Ethics Explainer: Agape

How many people do you think we can love? Can we love everyone? Can we love everyone equallyThe answers to these questions obviously depend on what the nature of this kind of love is, and what it looks like or demands of us in practice.  

 “Love is all you need”  

Agape is a form of love that is commonly referred to as ‘neighbourly love, the love ethic, or sometimes ‘universal love’. It rests on the idea that all people are our ‘brothers and sisters’ who deserve our care and respect. Agape invites us to actively consider and act upon the interests of other people, in more-or-less the same proportion as you consider (and usually act upon) your own interests.  

We can trace the concept back to Ancient Greece, a time in which they had more than one word to describe various kinds of love. Commonly, useful distinctions can be made between eros, philia, and agape. 

Eros is the kind of love we most often associate with romantic partners, particularly in the early stages of a love affair. It’s the source of English words like ‘erotic’ and ‘erotica’.  

Philia generally refers to the affection felt between friends or family members. It is non-sexual in nature and usually reciprocal. It is characterised by a mutual good will that manifests in friendship.  

Although both eros and philia have others as their focus, they can both entail a kind of self-interest or self-gratification (after allin an ideal world our friends and lovers both give us pleasure).  

Agape is often contrasted to these kinds of love because it lacks self-interest, self-gratification or self-preservation. It is motivated by the interest and welfare of all others. It is global and compassionate, rather than focussed on a single individual or a few people. 

Another significant difference between agape and other forms of love is that we choose and cultivate agape. It’s not something that ‘happens’ to us like becoming a friend or falling romantically in love, it’s something we worth toward. It is often considered praiseworthy and holds the lover to a high moral standard.  

Agape is a form of love that values each person regardless of their individual characteristics or behaviour. In this way it is usually contrasted to eros or philia, where we usually value and like a person because of their characteristics.  


Agape in traditional texts  

 The concept of agape we now have has been strongly influenced by the Christian tradition. It symbolises the love God has for people, and the love we (should) have for God in return. By extension, if we love our ‘neighbours’ (others) as we do God, then we should also love everyone else in a universal and unconditional manner, simply because they are created in the likeness of God. 

The Jesus narrative asks followers to act with love (agape) regardless of how they feel. This early Christian ethical tradition encourages us to “love thy neighbour as thyself”. In the Buddhist tradition K’ung Fu-tzu (Confucius) similarly says, “Work for the good of others as you would work for your own good.”  

Another great exponent of this ethic of love is Mahatma Gandhi who lived, worked, and died to keep this transcendent idea of universal love alive. Gandhi was known for saying, “Hate the sin, love the sinner”.  

Advocates for non-violent resistance and pacifism that include Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and John Lennon and Yoko Ono also refer to the power of love as a unifying force that can overcome hate and remind us of our common humanity, regardless of our individual differences.   

Such ideology rests on principles that are resonant with agape, urging us to love all people and forgive them for whatever wrongs we believe they have committed. In this way, agape sets a very high moral standard for us to follow.  

However, this idea of generalised, unconditional love leaves us with an important and challenging question: it is possible for human beings to achieve? And if so, how far may it extend? Can we really love the whole of humanity? 

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Can we love everyone, equally?

Look at this: the power of women taking nude selfies

The continuing moral panic over women’s naked selfies is fundamentally misframed. By emphasising the potential for women to be made victims, we ignore the ways a woman’s body can be an expression of power.

According to the prevailing moral panic of the day, young women take naked selfies in order to please others and not themselves. This, we’re told, leaves them vulnerable to exploitation because women must always be vulnerable.

It’s as though the only mystery afforded to women is not their thoughts or talents but what lies underneath their clothes. Go no deeper than the skin.  Deny any complexity that might present her as a human with needs separate from what men may want.

This seems to be a narrative we teach teenagers. My daughter was taught that not only was there no legal recourse for photos shared without consent (untrue) but that the effects on women were so catastrophic that they should never send a naked photo (also, untrue). This happened on International Women’s Day, as if to remind us of our to-do list.

Inevitably, they learn what we teach. When I worked with teens on a short film, they told me how boys pestered every girl in their class for naked selfies. The girls didn’t even think it was sexual; more of a competitive collection like Pokemon Go but for undeveloped breasts. The requests were thought of as frustrating but normal, because “that’s just how they are”. Yet despite the mundanity of such a frequent request, the same teens sincerely believed leaked selfies would hound a woman to her grave.

Naked selfies carry many gendered clashes. I’ve always gasped at the difference between gendered aesthetics: I’ll rush to clean my room, groom and put on makeup before getting into an appropriate outfit of sorts before painstakingly composing shots; men just send a close-up photo of their cock jutting from a thicket of pubes.

