Living on Bullshit Mountain

Hockey Turnbull AbbottWhen you’re having a debate with someone and they start to abandon facts, you can almost guarantee you’re right. Or if they respond to your evidence with a personal insult, you can also be fairly assured that you are, in fact, correct. This is never more so than in political debate. It seems that the Liberal Party and their supporters have abandoned any semblance of civilised discussion, and are instead invoking the ‘bullshit my way through this’ technique whenever they are questioned.

We’ve seen this method used regularly by Shadow Treasurer, Joe Hockey, when talking down the government’s economic credibility. An example of this is Hockey saying that the Australian economy is ‘flat-lining’. When asked about the use of the words ‘flat-lining’ by Barrie Cassidy on Insiders, Hockey blustered his way through a very odd explanation of how below-trend growth could possibly be called ‘flat-lining’. Cassidy, to his credit, did call Hockey out on his blatant mistruth, and also pointed out that Abbott too had been dishonest about the Australian economy by saying that it wasn’t growing. But Hockey and Abbott couldn’t care less that what they say is in complete denial of facts. The Australian economy has, as Cassidy pointed out, been growing continuously for 21 years. Not flat-lining at all.

Another Liberal front-bencher who has trouble winning an argument without a visit to Bullshit Mountain is Malcolm Turnbull. A few days ago, Turnbull got up on his moral high-horse at the Woodford Folk Festival and criticized the declining standard of debate in politics. He rightfully included himself in the problem, and went on to say politicians are increasingly being:

‘drawn into more and more negativity, more and more of the game of politics… as opposed to the responsibility of dealing with the big issues of our time’.

It’s a very fair point to make. He then says that due to the ‘instantaneous news cycle’, it has

‘never been easier to get away with telling lies’.

Hockey and Abbott are great examples of this. In our current media environment, most of the time politicians can pretty much say whatever they like and can be confident they’ll get away with it. Turnbull also said:

‘it’s never been easier to get away with the glib one liner’.

A glib one liner hey? Now where might I find an example of someone using a glib one liner to end a debate that they area obviously losing? How about Turnbull’s effort on Twitter the day after his Woodford appearance?

Turnbull is quite rare amongst his political colleagues on Social Media in that he actually does engage and respond when asked questions about policy. ‪On this occasion, some Twitter users, including @markjs1 were having a discussion with Turnbull about his criticisms of the National Broadband Network. It’s clearly been Abbott’s plan for Turnbull, as Shadow Minister for Communications and Broadband, to destroy the government’s NBN Fibre to the Premises (FTTP) policy and to promote the opposition’s alternative Fibre to the Node broadband plans. After a few technical back and forths about which broadband infrastructure was better for the country, Turnbull delivered this Tweet:

“I argue against FTTP where it is not cost effective. Where it can be deployed quickly and relatively cheaply then it is worth doing”

To which @markjs1 responded:

‪”NBN IS ‘cost effective” …& U know it …will return 7.1% on money borrowed at 3% + a hugely valuable asset”

Turnbull then immaturely responded:

‪”@markjs1 so if you believe that I guess you believe Santa brought you your presents on a sleigh with reindeers, right?”

Up to this point, Turnbull had been holding his own in the discussion by showing that he understood the technical differences between his proposal and the government’s NBN and he was doing a good job of explaining his views. But when faced with the refutation of his comment about the NBN’s ‘cost effectiveness’, he chose not to engage as an adult, and instead pulled out a ‘glib one liner’, which left the Twitter audience none the wiser about what he really thought about the cost effectiveness of the NBN. Argument lost.

When the Liberal opposition frontbenchers behave in this way, it is no wonder that their supporters feel they too can argue against facts, and use their own, or repeated mistruths in political discussions. A recent comment on my blog is a great illustration of the type of rhetoric that the government is up against.

“The usual rantings of the entitlement society left wing. Gillard is the worst PM since Whitlam, and her failed policies have increased Australia’s debt by many billions. Pink bats, NBN, illegals arriving by the boatload, the lies of the global warming scam – all propped up by the marxist greens. Hardly a success.”

