Thursday, October 31, 2002

Lexus and the Olive Tree

Being trained as a scholar in the now gone liberal university I like reading new books when they are old. Then I don't have to read them properly. I can dip into them to find what is of interest and not feel that I am superficial. This is why I have just started to read Thomas Friedman's big tome of the later 1990s, The Lexus and the Olive Tree.The 1990s was full of promise. Globalization was going to work wonders for Australia as well as create a new liberal world order. Remember those days when the world was full of light and cheer?

So I started at p. 331. I was looking for an environmental entrypoint. I found it. Turtles. I read on. Alas I was one of the turtles. No problem there as I quite liked turtles. Friedman speaks bluntly about turtles but I could take it on the chin.

The point he has been making here is that in the new order of the globalized world you have to run fast. Then he comments about turtles---ie, those of us who are not equipped to run fast. He says:

"There are lots of turtles out there, desperately trying to avoid becoming roadkill. The turtles are all those peple who got sucked into the Fast World when the walls came down, and for one reason or another now feel economically threatened or spurned by it. It is not because they all don't have jobs. It is because the jobs they have are being rapidly transformed, downsized, streamlined or made obsolete by globalization. And because this global competition is forcing their governments to downsize and streamline at the same time, it means many of these turtles have no safety net to fall into."

Its racey journalist prose. You either love it or hate it, especially for those who think in terms of hard-edged dualities. But it is crisper prose than that of the celebrity we call Philip Adams.

The above description of turtles fits us ex-scholars. We were downsized because we had been made obsolete. Still, we should feel compassionate for turtles. Or should we? The ethics in the Friedman text seemed a bit hazy. I sensed the machinery of the 'creative destruction of capitalism' at work here.

So why am I a turtle I wondered. I read on in eager anticipation. What is the explanation for my being so slow moving in adapting to the new order? Its because I ain't too clever. I haven't got a degree you see, and globalization was replacing boring manual repetitive jobs with machines and requiring more skills to the jobs that are left. As a worker what I needed to do was have multiple skills and perform multiple tasks. I could then get a full time job, if I was willing to do more than one job. This makes it very hard on turtles quips Friedman. (Love the irony).

So there we have it. Pretty straight forward. No ifs and buts. Shooting from the hip. Scholars are hurting from the impact of globalization but Friedman's explanation by passes scholars. But no worries, they are so insigificant that they don't figure in the scheme of things anyway.

So what does Friedman say about the way that we turtles understand the big picture? Our reaction is one of backlash. The radical environmentalists who want to save the rain forest (or our rivers) will simply lash out at globalization without offering a sustainable economic alternative. Their only message will be: STOP.

The downsized blue-collar workers will align themselves with a populist party that offers various protectionist solutions of putting up a few new walls here and there, or putting sand in the gears to slow things down. Then everything will be fine. This slots in One Nation.

Pretty simple really. Easy to grasp. Then I thought, gosh, oh gosh. This must be the sort of book that our federal politicans read on the plane, as they criss-cross our vast continent to meet, chat and press the flesh of the many important people that we only see on television. It is the lines I hear the pollies say again and again. Many in the audience love them for it. It helps them to feel secure. The pollies know this in their gut. So maybe it was their media advisors who read the book and wrote the lines for them?

Fascinated I read on looking for comments about middle class turtles. I realize that I writing in the ironic mode about neo-liberalism which John Quiggin says that those on the social democratic left should not employ when confronting neo-liberalism. Its late. To be continued.

Continued.Friedman does not disappoint. He has a section on middle class turtles. He says:

'And don't kid yourself, the backlash is not just an outburst from the most downtrodden. Like all revolutions, globalization involves a shift in power from the state and its bureaucrats to the private sector and entrepreneurs. As this happens, all those who derived their status from positions in the bureaucracy, or from their ties to it, or from their place in a highly regulated and protected economic system, can become losers----if they can't make the transition to the Fast World.'

Well that includes us scholars in the old liberal university. It was highly regulated and protected. We lost power when Australia streamlined and downsized, And we didn't make the transition to the Fast World. Friedman continues:

' This explains why, in some countries, the strongest backlash against globalization comes not just from the poorest sectors of the population and the turtles, but rather from the "used-to-bes" in the middle and lower middle classes, who found a great deal of security in the protected ... welfare system. As they seen the walls of protection around them coming down, as they have seen the rigged games in which they flourished folded up, and the safety nets under them shrink, many have become mighty unhappy. And unlike the turtles, these downwardly mobile groups have the political clout to organize against globalization".