It’s an effective example of the differences between the male and female gaze. A woman prepares because she is conditioned to know what men find attractive and that she is expected to deliver that. Men, conditioned to expect immediate access regardless of merit, put almost zero thought into their selfies. In the rare case they do, they project an image of themselves they want to see, rather than women who mirror what men want to see.

This positioning reinforces the power dynamic in heterosexual sexting. Men expect entertainment and women entertain at threat of exposure (also expected).


But why does the power lie with men?

On image sharing site Imgur, men enthusiastically share photos of naked women, even creating themed days for certain ‘types’ of women. But the images presented reflect the male gaze – photos taken of women, not by women.

Generally, whenever women posted selfies on Imgur, sexualised or not, she was immediately inundated with caustic remarks to stop being an exhibitionist (a polite euphemism for attention whore). That these are the same men who think nothing of going into a woman’s DMs to ask for naked photos is just another layer to it all. There is a clear mode of production, where women are the object and men remain in control of when and how they are seen. This is where the phrase “tits or get the fuck out” shows its intent: give us the body parts, not the entire body.

Perhaps this is because it is easier to sexually appreciate an object that has not been humanised or seen as an individual. When things are anonymised or presented in such a volume that they lose all semblance of individuality, they become an object that can be appreciated or abused without shame

The power balance still rests with men – naked women are objects men readily expect, and demand to be presented in anticipated service of them. In this position of power, men expect women to arouse them, yet rarely consider whether women are aroused. Amazingly, we rarely discuss whether women find joy or pleasure in taking naked selfies, whether for themselves or others because we can’t move past women’s seemingly inevitable victimhood.

I’ve taken naked selfies for well over a decade. I first worried if photos might leak but, somewhat ironically, this concern has disappeared as I do more work in public. In Doing It: Women Tell the Truth About Great Sex, an anthology about sex, I wrote of how selfies can become graphic storytelling that not only builds intimacy but also an understanding of my sexuality and my sexual aesthetic pleasure. It is a power I never want to give up, so the book also contains a naked photo of me I had taken for a lover. It is a deliberate attempt to interrupt the means of production and also claim space within my sexuality, one that is defined by myself, not others.

A cropped version of the selfie published in Doing It (Image: author provided)

When the photo was republished (with consent) by SBS, I wrote that “this is not some wishy-washy Stockholm syndrome masquerading as empowerment – there is ferocity in my choice”. It remains true today. By claiming my agency as an individual who feels pleasure and expression, I realise that confidence is not only crucial for my personal survival under patriarchy framed solely for men, but it is also a political act I can define as I choose. It makes me aware that my body, choices and actions are decided by me without reference to others’ expectations and that I contain greater complexity the roles of servant or victim that society allows.

Around this time, Mia Freedman wrote an article entitled ‘The conversation we have to have: Stop taking nude selfies’. Promoting the article on Twitter, Freedman wrote “taking nude selfies is your absolute right. So is smoking. Both come with massive risks.” In response, I took another naked selfie, but this time with a cigarette draped from my mouth and ‘fuck off’ written on my chest in black lipstick. I posted it everywhere without care because – again – my body, choices and actions are decided by me. I made the choice that and every day is that I will not have victims presented as complicit in their abuse. Because the fault will always be with the abuser, not the abused.

The nude selfie as a political act (Image: author provided)

An act of power

Despite their conflicting emotions, publishing naked selfies taken in either arousal or anger are fearsome in their power. They are as much a rejection of victimhood as they are an opportunity for retribution. People can try to weaponise my body against me, but I will do it first and use it against them because I know its power.

This is why patriarchal structures and men condition women into submissive disempowerment. Women’s bodies are defined narrowly as vessels for pleasures and service for others, not ourselves. Such narrow and compliant definitions intentionally belie the power and complexity we contain.

Stories abound throughout history of the malevolent power of women’s bodies, so profound was male unease surrounding bloods and births. Women were told their vaginas ruined ship rope or their menstruation damned success. This was an admission women’s bodies were terrifying in their otherness but was also an excuse to contain them to the home rather than out in the community where they might gain power or control.

But history tells us many women believed in the power of their bodies. Balkan women would stand out in the fields, flashing their vaginas to the sky to quell thunderstorms. The Finnish believed in the magic of harakointi, using their exposed bodies to bless or curse on whim. Sheela-na-gigs (carvings of women often found in European architecture) embraced their power by spreading their labia, not to please or welcome men, but scare off evil. Women would lift their skirts to make others laugh in feasts for Roman gods and goddesses or lure lovers. More recently, women have exposed their bodies to protest petroleum in Nigeria or civil war in Liberia in acts of political, angry anasyrma.


