There’s an eco-warrior in the Vatican.

A very important fact about the Second Vatican Council is that after it a large part of the Roman Catholic Church stopped looking heavenward and began to look earthward.

Not finding enough to say about the world of the Spirit, or anyone to say it to who would listen, many in the Church opted instead for “engagement with the world”. Perhaps the world around them had become the only one in which Catholic hierarchs really believed in our sceptical age. Now, with the encyclical Laudato Si, Pope Francis in his new role of eco-warrior exemplifies this post-Vatican II embrace of the here and now.

Forget about what the Founder of Christianity had to say about where His kingdom was. The post-Vatican II Church found that its kingdom (or should one say area of focus) was “social justice” here and now. Forget about sinful souls. “Sinful structures” (capitalism) were the real manifestation of diabolical activity in the world. Episcopal utterances, increasingly delivered not by bishops but by ecclesiastical quangoes acting in their name and paid for by Sunday Mass-goers, were framed in the language and values of socialism (the earliest Christians were socialists, it was said, although no one pointed out that they weren’t in precisely the same sense that the term is understood now; if they were socialistic in practice it was an expression not of class envy but of the commandment to love one another).  

In all the places where Catholics were henceforth to be in the world but no longer not of the world, nowhere was the new gospel implemented with greater zeal than in South America. Perhaps it’s a coincidence that that’s where Pope Francis comes from; though there is evidence that he takes a not unfavourable view of that continent’s special contribution to Catholic thought: liberation theology – liberation being understood not so much as liberation of a spiritual and internal nature as defined in the Sermon on the Mount, but political liberation, by force if necessary, from “oppression” – liberation from Caesar you might say, which is exactly the mistake the Jews made with Christ in their expectations of a Messiah. What is not a coincidence is that this man, who by training and experience is steeped in the “spirit of Vatican II”, has brought the full Vatican II agenda of engagement with the world, as it has developed in practice if not as intended by the Council itself, into every area of his papal ministry, and has now crowned his efforts with his encyclical on the environment, its title taken from a hymn by St Francis of Assisi in praise of creation.

Pope Francis knows no more, and probably a lot less, about the environment than many other people; but he has chosen to take up the cudgels on behalf of a powerful movement that asserts that greedy Western man is wrecking it (with his “sinful structures”). In an area where scientific hypotheses are far from unchallengeably demonstrated, the Pope has gone for the warming-our-way-into-self-immolation option. It’s what he was sold by his principal scientific adviser, Hans Joachim Schellnhuber of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and there is no evidence that he consulted any non-subscriber to this view. For all his self-identification with the humble poverello of Assisi, Francis is a determined authoritarian, as personalities that present a hail-fellow bonhomie and for whom all is fine as long as they’re telling the jokes often are; and having been persuaded by Herr Schnellnhuber et al. that man-caused climate change is a given fact, he declares it to be so with the zeal of a Green. The earth, he states, referring to it as St Francis did as “our mother”, a concept now much favoured by neo-pagan environment-worshippers (and a term that used to be reserved by popes for Our Lady or the Church itself) is being ill-treated (it was tactful of the Pope not to use the term abused), and if we don’t do something about it we’ll find ourselves in an overheated hell. (Presumably that means we’ll be able to experience at least one of the Four Last Things without having to go to the trouble of dying first.)

Francis doesn’t believe in mincing his words: “an immense pile of filth,” he says, is what the earth is starting to resemble (have the street-sweepers in St Peter’s Square downed their brooms?). “[O]nce beautiful landscapes are now covered with rubbish.” Why?” Well in part because of “a throwaway culture which … quickly reduces things to rubbish.” And guess who’s to blame for the throwaway culture?

From Sustainability 1.2 he moves to climate science. “A very solid scientific consensus indicates that we are presently witnessing a disturbing warming of the climatic system… Humanity is called to recognise the need for changes of lifestyle, production and consumption, in order to combat this warming or at least the human causes which produce or aggravate it … ” and so on and so forth in the somniferous jargon of a Greenpeace tract. We've heard it all before. It didn't need the Pope to say it.

