A Gallup Poll conducted in the USA in May this year revealed that 42% of US Citizens believe the Earth is less than 10,000 years old and that evolution didn’t happen, so-called “young-earth creationism” How is it possible that so many Americans cling to the beliefs that were orthodox 150 years ago but which have since been overturned by mountains of research evidence to the contrary?
One of the tactics used by proponents of fringe and often discredited viewpoints – I am thinking of the 9/11 conspiracy theorists, and climate skeptics as well as creationists – is to claim that there is an ongoing unresolved debate about the truth of the matter, and therefore nobody can rule out either argument. This clever device has the effect of giving undeserved status to discredited arguments and maintains a tolerance to those views in the minds of the general public, most of whom are not familiar with the intricacies of the arguments. This is borne out by another finding of the Poll, that creationist belief was most common among the least well educated: 57% of people who hadn’t completed high school were young earth creationists, whereas of those who completed College, only 27% were.
What on earth has that got to do with Ned Kelly you might be wondering!
Well, I have been trying to understand how it is that despite the mountains of evidence to the contrary, Ned Kelly is still regarded not just favourably but in some cases reverentially by a sizable proportion of the Australian populace. Seven years ago an Australian survey reported that when asked to pick a word that best described Ned Kelly, 22% chose “Icon”.
There are of course many reasons why people cling to beliefs that are not supported or are even contradicted by evidence – I have already suggested some Kelly sympathizers are like religious fundamentalists – but like the creationist tactic mentioned above, one contributing reason for the persistence of the “Icon” view of Ned Kelly is the promotion by Kelly sympathizers that there is still an ongoing debate about whether or not Ned Kelly was a good man or a bad man.
Peter Fitzsimons adopted this strategy to promote sales of his Kelly book when he was on the road and the radio last year. Time and again he told the story of how two kids responded when he asked them if Ned Kelly a good man or a bad man; one said “Good man” at the same time as the other said “Bad man” This of course is exactly what Peter wants, and so do Kelly sympathizers: they want to maintain the idea in the mind of the public that its almost impossible to decide. This is the only way in which their view, that he was an Icon can hold any currency. If they were to say OK lets work it out, what they know, and fear, is that their precious Icon would be found to be a false God.
I discussed this idea briefly in the Forum of mine that was sabotaged by a Ned Kelly Forum member. I pointed out another instance of the use of this “fence sitting” tactic by Fitzsimons when asked what his final conclusions were about Kelly after all the research he did . He would then defer to someone else, a Kelly hagiographer who apparently first described Kelly as “somewhere between a villainous hero and a heroic villain” , a cute phrase that says absolutely nothing. It is not an answer. It is a sidestep: everyone is somewhere between some sort of hero and some sort of villain!
The reality is that we CAN answer the question about what kind of person Ned Kelly was. There is mountains of evidence in the reported and recorded words of Ned Kelly and in his deeds that testify to the sort of person he was. However Kelly sympathisers don’t want to have to answer that question, and be forced to defend their answer because there is almost nothing to back up their view that he was an icon. Instead, if asked that question they resort to a sidestepping tactic designed to create the impression that the answer is still a matter of debate. It isn’t. Ned Kelly was not an Icon.
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