Anasyrma – hitching up the skirt to reveal what’s beneath – has been a practice of female power around the world. (Image: Jean de la Fontaine, Nouveaux Contes)

Reframing the dialogue

The continuing moral panic over women’s naked selfies is fundamentally misframed. Women are presented as passively-defensive vessels in a state of perpetual victimhood. We are tasked with hiding our shameful-yet-coveted nakedness from people who expect to see us but only under their strict conditions.

A truer representation is that power exerts in all manners of life, including how we sexually communicate as equal, consenting partners. The moral panic should focus on when power corrupts that balance and how to correct it, not how to maintain the same corruption.

Join us as on 18 September for an an intimate conversation with Sexologist, Nikki Goldstein and art curator Jackie Dunn to unwrap the ethical dimensions of being nude. Get your ticket to The Ethics of Nudity here

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Is their power in the naked form?

We live in an opinion economy, and it’s exhausting

This is the moment when I’m finally going to get my Advanced Level Irony Badge. I’m going to write an opinion piece on why we shouldn’t have so many opinions.

I’ve spent all morning bashing my head against the wall, trying to figure out my ‘take’ on the issue of the day. This time, it’s the Sydney stabbings. What’s the right angle? Is it about extremism, masculinity and misogyny, the media’s erasure of Michaela Dunn’s personhood in favour of her chosen profession? I’ve read though article after article, followed the conversations on Twitter and tried to find something new and valuable to offer. I don’t have anything to say – and I think that’s a good thing.

Partly, that’s because the facts of the matter are still unrolling (In case you weren’t sure of that, just look for the countless awkward uses of the word “allegedly” in articles discussing the incident). We have a bad habit of explaining events before we’ve fully understood them and I don’t think that helps anybody.

But I think it goes deeper than this. The expectation that we don’t just know what is happening in the world but have a view on whether that thing is good or bad is bad for us. It makes us miserable and morally immature. It creates a culture in which we’re not encouraged to hold opinions for their value as ways of explaining the world. Instead, their job is to be exchanged – a way of identifying us as a particular kind of person: a thinker.

If you’re someone who spends a lot of time reading media, you’ve probably done this – and seen other people do this. In conversations about an issue of the day, people exchange views on the subject – but most of them aren’t their views. They are the views of someone else. Some columnist, a Twitter account they follow, what they heard on Waleed Aly’s latest monologue on The Project. And they then trade these views like grown-up Pokémon cards, fighting battles they have no stake in, whose outcome doesn’t matter to them.

This is one of many things the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard had in mind when he wrote about the problems with the mass media almost two centuries ago. Kierkegaard, borrowing the phrase “renters of opinion” from fellow philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, wrote that journalism:

“makes people doubly ridiculous. First, by making them believe it is necessary to have an opinion – and this is perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of the matter: one of those unhappy, inoffensive citizens who could have such an easy life, and then the journalist makes him believe it is necessary to have an opinion. And then to rent them an opinion which, despite its inconsistent quality, is nevertheless put on and carried around as an article of necessity.”

What Kierkegaard spotted then is just as true today – the mass media wants us to have opinions. It wants us to be emotional, outraged, moved by what happens. Moreover, the uneasy relationship between social media platforms and media companies makes this worse. Social media platforms also want us to have strong opinions. They want us to keep sharing content, returning to their site, following moment-by-moment for updates.

Part of the problem, of course, is that so many of these opinions are just bad. For every straight-to-camera monologue, must-read op-ed or ground-breaking 7:30 report, there is a myriad of stuff that doesn’t add anything to our understanding. Not only that, it gets in the way. It exhausts us, overwhelms us and obstructs real understanding, which takes time, information and (usually) expert analysis.

Again, Kierkegaard sees this problem unrolling in his own time. “Everyone today can write a fairly decent article about all and everything; but no one can or will bear the strenuous work of following through a single solitary thought into the most tenuous logical ramifications.” We just don’t have the patience today to sit with an issue for long enough to resolve it. Before we’ve gotten a proper answer to one issue, the media, the public and everyone else chasing eyes, ears, hearts and minds has moved on to whatever’s next on the List of Things to Care About.

So, if you’re reading the news today and wondering what you should make of it, I release you. You don’t have to have the answers. You can be an excellent citizen and person without needing something interesting to say about everything. If you find yourself in a conversation with your colleagues, mates or even your kids, you don’t need to have the answers. Sometimes, a good question will do more to help you both work out what you do and don’t know.