Vatican II’s engagement with this world thus finds its fullest expression yet in Pope Francis’s parroting of modish ideologised science. Naturally, Laudato Si is being lapped up by a secularist establishment not notably inclined to listen to papal views on other topics, such as abortion or same-sex “marriage” or more importantly the fundamental propositions of Christian faith, beginning with the existence of God. And this is the problem. Care of the poor and the planet should be a result of belief not a substitute for it. If the Church convincingly preached Christ’s doctrine of love of God and of neighbour, there’d be no need for papal encyclicals on sustainability. Responsible stewardship (as it used to be called) of the created world was not invented by modern environmentalists.

In his post-Vatican II focus on this world rather than the one to come, Pope Francis has given those who seek in Christianity the meaning of life a stone instead of bread. He has allowed himself to be used by ideologues. He has lent his weight to a series of scientific assertions that remain speculative but are accepted as true because people of a certain political tendency want them to be true as a necessary first step to a new world order.

In 1992 Francis’s predecessor Pope (now Saint) John Paul II acknowledged that, in a celebrated earlier excursion into scientific judgment, the Church had been wrong and the subject of its condemnation, Galileo and his theory of heliocentrism, right. That of course was a case where the boot was on the other foot, with the scientist in the ridiculed minority position global warming “deniers” are in today. This time papal authority is on the side of an unverified scientific “consensus”. By endorsing it Pope Francis might have bequeathed to a future Pope the necessity – embarrassing for both the office and the man – of again apologising for a predecessor’s error.

27 June 2015
Published in The Spectator Australia


I probably shouldn't do this, but the incomparable Mark Steyn does, so I suppose lesser mortals are free to follow. I mean republish old posts. I happened across this one from 2012 and I thought, that still stands up, or so it seems to me. I called the guest Arblaster because it seemed to suit him better than his real name. Anyhow here it is. 