So we scholars are not turtles. We are 'downwardly-mobile "used-to-bes". We scholars who read old philosophy texts are being asked to go into the market at a time when we are losing our right to generous unemployment insurance. Globalization is a big loss with no benefit for us. Its a threat from outside. Hence our despair and unease. Do we have a future? We 'downwardly-mobile "used-to-bes" are also turtles because we are slow to go into the market and grab the opportunities on the global economic train that is powered by the innovation of the new knowledge-based economy.

Friedman does admit that the use of globalization 'train' is misleading because no one is at the controls. Well it is certainly not the IMF. The Asian crisis in the late 1990s made that clear. What is uncanny about this book is how I'd heard all the lines before as I was trying to avoid going from 'left behind' to 'left out'. I was trying to shake off the old scholar self. I was dumping my attachments and finding a way to earn money to buy a mobile phone, a portable computer, go online and become an entrepreneurial knowledge-worker. Making money and having freedom of expression seemed okay desires. Yet I heard the politicians and the national newspapers run their lines about the backlash critics being anti-globalization and eco-critics saying STOP to globalization. And I heard the silences about salinised landscapes and dying rivers in the columns of the eastern newspapers and in the soundbites of the federal politicians. (Senator Robert Hill was the notable exception). The script could have been taken out of the Friedman text.

The Lexus stands for computers, technology and markets. The olive tree stands for family, place and community. Both the Lexus and the olive tree need to be balanced for sustainable globalisation. Where does ecology fit into this? It doesn't. Friedman doesn't see it. He has little grasp that the real olive tree needs water and soil to survive and grow. And as many of those planting olive trees in South Australia realise, it is proving difficult to get the water needed. This is definitely is a book of the 1990s, when America was the beacon for the whole world. Funny how things can change so rapidly.

Irony is okay because there is nothing much to engage with: we can only draw attention to what is lacking, the gaps and the silence about water and environmental degradation. So it is only possible to operate on the margins or edges of the text. We can only proceed from, and at, the limit of the text. This is the word,' STOP'. What is required is to reverse the hierarchy in this text, then reinscribe the newly privileged term---ecology---though extending its range and scope.
Testra, River Murray and the Media

Isn't it interesting the way that the sale of Telstra has become deeply intertwined with water, whether it be turning the rivers inland to drought-proof Australia, or repairing the Murray-Darling Basin to save the River Murray. Water is rapidly becoming a central public policy issue, and people are becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of action. The centrality of water in public policy is reinforced by the impact of the drought on our cities in the form of the imposition of water restrictions, and the inquiries on water under way in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

What I want to do with today's post is look at the media commentary on Telstra early this week. It has got buried in the search for sleeper cells in Australia, as part of the security response to the Bali bombings. The media commentary concentrated on the interpreting the signs as to whether Meg Lees, the Independent Senator for South Australia, was willing to vote for the sale of the Telstra in return for some of the proceeds being shifted towards fixing the Murray-Darling Basin's problems. Why Senator Lees? Her vote is considered to be crucial to the sale of Telstra being passed by the Senate. So will she or won't she? What game is she playing?

Well, The Advertiser was in no doubt. It headlined its excerpts from the piece by Senator Lees in the Optionsmagazine, published by the Member for Sturt, Christopher Pine, as 'Testra sale best medicine for sick Murray'. (October 29, 2002). Others were equally sure. The story ran by AAP (27 October 2002) started by saying that Senator Lees ' had given a further hint that she will support the government's efforts to sell the the rest of Telstra, calling full privatisation inevitable.' Dennis Shanahan, writing in The Australian (28 October, 2002), was more cagey.After noting that Senator Lees had not committed herself to the sale of Telstra he said that Senator Lees had 'clearly endorsed the use of Telstra sale funds to fix the Murray River disaster.'

Christopher Pyne in his Publisher's Note gave credence to this media interpretation, when he wrote that 'Senator Lees is a crucial vote in the Senate. In an article written exclusively for Options, Senator Lees contends that the full sale of Telstra is likely to occur in this or the next term of Parliament and the proceeds of sale should be diverted to repairing the Murray Darling Basin'. (p.13)

Since Senator Lees has not publicly said that she will vote for the sale of Telstra, we have a guessing game, and journalists (and ministerial advisors) are searching for hints as to her future intentions. This is the single focused lens of the media.