This is not an argument to stop caring about the world around us. Instead, it’s an argument to suggest that we need to rethink the way we’ve connected caring about something with having an opinion about something.

Caring about a person, or a community, means entering into a relationship with them that enables them to flourish. When we look at the way our fast-paced media engages with people – reducing a woman, daughter, friend and victim of a crime to her profession, for instance – it’s not obvious this is making us care. It’s selling us a watered-down version of care that frees us of the responsibility to do anything other than feel.

Of course, this is possible. Journalistic interventions, powerful opinion-driven content and social media movements can – and have – made meaningful change in society. They have made people care. I wonder if those moments are striking precisely because they are infrequent. By making opinions part of our social and economic capital, we’ve increased the frequency with which we’re told to have them, but alongside everything else, it might have diluted their power to do anything significant.

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Are we all too opinionated?

Save the date: FODI returns in 2020!

Festival of Dangerous Ideas (FODI), Australia’s original provocative ideas festival, returns in 2020 for its 10th festival. April 3 to 5 will be a milestone weekend of provocation, contemplation, critical thinking and preparation for the battles of the next decade.

Presented by The Ethics Centre, FODI 2020 will once again feature leading thinkers from Australia and around the world to interrogate the issues of today and prepare for the major shifts of tomorrow.

FODI Festival Director, Danielle Harvey said: “Over the past decade the number of avenues for people to talk and share their opinions has steadily increased, we are more connected than ever with like-minded people, but the cost has been significant. We are losing the ability to listen.

“Without the tools to listen to other opinions and contemplate new ideas, society risks fracturing like never before.”

“Without the tools to listen to other opinions and contemplate new ideas, society risks fracturing like never before. The Festival of Dangerous Ideas has always been an opportunity for deep thinking, carving out precious space for disagreement, difference of opinion and critical thinking.

“As we brace for 2020, FODI will celebrate its 10th anniversary by looking again to the future and presenting a cohort of FODI alumni, representing the world’s best thinkers, journalists, creators and specialists, giving Sydneysiders an opportunity to listen to what will be shaping the world tomorrow.”

The Ethics Centre Executive Director, Dr Simon Longstaff said:

“The Ethics Centre is thrilled to once again be presenting the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. One of The Ethics Centre’s strategic priorities is to build and sustain the ‘ethical infrastructure’ that underpins a free, dynamic and democratic society.

“Fragile societies break apart when challenged. The resilient cohere around a common desire to face the truth – even if it is hard to bear.”

“Fragile societies break apart when challenged. The resilient cohere around a common desire to face the truth – even if it is hard to bear. FODI tests the truth of the claim that we are a ‘civil’ society – and proves that even in moments of profound disagreement – we have the strength to live an ‘examined life’.”

Last year’s sell-out festival featured Stephen Fry, Rukmini Callimachi, Niall Ferguson, Megan Phelps-Roper, Chuck Klosterman and Toby Walsh.

More information, including the full program and festival venue, will be announced in the coming months. Visit to subscribe to be the first to hear our news.

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What dangerous idea would you like to uncover?

Drawing a line on corruption: Operation eclipse submission

The Ethics Centre (TEC) has made a submission to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) regarding its discussion paper, The Regulation of Lobbying, Access and Influence in NSW: A Chance To Have Your Say.

Released in April 2019 as part of Operation Eclipse, it’s public review into how lobbying activities in NSW should be regulated.

As a result of the submission TEC Executive Director, Dr Simon Longstaff has been invited to bear witness at the inquiry, which will also consider the need to rebuild public trust in government institutions and parliamentarians.

Our submission acknowledged the decline in trust in government as part of a broader crisis experienced across our institutional landscape – including the private sector, the media and the NGO sector. It is TEC’s view that the time has come to take deliberate and comprehensive action to restore the ethical infrastructure of society.

We support the principles being applied to the regulation of lobbying: transparency, integrity, fairness and freedom.

Key points within The Ethics Centres submission include:

    • There is a difference between making representations to government on one’s own behalf and the practice of paying another person or party with informal government connections to advocate to government. TEC views the latter to be ‘lobbying’
    • Lobbying has the potential to allow the government to be influenced more by wealthier parties, and interfere with the duty of officials and parliamentarians to act in the public interest
    • No amount of compliance requirements can compensate for a poor decision making culture or an inability of officials, at any level, to make ethical decisions. While an awareness and understanding of an official’s obligations is necessary, it is not sufficient. There is a need to build their capacity to make ethical decisions and support an ethical decision making culture.

