator.


      • helvityni June 6, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

        …or maybe I have misunderstood completely?


      • hudsongodfrey June 6, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

        No I know I just got all confused when I went back and tried to figure out what was wrong with something I had at first already understood as it was meant.


    • Jennifer Wilson June 7, 2013 at 6:32 am #

      Yes, but at the same time, class is one of those tactics humans use to create divisions between one another, like race. Having crossed from working to middle I’m very aware of class.


      • Ray June 7, 2013 at 9:22 am #


        My father’s side of the family is solid working class and I’d happily describe my sister as bogan and my brother as middle-class with working class attitudes.

        Gambling per se is universal across classes. The best we can say is that different classes favour different forms of gambling. The working class prefer the pokies at RSLs because it is cheap. Simple.

        Having myself transitioned across classes (I’m part of the tertiary educated, cafe latte set) I am very acutely aware of a quite nasty working class prejudice against arty-farty, tertiary educated, inner city wankers. And I can tell you some stories of such prejudice from within my own family.

        When I read the article about gambling and class I actually saw this prejudice at work. That it is the do-gooder, inner city wanker attacking the working class. It isn’t. The main driver is the welfare agencies working at the coal face and who have to pick up the pieces.


  6. samjandwich June 6, 2013 at 5:41 pm #


    Maybe there are a few things going on here:

    – That Guardian piece was most likely run primarily as a bit of Aussie-bashing. Fair dinkum I reckon.

    – an anxiety about gambling seems to be an issue that cuts across traditional class divisions – as does an enthusiasm for same. It seems to me that deriving a sense of excitement out of “risking it all”, whether it be from throwing yourself out of a plane, injecting something weird into yourself, or pinning your life savings on an educated, if unpredictable guess (in the casino or the marketplace) is a fairly universal desire,

    maybe though, looking into why this issue trouble some people might be a signal to point out just how unfounded an anxiety around it actually is.

    As to pornography, I remember thinking a couple of years ago on reading Jennifer’s piece, that what was missing was good taste. It’s not so much that a desire for hardcore porn is dangerous, but more that anyone who is reasonably well-aware of the responsibilities which their actions carry, and an educated and enlightened eye, would probably be less interseted in gonzo porn than they would in more tasteful and intelligent material.

    And doesn’t the world change so quickly? one big development since 2011 has been the rise of Tumblr and Pinterest and other such sites, which allow real people to curate their own collections of pornography. And gollygosh but hasn’t the best porn been produced in the last couple of years as a result?!

    Now, If only we could educate James Packer to get his thrills doing something more tastefully lethal than gambling, then we’d all be so much better off!


    • Jennifer Wilson June 7, 2013 at 6:35 am #

      Yes, the aesthetic, but who should the arbiter of the aesthetic? It seems predominantly the middle class.


      • samjandwich June 7, 2013 at 11:22 am #

        I’m not so sure about that – especially if we are able to hone our skills for identifying when cultural influence comes into effect.

        Class certainly can delineate your exposure to certain influences or cultural material, but I think the simple application of critical thought can quite effectively wipe a lot of that away.

        If I ever retire I might even write a book about this, but suffice to say that my world view can essentially be described as being that the only conceptually meaningful way to look at anything is to strip away any suggestion of cultural influence, and to arrive at a core understanding of things, concepts, phenomena etc as being aesthetic in nature… where aesthetics are inherently acultural.

        And just quickly, my take on the usefulness of Foucault et al is not to point out that everything is cultured, but to help us to identify things that aren’t – and to help us to focus on these “real” things, and do away with anything artificial, or “cultured”. Make sense?


      • paul walter June 7, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

        As Roland Barthes might have said.


