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Why rights and bigots do not belong in the same sentence.

20 Jul

 

talking arse

 

When Attorney-General George Brandis declared that everyone has the right to be a bigot, he was, strangely for him, speaking out of his arse.

A bigot is irrationally prejudiced against and intolerant towards individuals and/or groups, without requiring any factual evidence to support her or his bigotry. This excellent Guardian piece by Susan Carland spells out the proposition. My only quibble with Dr Carland is that she writes “facts no longer matter” whereas I would argue that for bigots, facts have never mattered, and never will.

Brandis’s declaration conflates human rights with ignorance, intolerance and irrational prejudice, surely the very characteristics those rights are designed to contest, how odd he doesn’t know that.

When the country’s Attorney-General invites the indulgence and expression of bigotry it’s hardly surprising that we find ourselves entering a period of deep prejudice, expressed by the likes of convicted racist Andrew Bolt, echoed by the likes of television celebrity mother Sonia Kruger (#all mothers are celebrities, I can see that hash tag coming) and Pauline Hanson is enabled to replatform herself in government.

This time around, the bigots are singling out Muslims. It has in the past been the turn of Aborigines, Jews, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, single mothers of all nationalities, dole bludgers, those of Middle Eastern appearance, boat people, women… must I go on? Bigots aren’t choosy: they need to hate somebody, it doesn’t much matter who. You have the “right” to do this, says the most senior legal figure in the land. It’s freedom of speech. So knock yourselves out.

Unfortunately, the exercise of free speech does not have as a prerequisite informed and intelligent utterance. If it did there would be a strangled silence from the government benches and all early morning television shows would cease to be.

As this happy fantasy is not likely to eventuate, what are we to do in the face of the ignorant, prejudiced drivel increasingly issuing forth from public microphones? Fight back?  March in protest? Invite consultation? Sit down with the haters over  tea and scones? Ignore them?

I’d argue that there’s no single solution to contesting bigotry, and that all of the above suggestions might be useful in specific situations. When the citizens of a democracy vote bigots into government it’s a tough challenge fighting them from the top down, and we have to get creative. Psychologically speaking, bigots are generally insecure personalities with low self-esteem: they make themselves feel better by denigrating somebody else: I am not that, therefore I am OK. Those of us opposing bigotry may risk falling into the same trap…it’s complicated.

Ignorance is in ascendence, globally. It’s going to be turbulent. As I think the Dalai Llama [sic] once said, you don’t get peace by hating war. Fasten your seat belts.

 

 

 

 

#As a mother

19 Jul

motherknowsbest_web

 

Look. If I see/hear one more woman claim privileged insight because she’s a mother I will puke, spectacularly, in technicolour, over everything because WTAF?

On the proviso that you and your partner’s parts are in working order, all you need to become a mother is a root at the right time. It doesn’t even have to be a good one. In the matter of becoming mothers we are animals. It’s biological. It doesn’t qualify women for anything: it doesn’t make us better prime ministers, and it doesn’t give us exceptional insight into race relations. It can bring out the best and the worst in us, as can very many other situations encountered by the human female during the course of her life on earth.

Motherhood teaches us above all how to survive drudgery. Unless you’ve got nannies who do that for you, of course. There’s nappies and reeking shit; there’s three-year-olds whose every sentence begins with why, twelve hours a day. There’s broken nights, oh my god the broken nights. There’s kids creeping into your bed at 2am only to wake you up at three to inform you they just dreamed they were on the toilet and have accidentally peed. There’s days of exhaustion, running into one another till you don’t know what you did and when, let alone why. None of this makes a woman any better equipped to run a country than does, say, Malcolm Turnbull’s ability to turn a modest dot-com investment into millions, or Sonia Kruger’s ability to host Dancing with the Stars equips her to comment intelligently on immigration policy.

I’m a mother. I’ll never underestimate the importance of my influence on my children, for better and for worse. But #as a woman, I believe we need to recognise that attempting to privilege our motherhood works against us far more than it ever works for us. Motherhood isn’t a sacred calling. It isn’t the pinnacle of female achievement. Personally, I don’t feel greatly improved as a human being because I spent years of my life wrangling the obstinate young, and didn’t sell them to the circus.

Women who aren’t mothers can care just as much about the future as women who are, and it’s disgraceful to imply otherwise. Women who aren’t mothers can weep for the slaughtered children of others just as keenly as women who are.

The worst aspect of this motherhood rot is its divisiveness. There’s an entirely unwarranted moral acclaim blindly attributed to motherhood that divides those of us who are from those of us who aren’t. It’s lovely if you want children and have them. It’s just as lovely if you don’t want children and don’t have them. It’s another situation if you want them and can’t realise that desire.  None of us should be valued according to whether or not we reproduce ourselves. Indeed, there may well be an argument for refraining from reproduction, given the future we face.

 

The Perils of Pauline

5 Jul

I'm not racist but

 

Pauline Hanson has re-emerged as mouthpiece for the nation’s racism, going where the dog whistlers dare not venture, vocalising “what ordinary people are really thinking and are too scared to say.” This time her bile is directed against Muslims as well as Asians and Indigenous peoples: anyone who isn’t white and Christian, perhaps?

In a rather surprising move, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that Hanson is not welcome in the parliament, surprising because he has not said this about any of his right-wing colleagues, many of whom share Hanson’s views. Surprising as well because Hanson is an elected representative in a liberal democracy, and Turnbull has no choice but to accept her presence in the Senate because voters put her there.