You can read the full submission here.


Dr Simon Longstaff, Executive Director at The Ethics Centre, presented as a witness to the Commission on Monday 5 August. You can read the public transcript on the ICAC website here.

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How could you have avoided the biggest you’ve ever made?

Stop Idolising Youth - Recommended reads

Are we idolising youth? Recommended reads

Stop Idolising Youth - Recommended reads

IQ2 Australia debates whether we need to ‘Stop Idolising Youth’ on 12 June.

Advertisers market to youth despite boomers having the strongest buying power. Unlike professions such as law and medicine, the creative industries prefer ‘digital natives’ over experience.

Young actors play mature aged characters. Yet openly teasing the young for being entitled and lazy is a popular social sport. Are the ageism insults flung both ways?

1. Why do marketers hate old people?

Ad Contrarian, Bob Hoffman / 2 December 2013

Why Do Marketers Hate Old People?

An oldie but a goodie. Bob Hoffman is the entertainingly acerbic critic of marketing and author of books like Laughing@Advertising. In this blog post he aims a crossbow at the seemingly senseless predilection of advertisers for using youth to market their products when older generations have more money and buy more stuff.

“Almost everyone you see in a car commercial is between the ages of 18 and 24,” he says. “And yet, people 75 to dead buy five times as many new cars as people 18 to 24.” He makes a solid argument.

Read the full story


2. It’s time to stop kvetching about ‘disengaged’ millennials

Ben Law, The Sydney Morning Herald / 27 October 2017

It's time to stop kvetching about 'disengaged' millennials

Ben Law asks, “Aren’t adults the ones who deserve the contempt of young people?” He argues it is older generations with influence and power who are not addressing things as big as the non-age-discriminatory climate crisis. He also shares some anecdotes about politically engaged and polite public transport riding kids.

You might regard a couple of the jokes in this piece leaning toward ageist quips but Law is also making them at his own expense. He points out millennials – the generation to which he belongs and the usual target for jokes about entitled youth – are nearing middle age.

Read the full story


3. Let’s end ageism

Ashton Applewhite, TED Talk / April 2017



There’s something very likeable about Ashton Applewhite – beyond her endearing name. This is even though she opens her TEDTalk with the confronting fact the one thing we all have in common is we’re always getting older. Sure, we’re not all lucky enough to get old, but we constantly age.

In pointing to this shared aspect of humanity, Applewhite makes the case against ageism. This typically TED nugget of feel good inspiration is great for every age. And if you’re anywhere between late 20s and early 70s, you’ll love the happiness bell curve. In a nutshell: it gets better!

Watch on TED


4. Instagram’s most popular nan

Baddiewinkle, Instagram/ Helen Van Winkle



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Her tagline is “stealing ur man since 1928”. Get lost in a delightful scroll through fun, colourful images from a social media personality who does not give a flying fajita for “age appropriate” dressing or demeanours. Baddie Winkle was born Helen Ruth Elam Van Winkle in Kentucky over 90 years ago.

Her internet stardom began age 85 when her great granddaughter Kennedy Lewis posted a photo of her in cut-off jeans and a tie-dye tee. Now Winkle’s granddaughter Dawn Lewis manages her profile and bookings. Her 3.8 million followers show us audiences aren’t only interested young social media influencers. “They want to be me when they get older,” Winkle says. Damn right we do.

Follow her here


Event info

IQ2 Australia makes public debate smart, civil and fun. On 12 June two teams will argue for and against the statement, ‘Stop Idolising Youth’. Ad writer Jane Caro and mature aged model Fred Douglas take on TV writer Ben Jenkins and author Nayuka Gorrie. Tickets here.

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What are the characteristics of youth?

The Ethics of Fucking Up

What I now know about the ethics of fucking up

The Ethics of Fucking Up

We’ve all fucked up before. Big mistakes and small, regrettable misdemeanours.

I have a penchant for saying things that are funny inside my head but come out all wrong. I know I’ve unintentionally offended and hurt people by blurting out the first thing that comes to mind. If I’ve become aware of it, I’ve tried to make amends. But it’s never been big, public or career ending. So, being honest, part of my interest in going along to ‘The Ethics of Fucking Up’ was schadenfreude.

I wanted to hear how Sam Dastyari and Mel Greig, who shared their stories of the ‘Chinese political donor scandal’ and the ‘Royal prank call’ had stuffed up. In truth, I wanted to revel in it just a little, to tell myself that at least it had never been that bad for me. I wanted to identify with Paul McDermott, whose fuck ups had never made the front pages or ruined lives.