It’s really difficult to respond to a comment like this. When someone is in complete denial of facts, and is living on Bullshit Mountain, there’s no point trying to have a respectful discussion with them. When the leader of the opposition is constantly calling asylum seekers ‘illegals’, when the Shadow Treasurer paints the best performing economy in the developed world as a debt catastrophe and climate change deniers are given mainstream media credibility, it’s no wonder Liberal supporters feel justified in living in a deluded fact-free world.

I should note that I am indebted to Jon Stewart for locating Bullshit Mountain for me on the political map. It’s an interesting geographical feature – found in Australia as well as the United States.


    • Agree with that point, background and inbuilt prejudices leave rational argument the reverse of your own beliefs difficult for many. Both lunatic left and rabid far right plague politics globally and diminish the debate for middle ground voters.
      Me, I believe in everyone at least having an opportunity in life to better one’s self and Labor is and has always been, better at that!

      • the facts cant be important if you still think, in this day and age, that there is a god who created the universe and everything in it.

  1. Where would we be with out you Victoria, you make the OM obsolete & they are paid for it (their opinion not fact by the way) I hope to see you on TPS again this year . Many thanks for your input on breaking the boredom over the Christmas break. Keep up the fight I hope you have some joy on the AEC matter too.

  2. If Malcolm really believed that the NBN is headed for disaster he’d sell his shares in French telecom who are planning to deliver high speed optic fibre broadband based on the Australian model. Money talks and bullshit walks.

  3. Thank you Victoria. I am now on the lookout for bright, informed independent writers to replace my traditional news sources. The disgraceful lack of coverage of the Court ruling on the Ashby case has been the final proof to me of the collapse of the traditional media as the fourth state. Its commercial bias has come at the price of us. Your article’s fresh candour is very much to my liking.

    I see a future in following trusted writers directly without there being a “newspaper”. The Global Mail springs to mind also.

    Regarding Bullshit Mountain I’d like to add this reference: Look up propaganda techniques
    It is oh so familiar.

    So thank you and please keep writing.

  4. Thank you. Excellent writing. I agree with all but one point. It’s not difficult to argue against misinformation or “bullshit mountain” by merely countering with the facts. No emotion required here just facts. I.e. no they are not illegals they are people just like you and I trying to provide a better life for there families as they are entitled to do under international law. Surely these folks woud do the same if confronted with similar circumstances…or would they? Our prime minister, as I like to refer to Julia Gillard, not “her,she,that woman or Gillard” as so many so called commentators disrespectfully refer to “that woman”, is not the worst PM…..because the facts indicate that John Howard holds that title on so many counts(divisive policies, stagnation of productivity improvements etc etc). so I think you get my message here. Once again thank you for the article and thanks to Margo K for giving the likes of me access to what I would otherwise not have had.
    Brad Thompson

    • Hi Brad, Bullshit Mountain can sometimes be a tricky foe to assail with just facts. Couple of things spring to mind.

      1, often there are so many things wrong with the statement that it is not just about one incorrect fact. Where to start, too much wrong with it, argue, clarify laboriously.

      2, the falsehoods are often protected or concealed by one or a few propaganda techniques, making simple factual argument seem less potent and certainly less emotive. Facts can come off dull.

      3, Often a response has the side effect of playing inside ideas defined by them thus strengthening their ideas. eg this is not a bad government still has us saying “bad government”.

      I think it is vital for the tactics and methods of presentation to be exposed when Bullshit Mountain arrives at our door. In some ways this is more powerful than countering with just the facts. Emotive, illuminating but most importantly revealing of the character of and motivation behind the muck racker.

      Think about what Mr Abbott’s “not pure of heart” comment about Bernie Banton says about Mr Abbott, his tactic and the black heart that would say such a thing about a dying man’s quest.

      We need to tackle the method as much as the content.

      Cheers rob

      • Thanks Rob, all valid points. I did have making a face to face argument in mind and throwing facts straight back at them really does make an impact

  5. Turn all used to have a claim on the fact that wireless Internet could put perform then nbn at a fraction of the cost. I’m not certain FTtp is vastly superior to FTTN and without cost benefit analysis and a crystal ball I don’t know how anybody can be certain they are right. What is clear is there’d be no nbn of any kind if alp didn’t do the market research and choose it as a policy priority and also that Turnball for all his rationality compared to Abbott is just as prepared to fudge the detail like any lawyer or lawmaker might.