Hello, and welcome to the programme and welcome too to my guest today who is a very interesting person and a towering giant in the world of Australian broadcasting, arts, ideas, films, creativity and genius. You've probably guessed it's Phillip Arblaster, the greatest polymath Australia - no I think I should make that the world - has ever produced. Good morning, Phillip, and it's lovely to have you in the studio.
Polymath, now there's a word with associations - it reminds me of Polyfilla, a very useful all-purpose product for the handyperson and the subject of one of my earlier outstandingly successful sales-record-breaking advertising campaigns.
It must have been a very interesting childhood, growing up to be an advertising agent, Phillip. Tell me, did you talk much about it at home, you know, around the family meal table?
I did - in fact I did all the talking in our home. My family were Christian believers, you see, and left to themselves would have talked superstitious tosh all the time about Jesus and heaven and other nonsense. So I was compelled to impose a ban on their opening their mouths in my presence.
You must have been very persuasive. Most parents used to think it was the children who should be - what did they used to say? - seen and not heard.
I simply told them that I was God and that they were to keep silence before me. It is a belief I have come to accept today as being truer than ever.
Well, that's certainly an interesting approach, but tell me, how do you square it with the fact that you are quite a well known, I mean terribly famous, atheist - you know, with the fact that you don't believe in God?
No no, ha ha, you've got me wrong. It's other gods I don't believe in. You remember the first commandment, "Thou shalt have no other gods before me"?
Mmm, mmm ...
It's those gods that don't exist. The kind of god you read about in the Bible and that the Greeks used to have. False, all of them. Whereas, unlike them, I exist. Indeed, before all worlds, I am.
Do you find the rampant disbelief in you - I was reading in the census that a growing number of Australians don't believe in a personal god - do you find that distressing?
Couldn't care less. The people who count, people like the top programmers at the ABC or the editor of the Australian, they are all believers, to a person. So is my old mate Dickie Dawkins, the second most intelligent being on earth - though it's true he didn't believe in God until he met me when he was here and had to admit the existence of a supreme intelligence in the universe. It was a sudden conversion, like St Paul on the road to Corinth.
Tell me, as God, what have been your most creative moments? What are the things you're proudest of? I know if I was God I'd have lots of things of which I'd want to say, "You know, that's not bad. You did that, take a bow." What do you take a bow about?
Where do I start? There are so many things, it's an embarrassment of choice. I suppose I'd say my brilliant campaign to change consumer perception about Ol' Colonel Greazy's Krunchy Fried Frozen Chickenburgers. They're fried of course, but for health reasons the client didn't want people to think that they were. I just came up with the formula "OCG" and that was that. Or the slogan I created for Marlboro, "Smoking Is Good For You" - remember? It was pure genius though if I say it myself I subsequently outshone even that with my campaign for the National Health Commission and its stark warning "Smoking Will Kill You Horribly". Stupendous works of the Lord, every one of them. And they were only in the first of my six great days of creation.
You are of course a very politically concerned God, a God who is no friend of what I believe you describe as right-wing nutters like Tony Abbott - though he of course is a believer in you. But is it hard to reconcile the richly rewarded capitalistic world of advertising, you know, with all its materialist values, with your role as socialist and defender of the downtrodden and have-nots?
Not at all. It is simply a case of rendering under Julius Caesar and not giving the matter any further thought. Besides advertising is not the only attribute for which men, I should say people, praise me. I move in other mysterious ways my wonders to perform. You haven't even mentioned my single-handedly bringing Australia's world-leading cinema industry into life. Or my enduring legacy in Australian broadcasting.
I was going to ask you about that. As I'm sure I don't need to tell listeners, we have both made a name for ourselves in the same field. I suppose you could say we are colleagues.
To the extent that my Lamborghini and a Daewoo Nubira are both cars, yes I suppose we are.
With all the achievements under your belt is there is any ambition you have not fulfilled? For instance, there's a lot of injustice in the world. Can that be overcome?
There is indeed and yes it can, for with God all things are possible.
Where would you begin, O Lord?
I would begin with the most monstrous injustice of our times, the injustice crying out to heaven for vengeance, which is that even now certain of my works go unheeded. In all the years that I have laboured and brought forth a mighty company of volumes - immortal creations of wisdom and scholarship such as The Unspeakable Arblaster, The Uncensored Arblaster, More Unspeakable Arblaster, The Penguin Book of Australian Jokes, The Penguin Book of More Australian Jokes - not one virtuous voice has been raise to nominate me for the Nobel Prize for Literature. If a grumpy old goat like Patrick White should be thus honoured, why not the Author of All Things? But it is an injustice I shall rectify. I shall start my own prize.
What a wonderful idea. I can think of several Sydney writers -
The prize will be for myself.
Hmm. Well I think we could have a great conversation about that, in fact Phillip I'd love to have you in the studio all day, but there are things called schedules. Let me quickly change the subject slightly and ask you what you think about the big question of the moment, the carbon tax.
It was a great mistake to introduce it -
Really? But surely -
- to introduce it without commissioning me to conduct an appropriate advertising campaign.  I could have shown them how to convince a doubting public. Something on the lines of "It's carbon. It's a tax. It's cool. Be in it". True, I don't come cheap but with all that tax money rolling in they could have afforded me.
Amen. Well, dear Lord, it's been a lovely privilege to have you on the programme. And I believe you have a musical item for us before we run out of time. What is it and what made you choose it?

Yes, and once again there was so much choice. I'd thought of having "How Great Thou Art", the hymn that used to be sung to me at Billy Graham's revivalist meetings - terrible self-publicist he was but he knew how to run a campaign - or given that this is a cultured programme, I've got a Te Deum dedicated to me by Palestrina, or there's my own composition, "The air, the air, of home sweet home / Is sweeter when it's Air-o-Zone", or another personal favourite, "What's the finest tissue in the bathroom you can issue? /  Why you'd have to say it's Sorbent for sure" - I composed that on my harp, catchy tune isn't it? And I think perhaps my very favourite is one of my earliest successes, why not sing along with me, Margaret? "False teeth need three-way care / So soak your dentures in Kemdex / To sterilise, deodorise / Clean your dentures in Kemdex"? (FADES OUT)

23 June 2015 / 7 July 2012


It is seven months since I last wrote anything for Argus. But I have written other bits and pieces elsewhere. Some have been published and some not. I have decided to post several of them here and to add more such writings from time to time.

17 June 2015


Why not leave marriage to the pressure groups who want to change its definition to include themselves in it?