  7. paul walter June 6, 2013 at 9:07 pm #

    Class resentment has been at the bottom of much victimless crime, as people try to buck the system through drink, drugs, gambling and sexual misconduct, even jaywalking.
    It seems forbidden fruits, wealth, sex, fun, are controlled by the ruling classes and conformity is the price we pay for crumbs off the table or the dregs from the cups of the rich and largely to do with the way society orders itself through carrot and stick ploys.
    The main reason why I don’t gamble is because, already knowing I have an addictive personality, I would be daft to have myself powerless before some thing that can have me in the gutter. The last time I played the pokies was decades ago and my subsequent response has been determined by the alarm I felt at gambling away the money I had bought with me that night, powerless to stop the process once it started.
    Is there a role for BACWA? No, I don’t think Grundyism helps, yet it is fair to say that common sense regulation is not a bad thing in our society and one reason is to control the power of operators like the Waterhouses and their confrateres.
    Nor would it be wrong to specifically censor Gonzo and other forms of sado porn if it were determined that doing this would save lives and prevent suffering.
    No doubt occupational health and safety issues have played a part in the rise of offshore porn involving egregious forms, since some would have to be coerced and laws here are more strictly enforced, but if you are a poor person in a Third World country with starvation the alternative, one guesses you’ll be more tempted to take on some of the work, no matter how distasteful.


    • hudsongodfrey June 6, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

      A bit more on this class thing then. I’m wondering I hope quite unlike Clive Hamilton’s attempts to discuss porn without mentioning vaginas, whether it might be possible to disdain wowserism and snobbishness without referencing class to make a better case against it.

      It seems to me that when we make the point that the middle class are looking down their noses at the lower class then quite apart from perpetuating a stereotype we might well be invalidating our own point. That is to say that if the point we want to make is that the middle classes are kidding themselves that they’re really any better than the working classes then doing so through disdain for middle class snobbery references a concept that itself requires somebody to look down upon and therefore seems obviously counter intuitive. We are after all in some sense trying to reduce their notions of class to a descriptive term for a fallacious sense of superiority rather than anything we’d wish to endorse. So the question becomes one of how we might otherwise explain what is behind these pretences of superiority.

      I’d use the word Classism to convey the sense in which I think anti-egalitarian tendencies are to be held lowly alongside racism and sexism in my regard, but Wikipedia already defines it as – “prejudice or discrimination on the basis of social class.” A description that falls well short of critiquing the very idea of social stratification in which people are grouped into a set of hierarchical social categories for being the inherently bad idea that I think it truly is.

      So regardless of whether we have a single convenient term for it the formation of wowserish cliques with their anti-intellectual insistence on closing ranks against ills for which they have no evidence relies heavily on generalisations like the idea of class, race or gender solidarity that are equally malformed and regressive. Any capacity we maintain for organising a society on its merits requires an ongoing effort to gauge the merits of individual actions in some reasoned and evidence based fashion. Which is why I began the initial post I offered earlier today with reference to objective problems with certain types of gambling as opposed to the subjective nature of most critiques of pornography.

      It isn’t that I think we’re better to overly rationalise everything, but rather just to say that when it comes to things that smack of in-group\out-group behaviours and treating people as “others” getting inside the emotional connections people are making with superficial like for like isn’t going to invalidate them unless we point out how lacking in imagination and empathy that they truly are. Whereas in speaking to the presence of a subjective element in how we like or dislike porn more than we would for gambling there is nevertheless a real sense in which neither will persist for very long if people stop enjoying them. I earlier just wanted to point out that I think the two can be interrogated on a different levels because the nature of the evidence about them really does differ.


      • Jennifer Wilson June 7, 2013 at 6:41 am #

        I don’t think class is the only or even the best way to analyse social ills and disadvantage, but I think it has a role. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with porn, gambling, drinking, drugs or any of the other addictive pleasures including sex. It’s the individual’s tendency towards ruination that causes problems. Disadvantage is exploited by pedlars of addiction. I am fascinated by class at the moment, thinking about my own family and my experience of moving from working to middle, and belonging nowhere.


        • hudsongodfrey June 7, 2013 at 10:38 am #

          Thanks for even trying to follow what that post was about, it’s true that like anyone I find it difficult to talk about class without using the term. It’s like some kind of observer effect, where we can’t step outside of something that we’re accustomed to in order that we might make more detached statements about it. And in so saying I’m also trying to remain aware that it isn’t just a matter of rationality, but perhaps also a matter of whether we lack the empathy and imagination to see beyond class.

