Henderson, Marr and the privileging of “rational” thought

22 Feb




Watching this exchange between David Marr and Gerard Henderson on ABC TV Insiders yesterday, I was struck by how Henderson, at first a rather uneasy, black-clad fidgeting figure, suddenly discovered strength and energy in contemptuously accusing Marr of “emoting.”

Marr is vocalising his anger at the Turnbull government’s refusal to allow refugees in off-shore detention to be settled anywhere other than the most difficult country imaginable, having refused New Zealand’s repeated offers to accept them. Obviously, if refugees are permitted to resettle in a first world country the boats will start again, is the government’s rationale for this refusal.

There’s a long-held psychological theory that what we profess to most despise actually contains the seeds of what we most desire. This theory is often used to explain homophobia, for example, and I think it can be applied to the Henderson-like figures who use another’s expressions of feeling as a weapon with which to bludgeon them into irrelevance. Their opinions are invalid, this argument goes, because they are “emoting.”

Emotion is a normal human response to situations, and the more appalling the situation, the more appropriate it is to feel distress. The privileging of thinking over feeling, and the moral bifurcation of the two equal capacities has created an atmosphere of shame around the expression of emotion, as if there is a moral value in denial and restraint. Henderson clearly believes he embodies this moral value while Marr, in Henderson’s opinion, does not, therefore his views are to be dismissed as emotive and unworthy of serious consideration.

I don’t want to demonise poor Henderson, for whom I feel considerable pity, however, he does strike me as an outstanding example of a man who deeply, if unconsciously, desires what he publicly claims to despise: the ability to feel and to express that feeling.

Being a woman, I’ve grown up in a society only too ready to dismiss me as emotive and that old favourite, hysterical, if I express emotion. Indeed, it often seems to be the task of my sex to both carry and express all the feelings hegemonic masculinity determines inappropriate for men. Ascribe them to the feminine, whether a woman or what that version of masculinity perceives as a feminised man, and those individuals and groups are immediately framed as irrational, and unworthy of serious consideration.

The reality is, we are capable of thought, feeling, and action. There is no inherent moral value in any of these capacities. The privileging of thought over feeling has for centuries been demanded by those who cannot feel, are uncomfortable with feeling, or afraid of what seems to be the uncontrollability of feeling. So we have insults hurled at those who express feeling: bleeding hearts, hysterics, lynch mobs, losers…the list is long.

In those few moments of television this entire conflict between those who express feeling and those who despise them for that expression was played out. Henderson found his energy in condemning Marr’s emotion, if you watch carefully you can see him perking up and finding his feet when he remembers that in denigration there is an illusion of strength. Marr, very used to such attacks, states clearly that he is not emoting, he is disgusted, calling Henderson on his framing of emotional expression as a disqualifier in debate.

Using “emotive” as an insult derails the discussion, as is the intention, and is designed to invalidate the “emoter’s” argument. It is only successful because as a society we consciously or unconsciously accept the privileged moral values ascribed to “rational thought,” rational having been cast as oppositional to emotional.

I’m willing to bet Henderson’s contempt of Marr’s ability to emote conceals a deep envy that springs from lack: Henderson has learned, probably in a hard way, that to “emote” is to disgrace oneself. No one can learn this without carrying a sense of profound loss, and anger towards those who can do what he or she cannot.

We develop in a society addicted to binaries, dominated by either or. Currently, we appear to be governed by groups who are adverse to feeling and its expression to a pathological degree. People like Marr insist on feeling and its expression, as well as the splendid thought he is also capable of, and the actions he takes in utilising both in the service of his values. Feeling, thought, action. Humans can’t do well without any one of them. Just look at Gerard.

59 Responses to “Henderson, Marr and the privileging of “rational” thought”

  1. DrKP February 22, 2016 at 9:33 am #

    Excellent observation. True in academia in psychometric tests and Medicine. Somehow emotion imeans rational reason has taken flight. Very often gendered and emotionality rendered psychologically suspect. Yet Cognitive behavioural therapy as one example suggests that emotions are the LOGICAL outcomes of our thoughts. It is our thoughts, our “thinking” which is logically suspect.
    Great observation.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. townsvilleblog February 22, 2016 at 9:43 am #