I watched the crowd enter the sold-out venue in inner Sydney, thinking that every single one of these people who looked so smart, privileged and self-possessed had done at least one monumentally stupid thing in their lives. Had they come looking for redemption? For confirmation that what they did was okay? Because we all fuck up, whether we’re being naïve and thoughtless or doing something dastardly.

Pizza, wine and dark confessions

So what did I take away from a night that was variously funny, intelligent, shocking and sad, with pizza and wine thrown in for good measure?

It seems the biggest fuck ups come about when there is a combination two things: individuals being encouraged to act without first thinking through their decisions, and institutions not living by an ethical framework – or not having one at all. Add to that the speed at which we act in the tech era and it’s no wonder we’ve hurtled into our present state.

As Sam described it, ‘We’re heading backwards with our morality, with our acceptance and empathy for others, with our responsibility for the planet, while fear, selfishness and xenophobia are controlling our political decisions’.

So despite not being able to condone what he did in the ‘Chinese political donor scandal’, my heart ached for him when he described how, in the midst of the scandal, he lay in bed at 3am alone with his thoughts, realising he was solely responsible for the mess.

Rethinking forgiveness

Nobody deserves this unless they have committed some monstrous crime. I decided that I will accept mea culpas and requests for forgiveness more graciously, in my personal life and by public figures. When somebody shows true remorse, I’ll forgive them, because I’m more aware how we all fuck up from time to time, in big and small ways. It’s only human.

We love to hold individuals to account, especially when they are public figures. Perhaps we should be harder on institutions. Mel Greig told us how the broadcast organisation’s processes and ethical judgements went unquestioned during the ‘Royal prank call’.

To recap: the call to the London hospital caring for the Duchess of Cambridge ended in the suicide of nurse Jacintha Saldanha, who fell for the joke thinking it was the Queen and Prince Charles. A chain of decisions meant the prank call was broadcast in full – although Mel tried to stop this happening.

Yet Mel had to wear all the blame. Her description of the trolling she endured afterwards, which included death threats, made the room go quiet. Tears shone in the eyes of the person next to me. Public shaming, relentlessly negative and disparaging media coverage and the non-stop blast of social media are damaging people like never before. At no time has it been easier to broadcast judgment on individuals, instantly and loudly. But institutions are never made to suffer in the same way. Think banking royal commission.

How would I survive if this happened to me, I wondered?

A call to arms against the trolls

Would I be brave and resilient like Mel, and use the horrible experience to start a conversation to help other people, as she did by starting Troll Free Day? Would I have been strong enough to front up to the inquest into nurse Jacintha Saldanha’s death, look her children in the eye and say sorry? Would I stop looking for scapegoats and accept blame, as Sam did, learning to live with what he called ‘the darkest shit in the world’?

As always, a discussion about ethics goes on long after the lights have been turned off. Listening to this conversation about the ethics of fucking up has encouraged me to start conversations about it with friends and family. I realised we all draw the line about what we will and won’t forgive somewhere different, one of the things that defines our personal ethics.

The crowd drifted into the street to the sounds of Paul Kelly’s I’ve Done All the Dumb Things and Cher’s If I Could Turn Back Time. Neither has ever been on my playlist, but I heard them in a new way. Opening your ears to things you think you think you already know is good thing.

I’ll certainly go back for The Ethics Centre’s conversations on desire, lying, courage and nudity.



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How could you have avoided the biggest you’ve ever made?

Climate change and the next migrant crisis

Are we prepared for climate change and the next migrant crisis?

Climate change and the next migrant crisis

A powerful infographic published in 2014, predicted how many years it would take for a world city to drown.

It used data from NASA, Sea Level Explorer, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Venice will be the first to go under apparently, its canals rising to wetly throttle the city of love. Amsterdam is set to follow, Hamburg next.

Other tools play out the encroachment of rising tides on our coasts. This one developed by EarthTime shows Sydney airport as a large puddle if temperatures increase by four degrees. There’s also research suggesting our ancestors may one day look down to see fish nibbling on the Opera House sails.

Climate change refugees will become reality

Sea level rise is just one effect of anthropogenic climate change that would make a place uninhabitable or inhospitable to humankind. It’s also relatively slow. Populations in climate vulnerable hotspots face a slew of other shove factors, too.

Already, we are seeing a rising frequency of extreme weather events. Climate change was linked to increasingly destructive tropical cyclones in a report published in Nature last year, and Australia’s Climate Council attributed the same to earlier and more dangerous fire seasons. Rapidly changing ecosystems will impact water resources, crop productivity, and patterns of familiar and unfamiliar disease. Famine, drought, poverty and illness are the horsemen saddling up.