          However I do find that there are problems with some of the contradictions these ideas imply. The idea that we want to critique anti-porn activists for lack of evidence would not sit well with an inability to critique anti-egalitarian tendencies if one identified too strongly with one’s own class. I think I’d prefer to use class as a descriptive term, perhaps placing it alongside patriarchy on a list of things we see good reason to change. Otherwise we could find ourselves doing what the BACWA’s do, selectively criticising only the things we don’t like on an almost entirely subjective basis.

          You say the following:

          “I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with porn, gambling, drinking, drugs or any of the other addictive pleasures including sex. It’s the individual’s tendency towards ruination that causes problems.”

          And I’d agree up to a point because it is quite true, and evident in that fact that not all individuals fall victim to their vices. But surely it isn’t the only contributing factor towards whether we say something is bad. Surely there are bad things and products that if we wouldn’t necessarily ban them then we’d prefer forms of regulation that afford adequate warning. And surely if we argue that if anti-porn activists ought to find evidence then we also have to be open to examining what evidence there is for harm being done by some forms of gambling. I think the fact that the house always wins may be the smoking gun here, after all how can it not be considered a form of deprivation to delude people that they might win when it is a known fact that overall they’re going to lose?

          Some people would say that there’s something inherently wrong with gambling in that it creates social problems whereby if an irresponsible behaviour that leads one group of individuals to place a higher burden on another group could be taken away then we’d all be better off. Whereas what those people object to isn’t so much the gambling itself as that they see it as freeloading behaviour of that other group if they’re generally profligate with their incomes and may expect some additional social support as a result. And whether I can align those groups with social classes or not doesn’t necessarily recommend that I should. The only time that I really do find class interesting in this is if the middle class are criticising working class gambling while hypocritically excusing their own.


          • doug quixote June 7, 2013 at 2:34 pm #

            Freedom of choice, HG. I want the right to spend my money how I choose, and the right to see and hear things that I want to see and hear. Without interference from BACWA control freak do-gooders and certainly without the full apparatus of the State telling me what to do.

            I agree entirely with Jennifer on this one.

            We can only go so far in protecting people from themselves.


            • hudsongodfrey June 7, 2013 at 4:24 pm #

              Freedom of choice isn’t the absolute value that you seem to think of it though.

              We regulate a number of things that we don’t even consider bad. Things like Airline safety and the road rules for example. We’ve just introduced plain packaging for cigarettes in a move that is hoped to further reduce use of a product people are free to choose even if it would almost certainly be restricted if introduced as a new product under today’s regulatory environment.

              And we don’t get to choose whether or not to pay our taxes when some of them are going to pick up the pieces of dysfunction that problem gambling causes.

              Even at the very intersection of empathy with imagination that we have been discussing I have to put it to you that history tends to show that we might indeed be worse off if all the functions of social welfare were replaced by the choice to give as much money to charity as you’re currently paying in the form of taxation.

              So if we have to make a rational argument about the harm from gambling versus the harm from porn then I simply reiterate the case that the former is more evident than the later without necessarily interceding to unscramble all of the other questions we might be able to ask were we given the choice as it were to virtually self govern.


        • paul walter June 7, 2013 at 11:04 am #

          Jennifer, you are in a class of your own. And there is an absurdity in claiming be a member of a class or not. You may not feel you are a member of class, but you may be, including subconsciously, or not but embraced by others as a member of one.
          But it isn’t all absurdity. In fact, you may showing as much empathy, rationality and imagination either way.
          Unlike hudsongodfrey I think class identification is a sign of compassion, etc and “seeing beyond class” is some thing I’d have to be clear on given a particular situation, because I’m proud to identify as working class. But what could that mean?
          That I’m disreputable to some because of lack of sartorial elegance, yet suitable to some others because I retain
          (hypothetically) and display some sense of working classitude in an action like walking an old lady across the road.
          So I don’t necessarily agree with the idea that working class people are any more bigoted than their alleged superiors, although manner of expression is sometimes not as developed the betters for without moral discredit being wrought upon the pleb.
          I take the point that it would be risky to ascribe all the world’s problems to class conflict, but as the history books thicken, you’d hope humanity can learn enough to move out what is barbaric era in many respects.