    Henderson is bereft of emotions as you say. I’m not really up with things but I think his wife is in the federal parliament. What a relationship that would be, one of mutual benefit as they would both have ‘money’ as their god. I had an ambition when I was a boy, not grand, I wanted to grow up and own a house, a car be married to someone I loved and have a family. I left school at 14 and have fulfilled all my dreams, I am now 60, we live a life free of debt and I am reasonable comfortable. I believe that these dreams are very rare these days. People seem to dream of more material things as we have been brainwashed by US consumerism for over 50 years. Perhaps its just me being old, but I feel like a stranger in my own country these days, and can really appreciate what Aboriginal Australia must feel.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jennifer Wilson February 22, 2016 at 11:33 am #

      The Henderson’s run The Sydney Institute, a right wing think tank, Anne H is often on The Drum and seems to talk over people….

      I bet you haven’t fulfilled ALL your dreams 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • townsvilleblog February 22, 2016 at 3:37 pm #

        The one dream I cannot fulfill is impossible to fulfill, if I were a much younger man and had made a different decision at the time 1987, I would have had a different life, but it is impossible to know whether or not it would have been a better one.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Diane Pearton February 22, 2016 at 10:13 am #

    OMG, sometimes it’s scary, but comforting and validating, how closely your brilliant blogs echo my thoughts. Of course, you can clearly elucidate the issue, while I rant and rave, and just EMOTE! Thank you, again.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Jennifer Wilson February 22, 2016 at 11:34 am #

      Thanks, Di.


    • Marilyn February 22, 2016 at 3:33 pm #

      I get that crap all the time by scum who think it is OK to traffic and torture babies in the guise of saving lives.

      Since we started saving lives at sea 200,000 Syrians, 40,000 Iraqis, 20,000 Afghans and others in assorted nations have been blown to bits with our help and bombs, 29 million kids under 5 have starved to death and we cut their aid to $2 per person per annum while we are now squandering $1.03 million a year per person to keep prisoners in hot mouldy tents to die on Nauru or in Manus prisons.

      And our lazy whiney racist media still will not confront any of the scum with hard fucking questions like – when did Nauru become our fucking border and how come we have to be terrified of babies but Nauruans aren’t.

      The trash in our parliament would not work in an iron lung and nor would the fucking MSM.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. diannaart February 22, 2016 at 11:12 am #

    Very thoughtful article – a great deal for me to consider.

    One thing that really pushed a button:

    “We develop in a society addicted to binaries, dominated by either or. ”

    I guess this is a result of the great ‘dumbing down’ of Western societies – heaven help us if developing nations prefer to pursue nuance and intellect, rather than settling for the easy answers – for all our posturing, we will be left behind.

    Calling someone ’emotional’ to win an argument has to be one of the laziest forms of debate – I do not see an end to this juvenile trend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 22, 2016 at 11:36 am #

      diannaart, I think it began around the time of Descartes, who famously said “I think, therefore I am.” which at school we used to change into “I’m pink, therefore I’m spam.” That kind of spam being the tinned variety not the stuff you get in your email 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Sam Jandwich February 22, 2016 at 11:38 am #

    Bleeding heart and proud of it!

    I have to say though, one form of emoting – which I wonder might well be the original form of emoting that intellectuals have lazily extrapolated to encompass all emoting – is when people make assumptions about something or someone which are blatantly not true, but which can logically be said based on a selection of the available facts, plus a little prejudice and malice mixed in – ie mauvaise foi, or “bad faith” though I’ve never thought that translation does it justice…

    Claiming we need to stop the boats to prevent drownings at sea is perhaps one of the worst examples of this we’ve seen in recent times… though John Howard’s entire government was essentially an exercise in it… not to mention accusing someone of being irrational when they get angry – so maybe you could say it’s the conservative way to express feelings?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 22, 2016 at 11:57 am #

      Yes, good point Sam, though if it is a conservative way to express feelings it’s a signifier of their profound fucked-upness

      I agree Howard based his entire government on the exercise of mauvaise foi, and Abbott followed in his shoes. I have yet to be convinced Turnbull isn’t carrying on the tradition, though I know you cut him more slack than I do.


  6. doug quixote February 22, 2016 at 11:48 am #

    When Henderson accuses Marr of “emoting” there is a pejorative undertone and the conviction that Marr ‘knows’ that he, Henderson, is right. Henderson thinks his logic is unarguable, and has been proved right by the supposed stopping of the boats.

