Pell Pill Punditry, cont.
Cardinal George Pell sits somewhere between “irresistible” and “too easy” on the ridiculometer. Like many gay men and/or virgins of his advanced years, he is a silly and fussy and anachronistic person. When you consider his outlandish costumes and fetish for arcane rituals, Pell, like most of his priestly colleagues, is not an actual person at all: he is an elaborately manufactured persona. He is an avatar in a carefully crafted other-world: Vaticanland. Like Hogwarts or Narnia, Vaticanland is an brilliant fictional construction, with its own rules and shared history, its own myths and shibboleths, its own secret rituals. By grasping this, we can begin to understand how Vaticanland fanboys, in glorious regalia, can debate for days — with straight faces if not inclinations — how many angels can fit on the head of a pin, or how long a dead, unbaptised newborn must linger in purgatory.
Mocking Pell, therefore, requires all the imagination and effort of teasing Dungeons and Dragons fanatics or making fun of Trekkie conventions: tempting, for sure, but hardly satisfying.
But Pell will insist on engaging in the “public discourse”, as if he feels bound to speak out on behalf of the “Australian Catholics” he “represents”. This tips his delusion status to extreme.
Australian Catholics, like their counterparts in other country’s where literacy prevails, are no more aligned with Pell on matters of philosophy, morality and politics than I am. Even on “deal-breaker” issues like abortion and pre-marital sex, Catholics in the US, Western Europe and Australia are slightly less inclined to support Catholic teaching than non-Catholics. They are more politically liberal, less prone to fundamentalism, and more respectful of science and reason than the general population. A survey reported in July that 57% of of Latino Catholics in the US support same-sex marriage compared to just 22% of of Latino Protestants. This suggests that “mainstream” Catholics are quite capable of adjusting to the real world when the lights come up on the once-weekly screening of Vaticanland. Pell himself acknowledges the daylight between Catholic teaching and mainstream Catholic opinion, but does nothing whatsoever with the insight.
Pell has a new ghost-writer — I am guessing male, quite young and easy on the eyes — and he has found in Murdoch’s Australian a newspaper willing to publish his little fictional forays. Pell should thank god that god does not exist. After his craven little effort on Saturday, Pell would surely be destined for an eternity in that corner of hell reserved for the rhetorically dishonest.
I will leave it to well-credentialed feminists to demolish the central argument — that the contraceptive pill has actually deprived women of economic and political power, based on a single article in a Vaticanland fanzine of no apparent credibility — and will comment instead on an area where I am feel amply qualified: Pell’s fraudulent presentation of polling data. Here is the key sentence:
A May CBS News poll of 591 adult Americans found that 59 per cent of men and 54 per cent of women believed the pill had made women’s lives better.
This poll result is clearly presented to support Pell’s argument that, despite what you may think, the pill has been bad for women — because, he uses this finding to assert, women themselves acknowledge this in greater numbers than men (thus the 5 percent gap between the sexes). This is brazen bullshit:
- The poll itself concedes a margin of error of 6 percent for the sample of men, and 5 percent for women. With this taken into account, the percentage of men who believe the pill has been good for women is anywhere between 53 and 65 percent and, for women, between 49 and 60 percent. This is the dictionary definition of a statistical tie. It is sad and revealing that Pell’s ghost-writer would cling so gamely to such insignificant findings.
- Pell’s ghostwriter has mysteriously reported only the percentage who support the Pill — odd, given his overall argument. When you examine the poll, it is soon clear why: only 6-8% of women, and 9 percent of men, believe that the pill has made women’s lives worse; the rest say it has made no difference. By failing to account for the “no difference” crowd, this was a misleading attempt to present the findings as if the public are quite evenly split on support for the pill, when nothing could be further from the truth. The CBS poll (in full here) is exhibit A in the case against the Pell critique, and his audacious and selective use of the findings is staggering. This is the intellectual equivalent of very loose morals indeed.
- Other findings of the CBS Survey neglected by Pell’s ghostwriter include: 99 percent of women believe it has either improved or made no difference to their career prospects, and 84 percent believe it has either improved or made no difference to their family lives. Both these data points are utterly devastating to the Pell-ghostwriter thesis, and go unmentioned in favour of one statistically insignificant half-finding.
It is pointless to ask the shameless to hang their heads in shame — and this goes for Pell, his twinky ghost-writer and the the opinion editor at the Weekend Oz who made the decision to publish this nonsense without questioning it even slightly.