          • hudsongodfrey June 7, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

            I’ll take your point if you want to argue that the empathy that leads us to identify with our own “class” seems almost inevitable if empathy it is that we require to imagine harm to any other social group might be a bad thing. But I will reiterate that most of the discussion around social classes centres on the problems that occur between them. The term class warfare does not occur in the vernacular for nothing. So if lack of empathy it must be that leads to friction between classes then do we stop either at arguing for more empathy or for less class consciousness, when perhaps we should go for both 🙂


          • doug quixote June 7, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

            “You think you’re so clever and classless and free
            But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see”

            John Lennon, “Working Class Hero”

            If you think you are without a class, you may be imagining things.


        • Maria June 7, 2013 at 9:03 pm #

          I think I can relate to what you’re saying Jennifer, about belonging nowhere. Do you think that’s a positive thing? For me it was a loneliness & isolation I struggled with for a long time. I come from working class, & haven’t moved up in class for a number of reasons. In some v. signifigant ways, I experience this as a positive & quite liberating. Even tho in $, I’m probably at the lowest end of the scale, I feel v. fortunate in that I don’t have to prove myself to anyone, I am free of the pressure to impress. I am freer to be my authentic self. Belonging to a class & a culture, (in my case Greek), also involved a level of conformity which I personally found extremely oppressive. It’s interesting that so much is said here about inequality, class etc. yet I imagine this space would be quite intimidating for many people who find it interesting, inspiring, challenging & want to comment, contribute or maybe ask a question, but wouldn’t for fear of being humiliated bec. they feel out of their depth on an academic/intellectual level. So, keep your mouth shut until you’re up to our standard of intellect. We know better. I see it a form of silencing. Does that make sense?


          • paul walter June 7, 2013 at 9:45 pm #

            No, it’s a dinkum site.
            Hopefully ideas rise or sink on their merits rather than on some imagined personal prejudice against another poster. Although, god knows, it is what you can expect at current affairs sites, the arguments are often complex and not ultimately provable or disprovable, yet passionate, because often much is at stake, regardless of “class”, gender (a form of classification, like race or religion) or stacks of other things used by people to avoid uncomfortable truths that upset world views.
            Ignore whatever you take for “silencing”-as I do- and argue your point coherently and you have done your best, presented the truth as you see it for other’s consideration or otherwise and up to them to make of what you’ve said as
            they will.
            It’s like, a person stands on the road, for your own conscience’s sake you warn them a truck is coming. If they think your advice is so unworthy as to deserve total ignoring and get hit by a vehicle, you have nothing to be worried over have you, Maria?


            • doug quixote June 8, 2013 at 12:16 am #

              There’s a difference between saying “thank you and well said” and launching into 10 paragraphs of mushy prose.

              paul’s last paragraph reminds me of . . .

              “O, a peanut sitting on a railway track,
              Its heart was all a flutter,
              A train came roaring round the bend,
              Toot! toot! Peanut butter!”

              A worry for the peanut, but only briefly. 🙂


      • Ray June 7, 2013 at 9:37 am #


        It’s not just the middle-class looking down at the working class but the working class looking askance at anyone who succeeds, particularly the educated elites. This is the essence of the tall poppy syndrome.

        In regard to pornography, following the Henson furor I have been following other naked kiddies scandals and I can assure you that the most vocal wowsers are the working class bigots ready to torch those pervy, art-loving elites. One of the most common conspiracy theories around child porn is that the academic/artistic/ruling elites are in it together.

        This language is currently in full play in regard to the trial of Graham Ovenden in England, with the traditional working class tabloid press writing completely false and sensationalist articles and whipping up working class passions and suspicions about perverted artists and the elites that support them. This has led to a witch hunt – and people actually calling for blood.

        I would argue that this witch hunt (the details are chilling) is all about class.


        • hudsongodfrey June 7, 2013 at 10:50 am #

          Okay, tall poppy syndrome, but isn’t this really just an identification of class with turning the tables so as to say “We may not be part of an elite, but we’re certainly don’t regard ourselves as inferior”?

          How do you explain to anyone that being wrong and being inferior are two different things if they’re not listening?


          • Ray June 7, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

            That has something to with it, but the tall poppy syndrome is more about don’t rise above the pack, don’t be different, don’t actually be smarter.