When institutions that are part of our civilised heritage and ought to be above ideological taint are captured by minority pressure groups, the correct thing for the conservative (or anyone of commonsense) to do is to abandon them. Walk away. Act as though they didn’t exist any more. Leave the ideologues to infest them like vultures and jackals in the ruins of some sacked city of antiquity.

The ABC a miasma of Leftist bias and inaccuracy? Don’t watch or listen to it. None of its programmes – particularly those it makes itself in television current affairs or “comedy”, which tend to be rip-offs of BBC productions without the talent – are so compelling that time spent absorbing them wouldn’t be more profitably expended on a good book. There are plenty of balanced alternatives to television and radio for finding out what’s going on in the world. Conservative politicians in particular should ignore the ABC. Those who can’t resist its siren call to be interviewed have only their lust for publicity to blame if they are put in the stocks by shrill half-educated harridans who don’t know the meaning of objectivity (and have probably been taught in their half-education that there is no such thing). 

The “quality” press more like Pravda in its heyday with fashion tips and burble about food thrown in? Join the trend and don’t buy it. Your children taught nothing in class except white guilt and climate change? Home-school them. Don’t go to university unless it’s to study medicine or engineering or some other matter-of-fact discipline that hasn’t been distorted ideologically by Left-wing “educators” (not that they haven’t tried, with “queer” mathematics and “African” physics). Above all avoid the “humanities” like the plague. Teach yourself (as a famous British imprint exhorted its reader to do when going to university was still the exception). A liberal classical self-education is fun and fixes itself in the mind. It is also universal, as opposed to nonsense about gender and post-structuralism, or whatever this week’s prevailing academic fads are (it should never be forgotten that German universities in the 1930s taught Aryan superiority as a serious subject). 

With education and the media captured (or in Gramscian terms marched through) it looks as though marriage will be the next citadel to fall. Of course this has already happened in lots of places and would already have happened here if media wishful thinking could be transmuted into law. How should conservatives respond? Well, if they’re thinking of getting married to found families and bring up children and they don’t want their marriages equated to the unions of gays and lesbians on vanity trips, then there’s a simple solution. Don’t get married. Leave marriage to the pressure groups who want to change its definition to include themselves in it.

In rejecting marriage as the foundation of a family one wouldn’t be doing anything more than nearly half the child-rearing heterosexual population is doing already. In Australia, according to statistics quoted in the Australian, a third of babies are now born out of what used to be called wedlock (in England there’ll soon be more children born outside marriage than in it). I know we’re always being told that marriage is the stable foundation of a home etc., but (a) often it’s clearly not, and hasn’t been in Australia since Senator Lionel Murphy and others got to work on it during the Whitlam revolution and made divorce a simple matter of dumping one’s spouse, with or without the spouse’s approval; while feminist pressure turned ending a marriage into a financial trap for husbands and their superannuation; and (b) no one can deny that there are plenty of stable loving families where mum and dad haven’t tied the knot (look around among your acquaintances).  Not every unmarried family is ipso facto dysfunctional. 

Not get married? Although in our society enthusiasm for marriage has flagged except among gays and lesbians, who have suddenly discovered themselves to be its keenest supporters, a not inconsiderable number of people still see a sacramental element in marriage and believe that to have sex and children outside marriage is wrong. What about them? The answer is just as simple as not getting married: don’t get “state-married”. You can still have your marriage in church, but it ought to be purely a religious ritual, like baptism, not something that carries the imprimatur of the state. For that to happen, the Christian churches would be well advised to renounce their faculty to celebrate state-sanctioned marriages. Clergy would give up their licences to act as agents of the state but would continue to celebrate Christian opposite-sex marriages for their flock, as they do in France and other places where the marriage that counts in law, as opposed to the eyes of God, is the secular one, celebrated separately from the religious rite.  In fact ecclesiastical abandonment of the legally delegated faculty to solemnise weddings would pull the rug out from under the feet of same-sex marriage agents provocateurs seeking to use the law to strong-arm clergy into conducting their pseudo-nuptials or face prosecution for “discrimination”. 

