After a particularly notable week of hate in Australia, it got we wondering. Why does it continue to happen? Maybe we’re not as progressive as we assumed. Maybe we’re still the divided colony of old.
What a difference a week makes. This time last week I was in the crystalline waters of Indonesia, cornered by the sun bludgeoned captain (and only crew member) of the converted fishing boat I sat in, wanting to know What Australia was like. Perhaps he already knew, and was just making conversation. Perhaps he wanted an answer. I had one, but that was last week. His question coincided with the Telegraph’s misuse of a time machine, zipping to an alternate timeline where Bill Shorten was Prime Minister after hitting it rich after surreptitiously lifting Malcolm’s Gray’s Sports Almanac. But this week, Great Scott. I’m glad I’m back in the safety of my loungeroom, far away from the shores of Amed, and the empathetic azure scowl of the fisherman, because I truly don’t know. We’ve run Yassmin Abdel Magied out of town, which is just as well as Prue MacSween would have run her down if she stayed, we’ve had our most important discrimination officer discriminated against, and yesterday we discovered that “the gay” is a health risk to our young and nubile Christian youth/radical surfing progeny. All of which makes me wonder who the bloody hell we are. I’ve noticed that our greatest export of late seems to be outrage, trite verbal armaments sporting the stencil kangaroo of local ownership. But, people get angry, but nothing changes. We could blame the out of touch cretins we voted in, or the malaise of modern day change through social complaint, or is it because this is who we are? Do we not want to seek change because we don’t want to change?
My social circle might be too acute, which might be my problem, but when I see the foreigner fearing, homophobic fist fighting Australia on the news, or in statistics, or responding to articles, it seems alien to me. Not that I’m putting myself on a pedestal, not at all. I’ve not that had a sheltered/enlightened leftie life that stereotype promised, and I coveted. I was not born in a tumbledown flat in Newtown to professional parents, the result of a Cooper’s long neck, an existence of beaded curtains, hash smelling cupboards and relatives that aren’t really relatives. I’ve been a high-school dropout, a university graduate, a blue collar worker, a white collar shill, deliberately unemployed. I’ve clacked along late night/early morning trains to grim steel towns, I’ve traipsed the manicured active paths of the Eastern beaches. I’ve got a Balinese tattoo to celebrate my Balinese holiday. I’ve met the custodians of my ancestors land. I’ve had ample opportunity\ies and I’ve fucked most of them up. I’ve seen many sides of this country. That’s not to say that the other Australia doesn’t exist, but by virtue of the belltower of our time, the echo chamber, I see people like Rowan Dean as the minority. I always have, but I could be wrong. Am I wrong? Do the vast majority of us want to torpedo every asylum seeker boat, or round up every gay and put them behind barbed wire?
If that’s who we are, let’s just come out and say it. Say it, so we can find out who’s view is the minority.
At the moment, we don’t know, as the divisive headlines follow a very specific cycle. X says something outrageous, Y responds to the comment, X fires back defending their right to say it, then attacks Y for attacking them, Y attacks further, using unrelated examples of X’s past, X repays in kind, Y demands an apology. The apology, is usually birthed from public backlash, not because X believes it was the wrong thing to say. Therefore X has learned that every which is morally loose, so the next comment will come, and it’ll be worse, because they know that another shitstorms a-brewing. Therefore, the comment will become worthy of the shitstorm. Pop quiz, hotshot, do you think that all this hate aimed at the Daily Telegraph, or Rowan Dean will see them change course? No. The lessons are not learned. We just reset to zero, and get ready to start again. We both win the arguments, therefore we both lose.
Freedom of speech should also bring freedom from assumption, the assumption that our fight, whatever it is, is the right one. The one everyone wants. I want to attend my gay friend’s weddings. But not everyone wants that.
We’re a deeply divided country at the moment, as we’re dealing with a crisis of identity. We’re the Immigration Nation that also dislikes immigrants, our sons and daughters grow up gay, but because our parents clung to religion and the status quo, we feel traditional Catholic guilt is a far more important thing to keep alive than the love between a dude another dude. We’re free, but not all of us have the same opportunity. It took a rampant billionaire to swoop in and make good on our Government’s agnostic energy belief system. We’re angry, because we’re confused. We are, as Abe Lincoln said, a house divided against itself.
The great thing, and greatest detriment of our democracy is that we’re able to say, and think and feel what we choose to, and conversely, are able to ignore. But there’s a rusty bucket within that leaks cold water in my stomach, one where the drip continues to become more frequent. Drip drip dripping a stream that echoes horribly in the cavernous space behind my ears. Maybe, just maybe, we’re not as progressive, or free, or as comfortable as we claim, or indeed should be. Some of us are, but an equal number are not. Maybe the house needs to remain divided. Perhaps the way forward is to assume that we all sit in a minority of one. Our views are not automatically shared our neighbours just because we believe we’re in the right. A home among the gum trees can be protected by barbed wire as much as a warm hug. Freedom of speech should also bring freedom from assumption, the assumption that our fight, whatever it is, is the right one. I want to attend my gay friend’s weddings. But not everyone wants me to attend.
So, back to the question that Ketut posed me. I believe Australia is the land of the asterisk. Her true value depends on who you are, and what you want.