            There is very definitely an anti-intellectual component. The danger with this is that people who do actually know what they are talking about are disbelieved solely on the basis of prejudice. There is plenty of this around in Australia at the moment. Both parties are appealing to the blue-collar vote, pandering to racist prejudice over asylum seekers and blue collar suspicion of inner city elites.

            Here’s the really curious thing. Various shock jocks, right wing commentators constantly criticise the inner city elites as out of touch. Yet this demographic is better educated and has a higher than average IQ.

            Thus we get into the bizarre situation that the better educated and more intelligent lack an ability to understand. There is apparently a special ‘commonsense’ knowledge that the elites lack.

            Lets not that Pauline Hanson was very popular amongst the blue collar voter. She appealed to their prejudice and ignorance. I know this first hand because my bogan sister said she admired Hanson.


            • hudsongodfrey June 7, 2013 at 2:29 pm #

              I sense humour in your closing line. Tim Dunlop opined in a similar vein on The Drum, so I may just reprise part of my response to that….

              I suspect the notion of a “great unwashed” may be a slightly solipsistic manifestation of tendencies we exhibit towards favouring our own superiority.

              In other words there probably ain’t that many of them out there…..

              Is it therefore a chicken and egg kind of argument whereby when politicians and the media, being equally convinced of their own respective superiority, continually get it wrong and talk down to the masses then the only conversation in town resembles the lowest common denominator. I suspect a lot of people in reality are waiting to be spoken with as if they were actually adults?


              • Ray June 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

                Actually, the reality is that most people are ill informed idiots who mistakenly believe they are adults. Thus the politician must master the art of simplifying complex issues whilst at the same time praising the electorate as intelligent.

                There are a number of issues that prove this. First is the asylum seeker issue. The reason we have such a vicious nasty policy is to please idiots who are vicious and nasty. I said one side of my family were made up of working class bigots. Their solution is far more simple. Blow them out of the water.

                Then we can look at global warming and carbon policy. Why is Julia so unpopular? Because she lied about a carbon tax. Never mind that she didn’t actually lie. Never mind that it is good and necessary policy. That is all too complex so let’s repeat – she lied. Never mind that Tony is dishonest. Repeat – she lied. Reduce a complex issue to a mantra – she lied.

                I could go on Hudson but I think you get my drift. My personal experience is that many in the working class are thick.

                It is a question of education and an aspiration to education.

                One last example. A co-worker. Buys the Herald Sun, flips over to the sports section, doesn’t read anything else. This was during the republican referendum. Someone raised the issue in a discussion and he didn’t understand the issue or care. Thick as mate.


                • hudsongodfrey June 7, 2013 at 6:26 pm #

                  I too have net people who in their forties couldn’t tell you what the capital of Russia is. But I’ve also met a heck of a lot of intelligent and articulate Australians who’re more than capable of processing the issues on their merits so long as one is capable of putting a case in a fairly non threatening way.

                  I also know that among the men in particular one on one their better listeners and less likely to run off at the mouth for the benefit of the assembled group.

                  It may just be the case that I want to believe that people are capable of thought on a higher level than is catered for by tabloid journalism and talkback radio. But I think it may be worth keeping in mind that even if more than half of them are welded on to either of the major parties because they’re too dim to see past the rhetoric then they very existence of swinging voters whose allegiances regularly determine political outcomes means they must be being swayed by something. If not logic and debate then what I wonder?


                  • Ray June 7, 2013 at 9:20 pm #

                    There are a lot of intelligent Australians. I’ve met them too. It’s just that I’ve also met the other lot.


            • doug quixote June 7, 2013 at 2:44 pm #

              She’s not alone : A medical practitioner friend of mine thought that Hanson had some legitimate points.

              I disagreed of course, but everyone is entitled to an opinion.


            • paul walter June 7, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

              Pauline Hanson ls a case is more complex. She was brought up to believe certain things, even though some of it is cock and bull, her thinking and ideas may have had causes for errors rather than been outright malicious.
              I think alternatively,Hanson may have been trying to express an ordinary Australian working person’s sense of disempowerment and disenfranchisement, but in a clumsy way some times involving race and other extraneous factors because she was not sufficiently educated, including to concepts pol economic of “class” and class structure.
              Had the school system and enculturation been different she might have been able to pick the real offenders from the scapegoats.