But what if you’re not a churchgoer and yet wish to have your opposite-sex relationship legally recognized and still leave marriage as newly redefined to the ideologues? Here one might suggest recycling the concept of the “civil union”. Civil unions were briefly the Holy Grail of gay and lesbian “equality” campaigners, who, since such unions became obtainable and were, consequently, instantly superseded by bells and orange blossom as the next bridge to conquer, now deride them as something cooked up by homophobes to fob off lovestruck GLBT couples and deny them their right to full wedded bliss. With the right to be joined together in an alleged real marriage in sight, the up-to-date gay or lesbian wouldn’t touch a civil union with a bargepole. What better vehicle to carry on the traditional concept of marriage without the risk of same-sex campaigners trying to muscle in? True, civil unions are not at present possible in all states, but bringing them in where they are currently unavailable ought to be politically and legally as easy as, in the time-honoured though no doubt infant-abusive phrase, taking candy from a baby, especially when compared to what a minority of same-sex marriage campaigners have managed to achieve in the face of millennia of universal matrimonial practice and tradition.

When, as will inevitably happen, same-sex marriage campaigners and Leftists in general, like spoilt children discarding toys they clamoured to have, tire of their triumph and relegate marriage to what they considered it before – domestic prison, instrument of patriarchal oppression and so forth – perhaps that ancient institution, freed from ideological contestation, will re-establish itself among the wider community as a quaint retro reminder of the way things used to be.

17 June 2015
Published on Quadrant Online 4 July 2015


Anyone who argues in favour of small government, and who doesn’t these days? (apart from supporters of big government, who seem always to get their own way) insists on the need to reduce the size of bureaucracies. Public service departments have become bloated, advocates of downsizing say - usually with the implied rather than stated supplementary assertion that if the bureaucrats in them are not actually freeloading on the taxpayer they are not giving value for money either.

Well, step out the door in any urban area, particularly an inner-city one, and you’ll see evidence of one branch of bureaucratic endeavour that, if judged only by the ubiquity of its signage, is giving the taxpayer 100 cents worth of activity for every dollar in its pay packet. The bureaucratic departments charged with the maintenance of our roads seem never not to be at it. At national, state or local level, OzRoads, CitThru, StreetSmart, SmoothTraf – whatever pzazzy name their most recent departmental rebranding has come up with – appear, from the number of roadworks signs wherever you look, to be powerhouses of public action for the communal good.

But this is prestidigitation. That CAUTION. ROAD WORKS AHEAD sign you can just about make out a hundred car lengths ahead as you sit in motionless frustration in a traffic jam doesn’t mean road works at all. The road can stay in potholed neglect till the cows come home for anything that sign has to do with keeping it in repair.

Look up and what do you see? A cage of scaffolding enclosing a tower of offices or apartments rising skyward above the gridlock. The edifice, when completed, will of course be a building of benchmark-setting hideousness, especially if it’s been designed by a cutting-edge architect, but that’s beside the point. It could be Chartres Cathedral under construction and its intrusion would be equally objectionable. For the objection lies not in the esse of the new structure but in the apparent necessity that to bring it into being whole traffic lanes are blocked off, often in busy streets that even without obstruction (and with usually empty bike lanes deducted from their limited space) are not wide enough anyway for all the traffic they have to carry these days.

What that road works sign doesn’t mean is Your Taxes at Work. What it does mean is that someone is making money and that your valuable time wasted sitting in a Sargasso Sea of stationary vehicles and getting into a state about running late is helping the profit pile up. So ubiquitous has this phenomenon become that it is something of a surprise when you find that the road works barriers denote real road works.

But why, you might wonder as you wait to inch forward, why would anyone put up signs saying road works when what is meant is “building works”? One can only imagine that this shameless attempt at deception is intended to put a cloak of legitimacy on piracy of public property. Road works, irksome as they can be to road users, are at least nominally carried out for public benefit. The works impeding your journey are not for the public but for the benefit of the speculative builders (or “property developers” as they prefer genteelly to label themselves) who induced the public authorities responsible to issue a permit to close the road or part of it to citizens entitled to move freely and unrestrictedly along it. Road works! These are private building works and their use of exactly the same signs that denote genuine road works must be the result of collusion between builders and bureaucrats. You could add that if they were road works, there wouldn’t be any space for them anyway, so crammed are the blocked-off lanes with builders’ trucks backing and plaintively beeping, little cabins like phone boxes containing clean sit-down facilities of approved hygienic standard, skips, stacks of concrete slabs and an intestinal tangle of trailing pink and grey cables.