This media interpretation follows the pathway set by the government's agenda. The Howard Government is committed to the full privatisation of the telco, and Senator Lees' vote would give it one of the four it needs to get the Telstra sale through the Senate. Can they trade with Lees? Will she deal?

The journalists are not exploring the political significance of how many in the Liberal Party would also like to see some of the Telstra sale proceeds being given to restoring a salinised environment, rather than being used exclusively to retire government debt. The latter is what Peter Costello, the Federal Treasurer, continually states is the right and only thing to do. There is an intense water debate going on within government circles, as well as the one between the Commonwealth and the states over property rights to water. Christopher Pyne in his Options article, "Unconstitutional Power", says that, 'Time is running out for the Murray-Darling Basin ... It is in our national interest to ensure that the Murray-Darling Basin is a healthy ecology.' Sharman Stone, the Parliamentary Secretary for the Environmetn and Heritage, has an article in Optionscalled 'Searching for a sustainable future'. This examines the ways in which a sustainable environment depends on a sustainable social system so that people in regional communities can have a life worth living. Senator Bill Heffernan's article, 'Disinherit Dad's Gumboots or Move Adelaide Upstream', wants to move away from paddy rice fields and flooded cotton to guarantee more water for healthy rivers in the Murray-Darling Basin, and to secure the basic down-river right of long-term access to clean drinking water for the people of South Australia and Adelaide.

What does this debate over water mean for the policy directions of the Coalition and/or the leadership? The journalists are not clued in. The Senate is where the political action is. And thats Telstra. Water is a side issue.

As Laura Tingle observed in The Australian Financial Review ( 28 October 2002) there is no doubt that the Independent Senator for South Australia cannot be ruled out of the Telstra-Senate equation. Senator Lees ' is clearly making sure she is right at the centre of it'. (p.4). However, the problem with the above media interpretation is that Senator Lees has made it clear on many occassions that she is highly unlikely to vote for the sale of Telstra during the present parliamentary term, due to lack of community support for its sale. (See Toni O'Loughlin, "Lees links Telstra sale, river rescue", Sydney Morning Herald, 28 October 2002). Senator Lees has also stated in the media that she is trying to foster a public debate about how we should spend the proceeds from the sale of Telstra.

In the Options article ,"Its Crunch Time for the Murray!", Senator Lees challenges the neo-liberal claim that increased efficiency in the use of water resources will lead to environmental effectiveness. After having made the case for government intervention to repay the environmental debt that has acummulated over the last 200 years, Lees goes on to say that one way or another we have to find the money:

"Money will be needed to put in salt diversions schemes; to claw back water for an environment 'bank'; for compensation to those who must give up current practices ... and the list goes on.

Suggestions as to how we find this money range from a levy on all working Australians---similar to the Medicare levy, to using what is raised from the sale of Telstra. And Telstra will be sold one day...perhaps in the near future under this government, if not then probably within the next term of Federal Parliament. Another possibility would be to dedicate the income Telstra now provides directly to environment programs." (p.5).

She then goes on to question the Federal Treasurer's claim that, if Telstra is sold, then the money should go to repay the public debt.

From a South Australian perspective, the significance of this episode is that the River Murray has been piggybacked into the centre of the national agenda on the back of Telstra and privatisation. Lees has been able to do what the Olsen Government tried to do but failed ---place the illhealth of the River Murray firmly in the eye of the federal government's policy makers. South Australians should be feeling a touch less anxious about being sold down the river by the eastern states. But they need to continue to push the case hard to avoid moving upstream because the Victorian state government is still very negative about returning water to the River Murrray. And the NSW irirgators are angry.

The significance of this Telstra-Murray episode is that the neo-liberal economic managers have ended up being confronted by a tough environmental agenda that they have tried to ignore and dismiss for over a decade. And they don't like it. Today's editorial in The Australian Financial Review ( 31 October 2002) proclaims 'Red Alert over Greens threat' . This is an evaluation of the policies of the Greens in the light of the forthcoming Victorian state election, but the comments have a wider significance. Two paragraphs in this editorial are of note.