  6. Good article Victoria – one hopeful thought for the New Year. Bullshit Mountain turned into a bit of a quagmire for the Republicans in the US. And the higher they climb…

  7. I agree with you Robert on so many points.
    I think some will react to facts but those who just list the cliches, like the blog comment quoted above are happier in their entrenched views just mouthing off slogans. That’s partly why the LNP are so successfully negative – it’s a typical propaganda technique. Analyse a T.Abbott speech and you’ll hear it – the endless repetition of the same phrase. Then his followers do the same, (as above) until it’s seen as ‘fact’. Ask those people what any of the phrases mean or what the issues are and most would be hard-pressed to tell you so they have to insult you instead. When the Rares judgement came out I asked, very politely, why some Twitter people thought it was wrong. I didn’t receive a single reply – just got told by one prolific writer to ‘F. off’ before he blocked me.

    Words like ‘hyperventilating’ are probably not just the result of the group meeting and discussing, but a deliberate plan. I think in this way Labor are far less effective. I do prefer attempts to explain and counter with fact, but what’s needed is to keep using the same vocabulary to describe for example the growth in the economy.

    The LNP not only ‘backflip’, but give two stories at once, as in the ‘surplus every year’/’can’t guarantee a surplus’ we saw recently. People/politicians point that out, but they use their own phraseology to do it. I believe the current aim is to add ‘broken promise’ to the list – see Joe Hockey’s recent tweets and watch for those words – it’s been very effective for the ‘liar’ tag, when Abbott has been far more ‘less than accurate with the truth’ as one MSM paper put it.

    I actually wonder with Malcolm Turnbull whether giving him this apparent NBN alternative to sell has him fighting for something he doesn’t fully believe in. It would be an effective way to keep him in a place secondary to someone who has just one aim, himself as PM, even if in the process he wrecks Australian confidence, damages business and harms society by feeding xenophobia.

    I spent some time in Sydney with a friend who probably votes for Joe Hockey. She was shocked to learn about the background of the Ashby case, but it probably wouldn’t change her vote. However the facts must help the ‘swinging’ voters and they can’t do any harm! Using the same language rather than trying to write well and vary the expression would make it a lot more powerful.

  8. How many attempts did the Coalition while in government make, without success.

    I believe it was about seventeen. All fell down, because of Howard’s and Costello disposal of Teltrsa.

    Yes, Labor before it was elected in 2007, promised something similar to the path the liberals were going down.

    Soon realize that was not possible, that more needed to be done.

    Labor moved away from hooking fibre onto a worn out copper wire. A sensible thing to do, as this is where we need to end up.

    Yes, expensive now, but in the long run, much cheaper and more efficient.

    Yes, after one failed attempt, labor realized their mistake and moved onto a system that will take us into the future. Well into the future.

    Now not bad, when one considers the Coalition had seventeen attempts without success.

  9. Now this is what I call journalism at its best. Well balanced and reviels the oposition stance as it is complete Bullshit that is for sure. Thanks for sharing with the world.

  10. Hi Victoria, this is the first time I’ve read one of your pieces and I very much enjoyed it. I Look forward to more. One thing. Isn’t noting someones place of intellectual residency as being on ‘Bullshit Mountain’ abandoning facts and relying on personal insults? Rather than lamenting Bullshit Mountain let’s celebrate the ruining of these chunder thunderers with evidence and facts.

  11. Memories of Obama’s first debate with Romney when he was stunned into silence by the avalanche of lies. I think the group memory inherent in social media is a defence against blatant lies and my only hope is that, without a factually based MSM, it will be enough

  12. I’ve found that you cannot argue with people who lack any skills in logic or reasoning. And you wont get far with the Coalition types because in their world view Government is about power, not responsibility. And power being an end in itself – the end will justify the means.

  13. Liberal MP Andrew Laming opens his big mouth yet again – at least he is exposing the truth about the disgusting “tactics” of the Liberals ….

    Quote: “Meanwhile, we are just ensuring that Labor is so structurally damaged that no one listens to them, even when they do speak. Kinda like … right now.”….!/photo.php?fbid=10151195723037507&set=a.421096667506.192118.730307506&type=3&theater

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