What does it take to get a permit to block a busy street? I suppose in a society of exemplary moral probity such as ours it’s not a matter of slipping a manila envelope of cash into the appropriate hand at the town hall. Besides, surely urban councillors are sea-green incorruptible (as Councillor Robespierre of the Paris revolutionary city council was said to be), or often Green anyway, and people like that can’t be bought, can they? But, perhaps in a sense they can, by the prospect of twenty more storeys of ratepayers contributing to the municipal coffers.

As you peer into the sea of cars ahead, hoping to descry a faint flicker of forward movement, like climate-change researchers on an icebound polar vessel waiting for global warming to kick in and free them, you can fill the unforgiving minute observing the cast of the building site (the putative road workers) in their various capacities. There are the hard-hatted builders themselves, all bright in iridescent orange and not so much building as standing around in groups engaged in perpetual earnest conference or mobile phoning each other. Stationed like sentinels in the public way are a couple of additional brightly fluorescent functionaries, glowering indifference to the traffic snarl as they chew gum and hold lollypop signs with the — under the circumstances —redundant instructions, “Stop” and “Slow”. The only absentees in this panorama of toil are the “developers” themselves in their natty imported suits. No doubt they’re otherwise engaged planning new street-blocking “developments” in their corporate aeries on the top floors of characterless glass towers they’ve already “developed”. As they pore over their budgets you’d think they’d be able to find a few dollars for some semiotic accuracy: instead of the yellow ROAD WORKS AHEAD barriers they’ve borrowed from the council or whoever why can’t they have their own signs painted with THIS LANE IS BLOCKED FOR OUR NEW BUILDING? (Their PR department might recommend a fig leaf of ostensible concern for the inconvenience of the motorists blocked with it: THANK YOU FOR YOUR PATIENCE WHILE WE’RE BUILDING IT.)

Usually at the site there is another sign, CRANE WORKING OVERHEAD. Its purpose is hard to discern. If it’s a warning that the crane might drop something on you, or itself come crashing down, thanks but no thanks. Stuck in traffic like a fly in amber, how would you get out from under it anyway? But there must be drivers who read it and wish the crane would stoop down and pick them up and carry them out of the gridlock via an aerial route.

Streets are civilisation’s arteries, the sine qua non of a community’s functioning, its means of internal communication, as the Latin source of both words, communis, reminds us. Putting them to other uses, not only commercial, but allegedly charitable, or just frivolous — turning them into pistes for “fun runs” or swarms of cycle racers or for meretricious displays of identity politics — is inducing public sclerosis and perhaps private nervous breakdown.

To keep our civic arteries unclogged it might help if local planners adopted a rule that if you can’t build something without overflowing the confines of the site and turning the surrounding streets into a builder’s yard it’s too big and you shouldn’t be given a permit to build it.

6 April 2015
Published in Quadrant


They said it was no good for you and now they say it is. What else is ready for reassessment now that butter’s been declared OK?

The liberation of butter from the dietary exile to which stern medical opinion had condemned it makes you wonder what else that we’ve been magisterially told is bad for us might yet be rehabilitated.

Meat fat is the obvious next candidate. No more searching around for cutlets that haven’t been “frenched” or steak that’s got a bit of marbling. You can hear the health-and-nutrition experts now: “To get the full goodness out of roast chicken make sure you eat all the skin.” The wise chicken eater, when in company, will persuade any reactionaries at the table who still persist in thinking fat unhealthy to cut off all chicken skin first and pass it over (eating it off other people’s plates when they’ve finished is only advisable when the two diners already enjoy a degree of intimacy).  “Fat is one of nature’s aids to keep out winter chills,” the experts will say, with a blithe disregard for their previous utterances in their days as cholesterol police. This revisionism calls to mind the Soviet Encyclopaedia, in successive editions of which party personages who had earlier rated an entry were simply edited out, once they had been sent to Siberia or shot.