" Most of us accept we have to do things better, especially in agriculture and water use, but not that we should risk everything in a headlong rush to sustainability, especially while there is still little consensus on what that means."

And:

"It may seem cruel to hold these hopeless policies [of the Greens] up to ridicule but the voters of Melbourne's inner suburbs must know what they are playing with---the sacrifice of two decades of hard-won economic gains by a young, trade-dependent, capital importing country that saw its terms of trade slashed in the 1980s. It is too much to ask."

The shift in the policy compass to sustainability has already taken place. Even the National Party is seriously looking at Dick Pratt's suggestion that environmental flows to the Basin's river systems can be restored by piping irrigation channels to stop the leakage and evaporation.

Doing things better is one thing. Rehabilitating the Murray-Darling Basin is another. The definition of sustainbility may be contested, but it commonly means lightening the ecological footprint of a European-style agriculture in the Murray-Darling Basin; and our cities getting very serious about addresssing the water shortage. It means that Melbourne, just like Sydney and Adelaide, will need to shift from what urban users should not be doing, to what they can do to use their water resources more efficiently. Preventing future water crises means protecting the rivers and catchments (the Thomson River Catchment for Melbourne) to safeguard our water supplies of our cities. It means households and businesses starting to recycle storm and grey water. These are the just some of the ways we are searching for a pathway to a sustainable future.

It is time for the economic journalists to begin to reflect on the way that 'the continuation of two decades of hard-won economic gains by a young, trade-dependent, capital importing country' would continue to sacrifice the ecological health of the river country and the cities. Journalists in the global cities of Sydney and Melbourne may fancy that these cities are freefloating and delinked from their national economies, but the drought has shown them to be deeply embedded in their regional ecologies. It is time to think about things other than numbers.

Tuesday, October 29, 2002

Inside the Archives.

I have been dipping into the archives of the Oz bloggers.. I came across a posting by Ken Parish called ‘Adam Smith and morality’. See http://www.ntu.edu.au/faculties/lba/schools/Law/apl/blog/
The posting can be found by pressing site map then scrolling down to philosophy. It was the philosophy listing that attracted my wandering eye.

The posting is very good. People should re- read it. It is an argument about nihilism, or what Nietzsche called the hollowing out of our highest values. Nietzsche’s example of this was the decay of Christianity, which he summed up in terms of God is dead. Ken looks at the process of nihilsm in terms of the effect the deregulated market is having on our culture.

I want to pick up Ken's key argument and link it to some comments I made yesterday about postmodernism (ie., deconstruction ) as a form of destruction. (See The dragon of postmodernism below).

Ken’s argument is this:

“My argument, therefore, is that the eventual result of unadulterated neo-liberalism as Adam Smith envisaged it is a society that is morally and spiritually hollow, and which does not satisfy man’s innate need for something more than just material wealth: we are also moral and spiritual beings. If market capitalism fails to develop much more effective mechanisms to check the excesses of its many robber barons, it will ultimately lose the trust and confidence of the general community on which it depends.”

Certainly this lays down a challenge for our conservative bloggers. Is the process of nihilism happening in Australia? Is the commitment of the Howard Government to the free market and conservative values a contradiction because the former undermines and hollows out the latter? Is it possible to retain the old values in the face of their hollowing out by the free market? Or are you left with husks?

Personally I think Ken is right. In the Murray-Darling Basin we do have a value crisis. Community is disappearing in the cities, sich as Adelaide. Rural values are decaying in the bush as regional economies shrink, the young leave, services are withdrawn and communities decay.

Is it possible to link this back to postmodernism? My comment is that a philosophically-informed postmodernism---ie., philosophizing with a hammer---would facilitate this process of hollowing out, as this is a way to eliminate the outworn and the acceptable, eg. developmentalism. The hammer is the variety of diverse strategies, tools, negative devices and critical strategies and deconstruction tactics that show up the weakness of the old values of developmentalism.

Ken then considers the political implications of the moral vacuum of nihilism. He says:
“At the very least, there is an essential much stronger interventionist role for government than neo-liberalism asserts. The danger is that an unscrupulous demagogue will arise to fill the vacuum, promising the moral and spiritual certainty people crave in an uncertain world, while actually delivering hatred and intolerance. Hitler was such a leader as, on a much less effective level, was Pauline Hanson.”