              • hudsongodfrey June 8, 2013 at 12:15 am #

                I dunno Paul, I’m not a fan of Hanson’s. I think that if you’re less well qualified to speak to certain matters then you might at least, knowing that to be the case, afford others the benefit of the doubt. Her apparent certainty that everything that was or is wrong with Australia is caused by others in the community or even the world at large who aren’t like us is deeply uncharitable in a way that does little to recommend her character to anyone. And it was as still is that manifest bitterness towards others then irks me about her.


                • paul walter June 8, 2013 at 3:40 am #

                  So, there you go. A combination of genetics and cultural conditioning. Result, one individual lacking in self reflexivity and conditioned not to think through ideas carefully.
                  Therefore she may well be an example of what feminists would call a subject of patriarchy, another unconscious noise of the Sarah Palin sort.
                  Where does she fit in with this alleged boganism in a class-based society, for to call her ocker would not be a poor description either?
                  Amazing how capitalist/patriarchal society sorts out its own, although I still doubt many women are just cyphers, they have more power than many would give them credit for, at least in the West.


                  • hudsongodfrey June 8, 2013 at 11:01 am #

                    Nah, it feels to me like you’re trying on this patriarchy idea like a new suit that’s tight in all the wrong places. You just can’t rock the style if you can’t find one that fits.

                    Seriously I of all the things I see Hanson as a feminist isn’t really one of them. And it does very much seem to me that some semblance of feminism is the appropriate response to patriarchy. The only other response being sufficiently more submissive to a male dominated social order as to preclude being nearly so outspoken as she has been.

                    What I think we see in Hanson is the dark side of entitlement, a deeply reactionary negativity towards others borne mostly out of narrow self interest and a failure of imagination.

                    She made only one decent political point and it was the same point that all politicians want to make after a fashion, a call for a “fair go”. How exactly fairness was meant to be achieved at the expense of others can only be unconcerning to somebody focused solely on identifying with the slimmest of majorities strongly enough to secure a larger slice of the pie for themselves by disenfranchising minorities within the community. To say this might be divisive would I think be a fairly large understatement.


                    • paul walter June 8, 2013 at 4:11 pm #

                      Cultural reproduction. Civilisation has come from a particular place in space-time and it seems the human condition has a diktat that everyone rises or falls to the level of their own incompetence as the species evolves on.
                      Can we ever be perfect?
                      Hanson was not a passive vessel filled by the the worst of 13 billion years of Universe. She learned to survive like the rest of us and for the species in its current form, much in our behaviours betrays our animal origins.
                      I believe the feminists would be right to wonder if Hanson is so typical of what life and civilisation in its current form can do to any single member of a species.


                    • hudsongodfrey June 8, 2013 at 6:13 pm #

                      Okay so putting it a different way would be to say that patriarchy is only one part of what makes up our society, and it isn’t even the defining element. Which is why I’m pointing to other aspects of the culture that I think have a great deal more to say about what Hanson’s influences might have been.


          • doug quixote June 10, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

            Are they all asleep over here today?

            Class as understood in England or India does not apply in Australia; wealth and education, power and knowledge, influence and prestige however tend to go together to create an elite, and by definition those not of the elite may be termed the hoi polloi (or as Rootin’ stated on another blog, “hoi polio”).

            The Tall Poppy Syndrome was a rather different thing, where the rulers destroy those who are likely to provide opposition; that is, the natural leaders of the people.


            • hudsongodfrey June 10, 2013 at 9:30 pm #

              Hoi Polio? Maybe Hoi Poloi….

              I think the Tall Poppy thing picked up on somebody else’s comment in a different vein, not necessarily conflated with class per se.

              As for the general idea that class doesn’t depend on an inherent set of determinations but on one’s sense of self the only real distinction I’d make would be the degree to which we’re really an egalitarian meritocracy or not. Otherwise as I said there’s a danger that I become my enemy in the instant that I preach.


              • doug quixote June 11, 2013 at 12:17 am #

                Yes, it is a paradox, is it not?

                If you and I, and Jennifer, are not in some sort of elite then there is no elite!

                If the authoritarians were to gain power and tried the Tall Poppy Scheme, we’d be amongst the first ones shot.