If you like a touch of alcohol, and have been made to feel guilty about it by the forces of medical rectitude, be of good cheer: enlightened opinion is bound to come round to lifting the present fatwa. At the moment doctors and “health professionals” are obsessed with units. The fewer units you imbibe, we are told, the better for you. But who gets a kick out of four units of alcohol, or three or two or whatever it is this week? A unit of whisky barely wets the glass. “The glass must be thoroughly full,” the experts will say when they’ve changed their mind, “otherwise the intake will be inadequate to cheer you up, ease your nervous tension, help you give your best at the karaoke night or otherwise release your inner creativity, all of which are to be commended as advantages of alcohol consumption.” They might even revise the definition of a unit. One bottle of wine = one unit of alcohol. A standard bottle of spirits is two units. You’d never have to lie to the doctor again. “Oh yes,” you could say with an open face and clear conscience, “I never have more than four units a day.”

With alcohol redeemed can tobacco be far behind? Bring back the ashtrays and the table lighter. Make smoking compulsory in public places. Put a single carriage for non-smokers miles down the train at the far end. Once again we’ll be able to enjoy any social occasion through a blue haze. Those huddled knots of outcasts sucking guiltily on their fags outside office buildings can come in from the cold and go back to their desks and puff their way through the working day, the butts piling up in their coffee mugs beside the desktop. Smoking eases your nerves, the Quit campaigners will say in their new incarnation as promoters of the psychological benefits of tobacco, much better for you than Valium. The avuncular pipe that once made Channel 9 Melbourne’s newsreader Sir Eric Pearce look so trustworthy could be taken up by all television presenters, including, since we live in an era of equal opportunity, Leigh Sales and Geraldine Doogue. A photograph of the 1960s TV personality Graham Kennedy and friends all smoking sophisticatedly over their plates of oysters in a restaurant (it’s in a book called Graham Kennedy’s Melbourne) will again be a prescription for correct eating-out etiquette.

Nor will it be the advantages of tobacco only that we might hope to hear extolled if medical opinion changes. Bring it on for anything you can smoke if it makes you feel good. Pothead will become a term of respect.

Our puritan age likes banning things and there must be plenty of other areas where the scientific consensus will come across “new evidence” and revise its opinion as it has done with butter. Junk-food purveyors should be able to look forward to festooning their product with Heart Foundation ticks. Our age also likes imposing things, preferably irritating or unpleasant things. Bike helmets for instance. How many cyclists really risk falling of their machines and fracturing their skulls? Yet anyone who gets on a bike is obliged on pain of a big fine to feel a total berk riding around with a tortoise shell on his head. Here’s something imposed that we might hope will be deimposed when “safety experts” decide to put aesthetics ahead of alleged practical value. And if it be contended that, yes, there is a minority of cyclists likely to fall on their heads, you can bet that minority will consist exclusively of aggressive idiots in lycra rocketing through red lights – and if they feel themselves in danger, well let them wear their silly headgear without everyone else being forced to.

Multiculturalism is another imposition. The way things are going it won’t be long before expert opinion decrees that the multicultural dream is not working out as it should. Colourful national costumes and ethnic dances were all very well in their day, but multiculturalism since then seems to have got a bit out of hand. What will happen when, a few Martin Places down the track, the official line changes? The White Australia policy dusted off? Hate speech against immigrant minorities made compulsory? Our Anglo heritage “celebrated” once more with portraits of the Queen reinstated in every public office and the Prime Minister exhorted by the Fairfax press to give knighthoods to every member of the Royal Family? Shall we see the 1950s praised to the skies as the epoch to be emulated, a model of social cohesion? To ensure that the rising generation will be schooled in the new orthodoxy the national curriculum will have to be rewritten for the fifteenth time, with anti-racism and the evils of colonialism shuffled out of the way as core subjects to devote more time to the achievements of Sir Robert Menzies. Stranger things have happened.

How much longer would another imposition, the observance of sustainability as a solemn public duty, remain in force if scientists decided that the earth has adequate resources for billions yet to be born? No more wasting time separating the rubbish into different bins and mad planning rules about footprints; for the less socially responsible, no guilty feelings at all in chucking unwanted portions of Big Mac out the car window and leaving stubbies all over the beach. Even so, an outright ban on sustainability seems unlikely. Such a ban would be an infringement of believers in eco-mythology’s human right to freedom of religion, and that would bring the Triggs inquisition yelping into action.

28 February 2015
Published in The Spectator Australia