Thankfully, they're on the verge of retirement now. But Gittins is still serving up his true believer ideology in the pages of The Age newspaper. Gittins is a supporter of open borders, and as such has to explain the opposition that exists to the policy of mass immigration. He puts it down not to people wanting to preserve the particular national tradition or culture they love and identify with but to fear and resentment of outsiders.
He therefore frames opposition to open borders in the most negative of terms:
Our evolutionary history has left us with an instinctive fear of outsiders - people who are different, people who invade our territory to steal our food and our women or, in the contemporary context, to jump the queue and steal our jobs, overcrowd our schools (and win most of the prizes), overwhelm our culture, push up house prices and add to congestion on the roads.
You can call it racism or religious intolerance - the nation that invented the White Australia policy can hardly object to that charge, except to say we're no worse than most nationalities and better than some. But I think it's best thought of as xenophobia - a fear of foreigners, people who are different, who aren't one of us.
And it's so deeply ingrained, so visceral, that it's not susceptible to rational argument. It would be nice if a greater effort by the media to expose the many myths surrounding attitudes towards asylum seekers could dispel the fear and resentment, but it would make little difference.
To acknowledge we have an evolutionary predisposition to fear and resent outsiders is not to condone such attitudes. The process of civilisation involves gaining mastery over our base emotions.
But if such attitudes are instinctive and impervious to rational argument, what's to be done now the pollies have let their standards fall?
Our attitudes towards asylum seekers may be impervious to rational argument, but they're not to rival emotions - particularly the positive emotion of empathy.
Like all nationalities, Australians are neither good nor bad, they're both. Our leaders can play to our darker side, or appeal to the better angels of our nature.
Go back just 50 years or so and Gittins' argument would have gone down like a lead balloon. It seemed natural to people back then that it was a virtue to feel love and loyalty toward your own people and tradition. It was people who didn't feel loyalty who were considered to be somehow lacking in normal human feeling.
Consider the case of Elizabeth Fenton. Back in the 1820s she went on a journey on a ship crewed mostly by Muslim sailors, amongst whom were two European converts. She wrote of one of them:
He makes me quite melancholy. He is English by name and complexion, but his tastes, manners, and his scruples, not to say his religion, are Arab. He is the son of a Scotch clergyman, but for many years has been leading his present life, trading between Muscat and Mozambique ... Poor fellow!
Of the other she wrote:
Among this crowd there is, - Oh! sad to write it, - a Greek, a native of Athens, a Moslem now by adopted faith and practice. Little reckons he of past time; Marathon is no more to him than Mozambique. He would rather have a curry than all the fame of his ancestors.
But fast forward to 2011 and we have Ross Gittins, the true believer, trying to tell us that it's all the other way around and that there is something wrong with those like Elizabeth Fenton who identified positively with their own tradition. He believes that people like her are motivated by "base emotions," by "xenophobia," by "fear and resentment of outsiders" and so on.
How off base is his position? Well, let's do a little experiment. Let's try to make Gittins' argument consistent. A traditional national community was based, in part, on a shared ancestry. It was like a vast, extended family in which people were (compared to other societies) closely related to each other. Gittins is now telling us that it is wrong, it is a "base emotion," to want to maintain this particular kind of loyalty and identity.
But why should Gittins' argument not apply equally to the family itself? Why should I discriminate in my love and loyalty between those who are a part of my family and those who are not? Is the fact that I do discriminate a sign that I fear or resent those who aren't part of my family? If Ross Gittins prefers to share his house and his resources with members of his own family, then is he suffering from an irrational, base emotion?
If his answer is that the comparison is wrong because it's natural for people to prefer their own families, then he should understand that historically people thought the same thing about national communities - that it was natural for people to have a particular loyalty and allegiance toward these too.
Gittins has applied the same logic to the national family that the radical Bolsheviks applied to the individual family. Back in 1918, following the Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik spokeswoman Alexandra Kollontai put forward a Gittins-like argument in favour of open borders for families:
a woman should know that in the new state there will be no more room for such petty divisions as were formerly understood: "These are my own children, to them I owe all my maternal solicitude, all my affection; those are your children ... Henceforth the worker-mother ... will rise to a point where she no longer differentiates between yours and mine ... The narrow and exclusive affection of the mother for her own children must expand until it embraces all the children of the great proletarian family.
So, Mr Gittins, was the Bolshevik Kollontai a great humanitarian for suggesting that there be no particular family loyalties? Was she motivated by the "better angels" of our nature as you believe the open borders crowd to be?
Or was she a modernist ideologue, who was willing to override healthy forms of human love and allegiance, in the name of a discredited and unsustainable ideology?
In terms of principle, Mr Gittins, just what separates you from the likes of Kollontai?