                • hudsongodfrey June 11, 2013 at 9:33 am #

                  One can be excellent at what one does in all kinds of fields of endeavour and maybe even exceed the efforts of others with relative ease. Maybe that’s why we should neither overvalue elites nor undervalue people whose talents don’t happen to lie in certain areas of academia that we happen to call elite.


  8. eg June 7, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    Please, give me a break. There has always been a part of our society that thrives on controversy, witch hunt, “doing the right thing” – more like “doing what they think is the right think”.
    They were yapping at phones, TV, music, mobile phones, video games, now porn and gambling since, like, forever. Same people that used to say KISS are actually “Knights in Satan’s Service”, same people that wanted Ozzy Osbourne and Twisted Sister banned for good in the US.
    In another 20 years, they’ll all look same stupid and laughable, but porn and gamling and alcohol and video games and all other “terrible, outrageous things” are not going anywhere.


  9. doug quixote June 7, 2013 at 4:20 pm #

    In the High Court recently, Kakava claimed that in losing $20.5m Crown Casino behaved ‘unconscionably” in letting him gamble :

    (Quoting from an earlier judgement):

    “It may well be that the appellant found it difficult, even impossible, to control his urge to continue gambling beyond the point of prudence. However, there was nothing which prevented him staying away from the club.”

    ” It is also a circumstance relevant to the justice of the appellant’s appeal to the conscience of equity that the activities in question took place in a commercial context in which the unmistakable purpose of each party was to inflict loss upon the other party to the transaction. Gambling transactions are a rare, if not unique, species of economic activity in a civilised community, in that each party sets out openly to inflict harm on the counterparty. In the language of Lord Hardwicke, there was nothing “surreptitious” about Crown’s conduct.

    Generally speaking, it would be an odd use of language to describe the outcome of such voluntary, and avowedly rivalrous, behaviour as the victimisation of one side by the other. This is especially so once the focus of the appellant’s case shifts away from his complaint of being lured or enticed into Crown’s casino. To describe the business of a casino as the victimisation of the gamblers who choose to frequent it might well make sense in moral or social terms depending on one’s moral or social philosophy; but it does not make a lot of sense so far as the law is concerned, given that the conduct of the business is lawful.”

    The passage is lengthy, but it sets out the legal viewpoint on problem gamblers.


    • hudsongodfrey June 7, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

      And a sound legal viewpoint it seems to be. I certainly wouldn’t dispute it.

      What I would do though is argue much as we do for smoking that it is perfectly legally viable to make an informed decision, and yet that can be the kind of decision that others may hope to discourage people from making. Certainly governments want people to quit smoking because there’s a burden of healthcare costs associated with the medical consequences of that activity. There are also costs to the community associated with gambling that might lead us to regulate an industry that left to it’s own devices shows a propensity to take that “unique species of economic activity within a civilised community” to its logical conclusion in terms of how it designs to “inflict harm on the counterparty”.

      If it;s fair to say that drivers need to be licenced and follow the rules in order to operate vehicles then it is equally clear that rules are set out for how the operation of poker machines is regulated. Calls being made for reform at the moment consist of very little more than asking for a review of the gambling equivalent of speed limits.


      • doug quixote June 7, 2013 at 7:19 pm #

        Indeed, HG we need road rules and regulation for just about everything – from dog ownership to warfare, from littering to the killing of human beings.

        The question as always is how much regulation is enough and when does it become oppression?


        • hudsongodfrey June 7, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

          Perhaps we’d also agree that a society that fails to protect its weakest members also allows their oppression. It should indeed be some kind of balance.


      • doug quixote June 7, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

        I’m glad you approve : I’ll let Chief Justice French and Justices Hayne, Crennan, Kiefel, Bell, Gageler and Keane know. 🙂


        • hudsongodfrey June 7, 2013 at 7:44 pm #

          I’m sure they’ll be thrilled 🙂


    • paul walter June 7, 2013 at 9:54 pm #

      Good one, DQ.


  10. Sara Bell August 5, 2013 at 8:05 pm #

    There are some fascinating cut-off dates on this article however I don’t know if I see all of them middle to heart. There may be some validity but I will take maintain opinion till I look into it further. Good article , thanks and we would like more! Added to FeedBurner as effectively


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