Some will die as a result of these events. Others, if they are able, will choose to stay. The far sighted and privileged may pre-empt them, relocating in advance of crisis or discomfort.

These migrants can be expected to move through the ‘correct’ channels, under the radar of nativist suspicion. (‘When is an immigrant not an immigrant?’ asks Afua Hirsch. ‘When they’re rich’.)

But many more will become displaced peoples, forcibly de-homed. Research estimates this number could be anywhere between 50 million and 1 billion in the 21st century. This will prompt new waves of interstate and international flows, and a resultant redistribution and intensification of pressures and tensions on the global map.

How will the world respond?

Where will they go? What is the ethical obligation of states to welcome and provide for them? With gross denialism characterising global policies towards climate change, and intensifying hostility locking down national borders, how prepared are we to contend with this challenge to come?

“You can’t wall them out,” Obama recently told the BBC. “Not for long.”

While interstate climate migration (which may already be occurring in Tasmania) will incur infrastructural and cultural problems, international migration is a whole and humongous other ethical conundrum. Not least because currently, climate change migrants have almost no legal protections.

Is a person who moves because of a sudden, town levelling cyclone more entitled to the status of climate migrant or refugee (and the protection it affords) than someone who migrates as a result of the slow onset attrition of their livelihood due to climate change?

Who makes the rules?

Does sudden, violent circumstance carry a greater ethical demand for hospitality than if, after many years of struggle, a Mexican farmer can no longer put food on the table because his land has turned to dust? Does the latter qualify as a climate or economic migrant, or both?

Somewhat ironically (and certainly depressingly), the movement of people to climate ‘havens’ will place stress on those environmental sanctuaries themselves, potentially leading to concentrated degradation, pollution and threat to non-human nature. (On the other hand, climate migration could allow for nature to reclaim the places these migrants have left.)

There is also the argument that, once migrants from developing countries have been integrated into a host country, their carbon footprint will increase to resemble that of their new fellow citizenry – resulting in larger CO2 emissions. From this perspective, put forward by Philip Cafaro and Winthrop Staples, it is in the interests of the planet for prosperous countries to limit their welcome.

Not that privileged populations need much convincing. Jealous fear of future scarcity, a globalisation inflamed resentment towards the Other, a sense that modernity has failed to deliver on its promise of wholesale bounty: all these are conspiring to create increasingly tribalised societies that enable the xenophobic agendas of their governments. A recent poll showed that 46 percent of Australians believe immigration should be reduced, a percentage consistent with attitudes worldwide.



A divided world

In the US, there’s Trump’s grand ‘us vs them’ symbol of a wall. As reported in the Times, German lawmakers are comparing refugees to wolves. In Italy, tilting towards populism and the right, a mayor was arrested after transforming his small town into a migrant sanctuary.

Closer to home, in a country where the 27 years without recession could be linked to immigration, there’s Scott Morrison’s newly proposed immigration cuts. There’s Senator Anning blaming the Christchurch massacre on Muslim immigration. There’s the bipartisan support for the prospects, wellbeing and mental health of asylum seekers to deteriorate to such an extent, the UN human rights council described it as ‘massive abuse’.

Yet the local effects of climate change don’t have a local origin. Causality extends beyond borders, piling miles high at the feet of industrialised countries. Nations like the US and Australia enjoy high standards of living largely because we have been pillaging and burning fossil fuels for more than a century. Yet those least culpable will bear the heaviest cost.

This, argues the author of a paper published in Ethics, Policy and Environment, warrants a different ethical framework than that which applies to other kinds of migration. He concludes that industrialised nations “have a moral responsibility … to compensate for harms that their actions have caused”.

This responsibility may include investing in less developed countries to mitigate climate change effects, writes the author. But it also morally obliges giving access, security and residence to those with nowhere else to go.

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What level of protection do you expect from another country?


Australia, it’s time to curb immigration


A majority of Australians welcome immigrants. So why then do opinion polls of young and old voters alike across the political divide, now find majority support for reducing our immigration intake?

Perhaps it could be for the same reason that faith in our political system is dwindling at a time of strong economic growth. Australia is the ‘lucky country’ that hasn’t had a recession in the last 28 years.

Yet we’ve actually had two recessions in this time if we consider GDP on a per-capita basis. This, combined with stagnant real wage growth and sharp increases in congestion and the price of housing and electricity in our major cities, could explain why the Australian success story is inconsistent with the lived experience of so many of us.


The decline of the Australian dream?

Our current intake means immigration now acts as a ponzi scheme.