    The conservatives are going to be very hard to shift on these issues.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 22, 2016 at 11:58 am #

      Like getting chewing gum off your shoes. Or out of your hair.


  7. mish February 22, 2016 at 1:55 pm #

    The clip reminds me of David Marr’s response to Angela Shanahan on Q&A (ages ago, 2008 I think). Shanahan had responded to a question from a young gay man in the audience, saying that Christians loved the sinner but hated the sin (or similar words). Marr’s voice as he answered her was shaking with anger but never rose in volume. Clearly ’emoting’ but very, very rational!
    I took part in a lengthy online discussion about emotions ‘vs’ rationality the other day; kind of saddening that we’re still having to go over this, especially when many areas of knowledge & theory have moved on from this binary.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 22, 2016 at 3:23 pm #

      Hello, Mish, I see it as chipping away, bit by bit, after all it’s an entire paradigm we’re trying to shift.

      I’m glad it’s being discussed in other forums, this is heartening, though I agree with you, it’s a bit discouraging to have to keep revisiting the same old same old.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mish February 23, 2016 at 2:24 pm #

        That’s a good point, Jennifer (chipping away at an entire paradigm). Perhaps I shouldn’t under-estimate the task 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  8. gerard oosterman February 22, 2016 at 2:12 pm #

    Be careful of emoting. Next you will show joy or, heaven forbid exuberance. No better to be like Gerard H or G. Pell rub your hands together in glee and go for punishment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 22, 2016 at 3:26 pm #

      How can two Gerards be so different…. 🙂


    • Patagonian February 27, 2016 at 4:02 am #

      Or God forbid, religious ecstasy. But of course that’s not emoting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • paul walter February 27, 2016 at 5:54 am #

        Better than sex, I’m told.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson February 27, 2016 at 1:41 pm #

          I often hear people claiming something is better than sex. I can only conclude they have a limited knowledge of the ecstasies of sex.


  9. helvityni February 22, 2016 at 2:29 pm #

    The ‘noli me tangere’, a dried out prune of a man, GH, once told a female guest on Q&A : please don’t touch me. Brave girl, I recoil from his touch, his talk, his presence…

    Now David Marr, there’s a man and the half, no matter with whom he sleeps, out of ten he gets nine, GH gets a consolation prize, ONE.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 22, 2016 at 3:26 pm #

      Oh dear, one of the things I thought about Marr was how expressive his body language is in that clip, he really looked as if he’d like to crawl over the back of the couch to put distance between himself & Gerard.


  10. Melly Smuff February 22, 2016 at 5:00 pm #

    When the national interest conflicts with morality what is a government to do? Apparently you can’t have both.

    Marr’s “emoting” did seem to ride roughshod over some of Henderson’s points. Calling bullshit is not very enlightening. Why not defeat with well reasoned argument instead.


  11. Melly Smuff February 22, 2016 at 5:05 pm #

    I’m not condemning Marr’s “emoting” or agreeing with Henderson. I think Marr could have delivered a more sophisticated polemic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • helvityni February 22, 2016 at 5:46 pm #

      Marr got a standing ovation from me, Henderson got my boot…

      Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 22, 2016 at 8:01 pm #

      Sorry, I just lost your last comment, Melly, but I was going to say government could try a moral solution for a change.


    • paul walter February 24, 2016 at 3:39 pm #

      No hope. Henderson went straight for the derail. Marr did well to get as far as he did.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. silkworm February 22, 2016 at 5:25 pm #

    It’s not just any old emotion that Gerard is condemning. It sounds like an objective term, but it actually holds a more specific meaning. When people use the term “emoting,” they usually mean crying or about to cry, and it is used by bullies as an ad hominem to portray their opponents as weak, childish or immature. It’s tantamount to calling your opponent a crybaby or a bedwetter.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Jennifer Wilson February 22, 2016 at 8:02 pm #

      Yes, silkworm. Exactly.


    • mish February 23, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

      Nailed it, silkworm!

      Liked by 1 person

    • paul walter February 24, 2016 at 3:42 pm #

      The elephant in the room is this: to “emote” is “effiminate”. People don’t get the purity of Henderson’s twisted malice.

      Liked by 1 person

      • mish February 24, 2016 at 4:45 pm #

        paul walter, you are so right; can’t believe I missed that. Seems blindingly obvious now. Henderson is more subtle than A. Bolt was on this matter, but just as toxic.