Well, you may also get a get ordinary conservative bloke like John Howard who promises security in troubled times.

To his credit Ken then goes on to ask the right question about the value crisis, only to put it to one side for another day. He asks:

“How one goes about re-introducing moral and spiritual values to a modern, global market-based society, without reverting to an earlier age of narrow bigotry and intolerance is less than obvious, and a topic for another day.”

Ken does not say whether 're-introducing' means creating new values or recycling the old ones. Nietzsche can help us here as he calls this process the revaluation of values, including our highest values. He considers the revaluation of values to involve both the destruction of the old and the construction of the new.

So, after we have witnessed the ecological consequences of the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme and disposed of the values associated with turning the rivers inland to green inland Australia, we then construct or create the new values for a sustainable mode of life.

What has this to do with the garden variety postmodernism that everyone loves to hate? Well this postmodernism is not engaged in the two-fold process of a revaluation of values. These postmodernists are mostly concerned with deconstruction---ie., killing off the old---- and they spend little time on the creation of new values. Nor are they interested in such a project. Hence, if Nietzsche has informed the currents of postmodernism, and postmodernism can be seen to live off Nietzsche, then the creation of new values is a parting of the ways.


Monday, October 28, 2002

The dragon of postmodernism

I was going to post on the policy vacuum of the Australian Labor Party, its 'policies' on the environment and Simon Crean's recent speeches. Then I came across the piece by John Quiggin, 'Another cheer for postmodernism' on http://www.johnquiggin.blogspot.com What this post does is recycle some comments John made from an earlier post to the effect that there are three good uses for postmodernism:
"(i) Therapy for recovering Stalinists
(ii) A harmless target on which right-wing pundits can vent their rage
(iii) Some theoretical content for degrees in "communications"
In a marginally more serious vein, I'd like to say that the 'old' English literature curriculum displaced by postmodernism is, in my opinion, no loss".
He then adds, "On the whole, I think deconstruction of TV ads and sitcoms is far less harmful and might even be beneficial."

How can we interpret this brief account of postmodernism advanced by John Quiggin? Well, a central strand of postmodernism is deconstruction, which is usually associated with Derrida. Deconstructing TV ads and sitcoms means something along the lines of 'digging out their buried or obscure meanings.' So it is a form of critical thinking that questions the commonplace meanings of these texts in some unknown way. Presumably, this form of critical thinking displaced the old canon of literary criticism in our run-of-the-mill English departments.

What is interesting is that deconstruction is allowed to work the space of popular culture, but it has little relevance to serious modern academic disciplines, such as economics and law, and presumably public policy. Postmodernism and public policy? C'mon, you can't be serious! Presumably, though, we can deconstruct the soundbites of politicians because, after all, these form part of the word and image flows of the mass media. Can we? But we cannot deconstruct the texts of Treasury. Why not? Well, it would seem that deconstruction does not have the necessary firepower to do so. In the world of economics/public policy that has been colonised by the science of economics, postmodernism is represented as the fool that tilts at windmills.

That is how I interpret the Quiggin post on postmodernism. That post is tight and closed in that it allows very little space to engage with. At best we can get a fingerhold in a crack and try and open it up for questioning. Let me do so by engaging with deconstruction. Here are three takes. All three are from the 'bad guys' :

This first is from Friedrich Nietzsche. It suggests that critique is sounding out the idols of our thinking----doing philosophy with a hammer that is used as tuning fork to sound out the hollowness inside.

"Another mode of convalesence ---under certain circumstances even more to my liking---is sounding out idols .There are more idols than realities in the world: that is my "evil eye" for this world; that is also my "evil ear ."For once to pose questions here with a hammer , and, perhaps, to hear as a reply that famous hollow sound which speaks of bloated entrails---what a delight for one who has ears even behind his ears, for me an old psychologist and pied piper before whom just that which would remain silent must become outspoken"

..." And are new idols sounded out? This little essay is a great declaration of war; and regarding the sounding out of idols, this time they are not just the idols of the age, but eternal idols, which are here touched with a hammer as with a tuning fork: there are altogether no older, more convinced, no more puffed-up idols ---and none more hollow. This does not prevent them from being those in which people have the most faith; nor does one ever say "idol" especially not in the most distingusihed instance."

