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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Human rights consultation submissions

I've just been reading some of the shorter submissions, among those published so far, to the National Human Rights Consultation exercise. I'm not so cruel as to single out individuals - hey, I'm a big pussycat really - but I must say that it would help if more of the submissions came from people whose IQs require expression in at least two digits. Have a browse for yourself ...

Okay, so this post will come back to haunt me. It's doubtless revealing my evil streak, my elitist disdain for the common man (and woman).

Is there a lesson? If so, it seems to be this: any government organisation that gives an opportunity for the public to make submissions via the internet on matters of general interest is now likely to be bombarded with hundreds, or even thousands, of short submissions that are poorly-argued, ignorant of the issues, and unrealistic about what can be achieved - and, in some cases, expressed in written English that verges on the illiterate and is baffling to interpret. This is not hyperbole, folks, just the sober facts about the world we now live in.

But I wouldn't have it any other way. If we tried to filter out submissions that were not going to be useful (because they meet the above description), we'd also end up missing submissions from the general public that might be well-informed and valuable. This would leave the consultation process entirely to organisations and lobby groups, which is hardly satisfactory. So, all the verbal confetti appearing on government websites is the price to be paid for an initiative that's commendable overall.

Happy reading, Committee!

EDIT (9/4/09): To be fair, after thinking about the comment below by Tom Coward, and reading some more of the submissions that are now being published day by day, the above is too harsh. I really was a bit mean yesterday. It was a small number of submissions that annoyed me by saying especially silly/naive/outrageous things.

I keep coming across more of these. On the other hand, some of what's coming in to the site is interesting stuff, so I hope that by the time it does accumulate to thousands of submissions in a couple of months, the overall quality might be a lot higher than implied by my snarky observation from yesterday.

5 comments:

Tom Coward said...

Hi Russell: I did a little browsing and would note 2 things: 1. Not many submissions have been made yet. 2. The ones I saw were not bad. I didn't find any with footnotes, academic references or obvious signs of the writer being a philosopher, but several opinions supported by reasoned argument, or heart-felt personal stories germane to the issues addressed. Just the sorts of things one would expect from folks who are not academics, philosophers or professional writers. I didn't find any major clangers, but maybe I didn't look long enough.

Russell Blackford said...

Not that many yet, but the Freedom of Religion and Belief project received 1937, so I'm betting this one will end up getting thousands. Hmmm, I didn't want to single any out, so I won't, but most of the one or two page ones made my heart sink. Maybe it's just me.

Russell Blackford said...

And see my edit.

BT Murtagh said...

On a side note concerning Tom Coward's comment, footnotes and references are enormously time-consuming additions to any written position.

I've occasionally tried to pull together all my sources in order to do a proper paper, including one that never coalesced for Russell's online journal JET. It's horribly frustrating to try to do so in the teeth of a normal working person's commitments, especially a parent's.

To keep my information level in politics, science and technology anything close to current takes almost all the free time I have. Though I know how to do proper citations, actually doing them is often prohibitively time-expensive. This especially applies on the very issues I've researched and thought about the most, because there are more disparate sources to consider, and many of them no longer easily available to me.

My Dad was a lovely man with good intentions, but I should never have let him steer me away from a career in academia...

Russell Blackford said...

Oh, and here's an article that says that the committee had already received 10,000 submissions as of mid-February!

http://www.cathnews.com/article.aspx?aeid=11773

It says that most of them went in via GetUp. So I'm now projecting not thousands of submissions, by the time the exercise is over, but tens of thousands.