Inconvenient Truths

What are inconvenient truths? The things we kind of know but would rather we didn’t. We all know too much chocolate is bad for us, but we sort of bury that fact in the back of our mind when we see a bar of chocolate. Here are a few more that have a bit bigger impact than chocolate.


There has been war of one sort or another in Afghanistan for decades. The Russians tried to conquer the country in 1979 but were defeated by the Mujaheddin rebels. The Americans and allies went in after 2001 and failed to defeat the Taliban.

All this is interesting, and makes the country out to be one worth fighting for by the world superpowers until you consider one fact. Over 90% of the opium in the world which is used to produce heroin is grown in Afghanistan. Over 95% of the heroin in Europe comes from Afghanistan. So the major nations are fighting to defend the major opium producer.

Surely if the Americans had fought in the country, they would have run across a few plantations. There is more land under cultivation with opium in the country than there is under cultivation for cocoa in South America. Maybe they could have destroyed the opium fields and cut down the amount of heroin being sold in the US. Cut off the “drug epidemic” at the source.

The reason they didn’t is probably that if they burnt the fields, the farmers would not have a crop to sell, and rise up against the US. Tribal warlords would have less incentive to cooperate.

This is one inconvenient truth that is never spoken about when we talk of either justifying or opposing the invasion of Afghanistan. When discussing the current support being provided by both America and Australia we don’t talk about the elephant in the room.


Opium based drugs are a recent problem, right? Not so. Opium goes back millennia. The earliest reference to opium was 3400 BC in lower Mesopotamia. The Romans, or at least the wealthy ones, used it extensively. The Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius was an addict by all accounts. He used it to function in his role and was still considered one of the most effective emperors of Rome.

For centuries it was valued for pain relief and to aid sleep. Laudanum was the Victorian equivalent of the Asprin. It was found in most homes in the 1800’s. Laudanum was made from opium and alcohol. It was known as “Tincture of Opium” and treated everything from toothache to melancholy.

Morphine and Heroin are variations developed in the last century but opium-based drugs have been around, and have been a problem for thousands of years. Recent variations such as Oxycontin are nothing new.

Vietnam war

Moving away from drugs, I am sick of hearing people who grew up in the 50’s and 60’s say how they always said Vietnam was a mistake. I was a typical kid growing up in those days and was in the lottery for conscription. If I had been conscripted, I would have gone to Vietnam in the mid ’60s and never thought of being a conscientious objector. In the end I missed out. My birthday didn’t come up.

The war started in 1955 and by 1962 there were 9,000 US personnel in Vietnam. It started to become evident Australia would be called on to send troops which we did in 1966. From 1962 we had been providing military advisors

In the early 60’s the overwhelming majority – and I would guess that is somewhere around 80% to 90% of us – had little or no political interest. We never thought to question the government when they told us communism, or the yellow peril was rolling south to Australia and had to be stopped in Vietnam. It was what JFK was saying so it must be right. Our fathers had fought to stop Japan, and we were going to have to do the same thing in Vietnam.

It was a totally different mindset to today. The protesters were considered radicals and while they had a right to their say, we had a right to not listen. It was only in the late ’60s that people started to change their opinion. We were obviously not winning, and some of the impacts were starting to become evident. The truth was crawling out of the cave.

By late 1971 PM McMahon announced a troop withdrawal. The tide had turned. By that stage, many people had come to accept it was a mistake and we should get out. Most of those who say they always opposed Vietnam probably only took that position around 1970. They may even have been opposed or ambivalent about the withdrawal in 1971-1972.

People believe if they admit that what is blindly evident today was not something they believed all along, it is a poor reflection on them. What everyone needs to understand is that what is accepted today has evolved over time. People take on new information and alter their position.

It is not just Vietnam. Opinions on everything from climate change to women’s rights to black lives matter is an evolution. Believing in something ten, twenty or thirty years ago and having an opposite opinion now should be applauded, not condemned.

Restoring nature

I heard a podcast years ago where someone was talking about restoring an abandoned mining site back to what it once was. The interviewer asked an interesting question. “Restoring it back to what it was when?”

Was it back to what it was before it was a mine? It was a cattle property and had been cleared at that stage. Back to what it was before it was a cattle property? It was scrub for about 100 years after the Aboriginals had been driven out of the area. Back to when the Aboriginals lived in the region? There were no records of what the site was like then, but many of the trees and plants were introduced from the first days that colonisation took place. Trees that now grow on the site are maybe 100 years old but are not Australian native trees. Maybe it should go back to what it was 1000 years ago, but that can only be guessed at. The area would have to be stripped back to bare soil.