The superficial figure of a growing headline GDP fuelled by an increasing population masks the reality of an Australian dream that is becoming increasingly out of reach for immigrants and native-born Australians alike.

We’ve been falsely told we’ve weathered economic calamities that have stunned the rest of the world. When taken on a per-capita basis, our economy has actually experienced negative growth periods that closely mirror patterns in the United States.

We’re rightly told we need hardworking immigrants to help foot the bill for our ageing population by raising productivity and tax revenue. Yet this cost is also offset when their ageing family members or other dependents are brought over. Since preventing them from doing so may be cruel, surely it’s fairer to lessen our dependence on their intake if we can?

A lack of infrastructure

Over 200,000 people settle in Australia every year, mostly in the major cities of Sydney and Melbourne. That’s the equivalent of one Canberra or greater Newcastle area a year.

Unlike the United States, most economic opportunities are concentrated in a few major cities dotting our shores. This combined with the failures of successive state and federal governments to build the infrastructure and invest in the services needed to cater for record population growth levels driven majorly by immigration.

A failure to rezone for an appropriate supply of land, mean our schools are becoming crowded, our real estate prohibitively expensive, our commutes are longer and more depressing, and our roads are badly congested.

Today, infrastructure is being built, land is finally being rezoned to accommodate higher population density and more housing stock in the outer suburbs, and the Prime Minister has made regional job growth one of his major priorities.

But these issues should have been fixed ten years ago and it’s increasingly unlikely that they will be executed efficiently and effectively enough to catch up to where they need to be should current immigration intake levels continue for the years to come.

Our governments have proven to be terrible central planners, often rejecting or watering down the advice of independent expert bodies like Infrastructure Australia and the Productivity Commission due to political factors.

Why would we trust them to not only get the answer right now, but to execute it correctly? Our newspapers are filled daily with stories about light rail and road link projects that are behind schedule.

All of it paid for by taxpayers like us.

Foreign workers or local graduates?

Consider also the perverse reality of foreign workers brought to our shores to fill supposed skill gaps who then struggle to find work in their field and end up in whatever job they can get.

Meanwhile, you’ll find two separate articles in the same week. One from industry groups cautioning against cutting skilled immigration due to shortages in the STEM fields. The other reporting that Australian STEM graduates are struggling to find work in their field.

Why would employers invest resources in training local graduates when there’s a ready supply of experienced foreign workers? What incentive do universities have to step in and fill this gap when their funding isn’t contingent on employability outcomes?

This isn’t about nativism. The immigrants coming here certainly have a stake in making sure their current or future children can find meaningful work and obtain education and training to make them job ready.

There’s only one way to hold our governments accountable so the correct and sometimes tough decisions needed to sustain our way of life and make the most of the boon that immigration has been for the country, are made. It’s to wean them off their addiction to record immigration levels.

Lest the ponzi scheme collapse.

And frank conversations about the quantity and quality of immigration that the sensible centre of politics once held, increasingly become the purview of populist minor parties who have experienced resurgence on the back of widespread, unanswered frustrations about unsustainable immigration that we are ill-prepared for.

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Do you have a right to protect your good fortune?

Where do ethics and politics meet?

In the Western philosophical tradition, ethics and politics were frequently deemed to be two sides of a single coin.

Aristotle’s Ethics sought to answer the question of what is a good life for an individual person. His Politics considered what is a good life for a community (a polis). So, for the Ancient Greeks, at least, the good life existed on an unbroken continuum ranging from the personal through the familial to the social.

In some senses, this reflected an older belief that individuals exist as part of society. Indeed, in many cultures – in the Ancient world and today – the idea of an isolated individual makes little sense. Yet, there are a few key moments in Western philosophy when we see the individual emerging.

St Thomas Aquinas argued that no individual or institution has ‘sovereignty’ over the well-informed conscience of the individual.

Renee Descartes placed the self-certain subject at the centre of all knowledge and in doing so undermined the authority of institutions that based their claims to superiority on revelation, tradition or hierarchy. Reason was to take centre stage.

Aquinas and Descartes (along with too many to be named here) helped to set the foundations for a modern form of politics in which the conscientious judgement of the individual takes precedence over that of the community.

Today, we observe a global political landscape in which ethics can be hard to detect. It’s easy to say that many politicians are ruled by naked greed, fear, opinion polls, blind ideology or a lust for power.



This probably isn’t fair to the many politicians who apply themselves to their responsibilities with care and diligence.

In the end, ethics is about living an examined life – something that should apply whether the choices to be made are those of an individual, a group or a whole society.

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Does ethics have a seat in the house of politics?