F.Nietzsche, "Preface", Twilight of the Idols, trs. W. Kaufmann, The Portable Nietzsche, (Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1976), pp. 465-466.

Here is Martin Heidgger on philosophy as the task of destroying ontology.

"When tradition thus becomes master, it does so in such a way that what it 'transmits' is made so inaccessible, proximally and for the most part, that it rather becomes concealed. Tradition takes what has come down to us and delivers it over to self-evidence; it blocks our access to those primordial 'sources' from which the categories and concepts handed down to us have been in part quite genuinely drawn .Indeed it makes us forget that they have had such an origin, and makes us suppose that the necessity of going back to these sources is something which we need not even understand."

..."If the question of Being is to have its own history made transparent, then this hardened tradition must be loosened up, and the concealments which it has brought about dissolved. We understand this task as one in which by taking the question of Being as our clue we are to destroy the traditional content of ancient ontology until we arrive at those primordial experiences in which we achieved our first ways of determining the nature of Being---the ways which have guided us ever since."

Heidegger then remarks that this has "nothing to do with a viscious relativing of ontologoical standpoints .But this destruction is just as far from having the negative sense of shaking off the ontological tradition. We must, on the contrary, stake out the positive possibilities of that tradition, and this means keeping it within its limits ; and these in turn are given factically in the way the question is formulated at the time, and in the way the possible field for investigation is thus bounded off. On its negative side, this destrruction does not relate itself towards the past; its criticism is aimed at 'today' and at the prevalent way of treating the history of ontology... But to bury the past in nullity (Nichtigkeit) is not the purpose of this destruction; its aim is positive; its negative function remains unexpressed and indirect."

M. Heidegger, "Introduction", Being and Time trs. J. MacQuarrie & E. Robinson, (Blackwell, Oxford, 1962), H.19, pp. 43-44.

The last quote was meant to be from Jacques Derrida. Alas, my book has not been returned from a friend. Or I have misplaced it. Sorry. We will just have to make do with the above philosophical background.

But what Derrida does is to rework the above tradition of critique into a form of textual reading, relate this to reading texts in terms of their margins, limits, traces or indecideable features, and then take deconstruction far beyond the gates of philosophy into the humanities. What we basically get is offering an account of what is going on in a text (eg., a Treasury document) by marking of its relations to other texts, contexts and subtexts. The idea is to both bring out what the text excludes by showing what it includes, and to show how a text's explicit formulations undermine the implicit aspects. This way of working is not easy to do and it requiires a lot of skill. Those who endeavour to practice it operate under the sign of postmodernism. And judging from the hostile reaction many do not do it very well.

What to make of this opening up of deconstruction by turning back to Nietzsche and Heidegger and interpreting them as the roots of deconstruction? Well, as a form of critique it minimally sounds out idols of today that we have faith in (eg. neo-liberalism). We use the hammer as tuning fork to sound out the hollowness inside. Is that not what many are doing in our public culture? Secondly, we can have a go at tackling the ontology of neo-liberalism. We would then engage with the basic metaphysical concepts of modern neo-classical economics, which enframe the way we view the natural and social world in terms of self-regulating markets. This is not done to destroy economics but to open this modern scientific tradition up to more positive possibilities, eg., so that it can become far more ecological in orientation.

It seems to me that this is of more value than being 'therapy for recovering Stalinists' or a harmless stalking horse for conservatives to rail against'. More broadly, eg., in terms of water politics, it would lead to tackling the idol of developmentalism, such as the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electricity Scheme. Is not this idol hollow inside? Has it not failed to drought-proof the south western region of the Murray-Darling Basin?

Sunday, October 27, 2002

A Naive Blogger

I am new to the virtual world of blogging and the Internet, so new that I do not not even know its history, levels, spheres and relationships. I started doing it without really knowing what I was doing. Even now I have little idea about the phenomena of blogging in Australia.

I sort of woke one summer morning from dreaming about doing scholarly research on long-forgotten, continental philosophers that nobody was really interested in, and found the Internet sprung up in full bloom. It had been growing up whilst I sleeping ----just like a gum tree whilst we are busy doing other things. This indicates my naivety, I know. I sort of vaguely understood that this communication system was built by people in the US from public research money, rather than it growing like a tree. But I did think that a computer was just a better typewriter whilst the Internet was little more than a substitute telephone line.