You see the problem? Restoration is creating an artificial world. Not only the plants, but also the climate, soil and water have changed. The birds and animals that maintained the habitat are not around. Introduced species of birds, animals, plants, trees and the humble cane toad have forever changed the landscape. We cannot restore nature. We can only make decisions as to what this artificial world might look like and try to construct that world.

The argument you hear from those promoting a mine, or land development that they will restore bushland is spurious. It cannot be done. We can only protect what we have and watch it evolve naturally into something else.


Every day someone is wanting the government to spend money on something they believe is important. The inconvenient truth is that governments don’t spend money. They redistribute money. The take money from us as taxes, and spend it in a way they believe is the best for the population, or that is the theory.

It would be a much more constructive argument if those who wanted the government to spend 100 million dollars on building a road said:

“…and the money should come out of the budget of the local health service or by reducing sports grants to community sports clubs.”

For every gain, there has to be a loss. Those demanding additional government expenditure (or reduced taxation) always talk about the gain, not the loss.

Self interest

Paul Keating, one of the outstanding Prime Ministers of the last 50 years, used to quote former NSW Premier Jack Lang.

“In the race of life, always back self-interest — at least you know it’s trying”

No matter what is proposed for the country, region or individual, it is viewed through the eyes of the individual. If it is new infrastructure, the first question is how will it impact me. If it is a price rise, or a budget decision, or even climate change, the response is skewed to how it will alter my life.

We might like to think of ourselves as a “society” but we are just a bunch of people with individual priorities trying to get the best outcome for ourselves. NIMBY is not a rare occurrence. It is the norm. It is hard to find any change where there is not some objection from someone who will not benefit.

Yes, we know we have to do things that are against our self interest in order to live together. Things like pay taxes and comply with laws, but where possible we want others to do more than we do.

The inconvenient truth is that if we were all selfless beings committed to the good of society, there would be no tax minimisation industry; no lawyers fighting on minor points of law; no need for heavy police presences across our towns; no jails; no charities scrambling to find funds to spend on the less fortunate. In fact, there would not be the less fortunate.

Somehow all this gets forgotten when we start talking about social development. It is an inconvenient truth that never gets mentioned in news reports or discussions on the rights and wrongs of a situation.

“The government announced today that they will remove a major traffic bottleneck by widening a road. This will require the removal of 20 houses and relocation of the residents. The residents of those houses said they were happy to move for the greater good. It would allow traffic to flow smoothly in the future.”

Ever seen anything like this? I think not.

The biggest killer

So what is the biggest killer the human race has ever had? Corona is not quite there yet. Maybe Bubonic Plague or WW1? Maybe Malaria or Tuberculosis? What about climate change?

Wrong. The cause of billions of deaths throughout the history of humans is religion. The “my god is better than your god” syndrome. It started when humans decided that there must be something more important than their miserable life on earth and came up with heaven and a bloke (always a man) in charge. If their neighbour decided it was a different bloke in charge, then he had to be killed because he disagreed with me.

And so it continues today with Muslim killing Muslim killing Christian killing Buddhist killing anyone who believes in another god. At the most basic logical level, it makes no sense. Billions have died because of something that is no closer to being proven true today than it was ten thousand years ago.

It becomes more complicated when religion takes on the role of a counterpoint to self-interest. Love thy neighbour is not a slogan. It is a social principle. A rule that must apply if we want to live together in neighbourhoods, cities, states and countries. If you wrap up these social principles with belief in some supernatural being, you have a half plausible reason for belonging to the club. A mix of “do good”, and “do evil”.

Religion is easily defended by its followers. “Look at the holy Mother Teresa?” Of course, she was a good person but look at the holy emperor Caligula. A saint is not a fanatical zealot who blew up a bomb. He is a martyr who died defending his faith.

Some statistics:

  • Worldwide murders per year – ~ 550,000
  • Worldwide suicides per year – ~ 800,000
  • Christian Crusades – 6m
  • Aztec human sacrifice – 80,000
  • Jews killed in the Holocast – 6m
  • Muslim conquest of India – 80m
  • Iraq War – 500,000


When faced with people (including Trump) who invoke god, how many people challenge the worth of religion? It is an inconvenient truth. If god is on your side you can guarantee a few hundred thousand are going to die.


We have lots of blind spots when we look at the world. Things that we kind of know are true but put in the back of our minds. The world would make a lot more sense if we dragged out those inconvenient truths and put them front and centre of our consciousness. Even more important is to ask ourselves why we suppress these truths and what else are we hiding.

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