        Liked by 1 person

      • silkworm February 24, 2016 at 5:28 pm #

        “Emoting” is either “effeminate” or “childlike.” In either case, it’s bully language, and Henderson did it on national television.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson February 24, 2016 at 7:01 pm #

        Yes, I did. I decided not to go there in that post.


  13. Melly Smuff February 22, 2016 at 8:50 pm #

    Yes I saw my comment had been “smuffed” out.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Melly Smuff February 22, 2016 at 9:12 pm #

    The running narrative is that ending up in a hopeless hell hole that looks like gitmo minus the water torture, is the method required to discourage asylum seekers. I don’t see how a moral solution is possible. It’s the “we had to destroy the village to save it” style of thinking that leaves no room for compassion.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 23, 2016 at 5:29 am #

      There is no possibility of compassion in the current narrative. It has to change but I don’t see either major parties changing thing.


  15. Sarah Gregson February 23, 2016 at 7:31 am #

    You lost me at having sympathy for GH 🙂 I blame management workplace strategy for some of this – ‘don’t bring family issues to work’ is the classic, when we all know that work has far more adverse effects on family than the other way around, despite the necessary pay packet. It’s also the classic refrain when women have ‘issues’ that affect their attendance, despite regulation that ‘protects’ mat leave, flexible work etc. The ‘rationality’ they posit as preferable to all that icky personal stuff is higher productivity, management’s right to manage, competition – all used to deflect claims that workers are not machines and have families, bodies that need regenerating, minds that need to think about something other than the job.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 23, 2016 at 8:05 pm #

      The public/private divide. Works for the bosses, for the workers, not so much.


    • paul walter February 24, 2016 at 3:44 pm #

      No, he is warranting of pity because his upbringing and socialisation have made a wreckage of him in human terms.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Sarah Gregson February 24, 2016 at 3:49 pm #

        If we were only products of our upbringing, I’d be a Pauline Hanson clone.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Jennifer Wilson February 24, 2016 at 7:02 pm #

        Yes, and he hasn’t had the courage or the intelligence to move beyond it


    • FlorenceM February 27, 2016 at 3:57 am #

      Yet year after year we are told that the companies that win Employer of the Year have one because they are family-friendly, flexible workplaces. They are so rare that they win prizes.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Sarah Gregson February 27, 2016 at 8:53 am #

        Yeah, and the Nobel Peace Prize often goes to a great big warmonger. It’s what Don Watson’s books are always saying – that language is truly gutted when the pollies and CEOs and spin doctors get hold of it. Often the words disguise something quite sinister and the opposite of what is being said. That’s why I loved that Marr came out and said the truth – to both the govt and Henderson – don’t dress up detention as humanitarian. The NZ offer proves it – they want refugees to suffer. In short, they want refugees to stay put – with the bombs and disease and terror – denying their right to flee.

        Sorry, re your original point :-), those awards are bogus. I’ve looked at the Employer of Choice for Women award and it’s an exercise in creative form-filling and dressing up something little as if it’s some major windfall for women. Governments initiate these awards precisely at the same time as they remove the regulations that were aimed at making employers do the right thing.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jennifer Wilson February 27, 2016 at 1:43 pm #

          I always suspected those awards are bogus.
          And Don Watson is quite brilliant, IMO


  16. paul walter February 23, 2016 at 9:21 am #

    Pity and contempt. That is all Gerard Henderson has meant to me for decades. He is a disgusting individual.

    Liked by 1 person

    • LSWCHP February 23, 2016 at 8:35 pm #

      Just contempt from me. What a truly unpleasant individual.

      Liked by 1 person

  17. olddavey February 25, 2016 at 9:00 pm #

    This is a bit late, Jen, but the only time I feel sorry for silly old Ger, is when he looks like he’s wondering where his post mortem’s crew is.
    Then again, if I’d had 15 kids, I might feel like tired the way he does, but Annie might beg to differ.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. FlorenceM February 27, 2016 at 3:51 am #

    The supreme irony of course is that there is nothing rational about believing in God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jennifer Wilson February 27, 2016 at 1:39 pm #

      Yes!! Yes!! A thousand times yes!!


    • olddavey February 27, 2016 at 9:11 pm #

      God’s in his Heaven and All’s right with the world.
      There you go, fixed that one for you.
      I feel a bit like the Pyne Nut.

      Liked by 1 person

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