I mention my naivety to indicate that I am free of the 'techhood' of experts, do not distinguish between the Internet and the World Wide Web and I have never got round to reading Wired magazine. And I've only just picked up Lawrence Lessig's, The Future of Ideas: The fate of the commons in a connected world, (Random House, New York, 2001). It was the word 'commons' that caught my eye. I thought that it may have something to do with water, only to find that it is about the commons as an innvovative, digitial communication system. Most oz bloggers would have read and debated the merits of the book long ago. It would be part of their self-understanding.

My reasons for being in favour of the Internet are naive. It was a useful tool. The various websites provide ready access to information that is useful government reports published on various websites. This is a lot better than accessing a library---I would have to go the university, search the library and probably order the book/report on interlibrary loan because it is not available at Adelaide Uni or Flinders. With the Internet access to reports are available much more quickly and so I can engage with the issues they raise and their policy framework. This enables me to be a part of what is happening in the public policy world by keeping my finger on the pulse. Secondly, there is a sharing or pool of information between users in civil society and a flow of ideas on a topic--- eg., the current debate about property rights for entitlements to access to water---that I can bounce off on. Thirdly, email saves me money on the interstate phone calls from home and buying the daily newspapers.

My one half-formed thought about the Internet was that it is a digital commons that needs protecting. The passionate writings by libertarians on individual freedom, rolling back state interference (regulation) and the tyranny of majority public opinion more or less passed me by. The content was okay but John Stuart Mill never turned me on all that much. Too much utilitarianism and negative liberty for my taste. I also thought that with the decline of public libraries the previous Olsen Liberal government should have wired up Adelaide, offered us tax concession to go online, and provided us with free education in using the Internet so that we could become more informed and engaged citizens.

These are not big thoughts. Mundane ones in fact. Very naive insights. Many more people have thought much more deeply than this about cyberspace. All I do is hang onto the commons---as an infrastructure, the free exchange of ideas and information and as a resource held in common. So I resist the locking up of knowledge by governments, corporations claiming exclusive right to knowledge [intellectual property right) and the market-driven politicians who say that progress can only come with strong and powerful property rights. I fear that with our market-driven politics the commons will become privatised and divided amongst private owners. I Will skim Lessig's The Future of Ideas because I am concerned about the fate of the digital commons.

It would be a tragedy if the corporations got control of the commons since the value of the Internet lies in its openness. I sort of see this openness in the way that it overlaps with the old-style academic debate in the seminar room and dialogue amongst colleagues in the old liberal university. Not that I ever saw much of this. Most academics had become teachers who did a bit of research on the side.

It would be a tragedy if the digital commons were privatised because the significance of blogging, as a different kind of writing, is its connection to liberal democracy. As a resource held in common, it enables citizens to engage with those public issues of the day that are of concern to their local communities. Blogging and making posts beats going to meetings of our political parties, trying to get a letter to the newspaper published, or providing feedback to an article written by a journalist. It enables different public voices to participate in discussing public issues, for their opinions to be publicly heard, and the responses to them evaluated. It is an alternative space to that provided by our big newspapers, radio or television who dominate the public sphere with their representation of politics as leadership challenges, parties engaged in a race and corrupt politicians. Blogging has the potential to open up the public debate to different ideas and competing opinions in civil society, and it allows these to be kicked around, criticised and modified.

This use of the Intenet as a social institution not only broadens the public sphere. It also enables the formation of civic literacy that enables the inhabitants of local communities to acquire the capacity (political knowledge and skills) to act as competent citizens in policy debates striving to influence public policy at different levels of government. This civic literacy underpins our civic engagement in the formation of public opinion and opens up the space for the network of associations in civil society to assert their autonomy, preserve or defend their independence, and develop their critical function.

This strong relationship between the public sphere and civil society counterbalances the state bureaucracies who endeavour to control information about water issues and the lack of policy work on local issues within local branches of the political parties. Both have political power but the former endeavour to control and supervise public debate by withholding information, whilst the latter often turn in on, and then consume, themselves. Often it is the network of associations concerned about the environment, who bring up the new issues, define different ways of approaching a problem, interpret values differently to government bureaucracies and political aparties, and sift and winnow the arguments developed for and against the different solutions to water problems. They are driving the water debate, not the state governments or the federal bureaucracy,

So there we have it. My naive political understanding of blogging.