In May 2016 journalist Malcolm Farr wrote that voters do not want Hanson in parliament, any parliament, but voters do, and Hanson is. Railing against Hanson is getting people nowhere: she’s come back even stronger than before.

This piece by Margot Kingston in the Guardian yesterday is interesting in that Kingston advocates a change of approach to Hanson, one of respect and conciliation rather than mockery and scorn. While I don’t agree that it’s productive to embark on the re-education of Pauline Hanson, I do believe Kingston is right to suggest that we pay attention to the circumstances of the people who have voted her, and possibly two more One Nation candidates, back into the parliament. I also agree that scapegoating Hanson only gives her and her supporters fuel.

Both major parties have used racist tactics to distract voters from their failures to adequately govern: the manipulation of waterborne asylum seekers is an outstanding example of this: the creation of non-existent threats from which both major parties have promised to deliver us has led to the criminal and inhumane indefinite incarceration of innocent people on Manus and Nauru.

Hanson has been far from alone in exploiting fear and ignorance for political gain. It’s only a few weeks since Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told the country that asylum seekers will simultaneously take our jobs and bludge off our social services.

Given that John Howard co-opted most of Hanson’s beliefs and made them fundamental tenets of his LNP, where they remain comfortably unchallenged, I’m inclined to wonder how much of the elite political and media animosity towards Hanson is to do with class, and gender.

Much of what Hanson espouses seems to me gibberish: a Royal Commission into Islam, for example? She seems at times inarticulate: a seething mass of inchoate prejudice, while the more sophisticated know how to convey a not dissimilar prejudice in a manner more covert. Indeed, the only positive thing to be said about Hanson is that she lacks all subtlety: there can be no doubt about her bad intentions towards those who are not her: what you see is what you get. Hanson doesn’t spin.

Kingston herself has expressed some views on Muslims that have been interpreted as racist. She recently tweeted: OK, I’m gonna blow myself up. I think Muslim refugees should seek refuge in Muslim countries unless they embrace western values.

Kingston explained that the western values to which she refers are respect for the rule of law, freedom of speech, women’s, gays’ rights.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting these values embraced and practiced: the problem is singling out Muslims as a group that particularly needs to embrace them. Many of our white Christian politicians have no respect for some of those values, and some don’t have respect for any of them. Presumably their electorates support their views, as Hanson’s do hers. The elites who sneer at Hanson and her electorate need to attend to the racist logs in their own eyes.

I have a visceral reaction when I see and hear of particular groups being singled out for no reason other than religious belief, ethnicity, and race. I feel sick with fear, not of the groups but of  the mindset that chooses certain groups as targets for “special” treatment, marginalisation and hostility. This may have something to do with my late husband being a Jew. We had friends who survived the camps. Their families were slaughtered because they were Jews. My husband and his family experienced prejudice and discrimination because they were Jews. They supported “western values,” but that didn’t save them.

I don’t like Hanson. I’m very sorry she’s back. I think it’s going to be a difficult and frightening time for members of the groups she targets, as her views are widely disseminated through her role as a senator, and parliamentary privilege.

Hanson is the head of the throbbing boil that is Australian racism. The discharge will be copious and vile. But let’s not fool ourselves that Hanson is our only problem: the racism and bigotry she extols is far more widespread than the ugly manifesto of One Nation. Hanson is right: she’s articulating what many think, however the many who think this way are not comprised solely of ignorant rednecks: they also dwell in very high places.

 

 

LNP: It’s not us it’s them

4 Jul

 

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Caretaker Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull yesterday blamed an alleged “scare campaign” by Labor concerning LNP threats to Medicare, for the swing against the government in the election results thus far.

Caretaker Attorney -General George (Bookcase) Brandis blamed Twitter for the alleged denigration of political discourse that apparently contributed to the government’s disappointment. Which is a bit rich coming from the man who declared that everyone has the inalienable right to be a bigot and thinks meta data is the address on an envelope not its contents, but whatever.

Caretaker Immigration Minister Peter Dutton (known as the Brussel Sprout or Mr Potato Head, either way it’s a vegetable)  blamed unions for his slide in popularity in the Queensland seat of Dickson.

Several other ministers, including Julie Bishop and Scott Morrison, also blamed Labor’s “scare tactics” for the government’s fall from grace. Some have even blamed the stupidity of voters, a self-defeating attribution of responsibility one would think.

The complete absence of the media from the LNP’s jaundiced, wounded, blaming gaze is remarkable. It tells me that I was right to detect overwhelming bias in their favour from almost every media outlet including, unfortunately, sections of the ABC.

Tony Abbott, that desiccated piece of hyena scat, did obscene things with a sizzled sausage and left early to plot his next thrust for LNP leadership and deja vu all over again.

Such is the arrogance of these entitled drongos that it does not, for one moment, enter their drongo consciousness that they might have alienated voters all by themselves. It has to be somebody else’s fault.

The inability to listen to criticism is a boring characteristic in an individual. It’s boring because such people are in significant ways stunted. There’s nothing more valuable than a bit of criticism: in the emotionally mature it provokes thought and inspires the birth of change, and as I quoted a few days ago, he/she who isn’t busy being born is busy dying. The LNP is busy dying, and it has been for quite some time.

I’m struggling to recall a government that has made quite such a spectacular and total cockup as has this one. I’m not referring to unforgivable decisions such as taking us to war on the spurious platform of non-existent weapons of mass destruction, or taking us to an election based on the imagined threat of a few miserable, hounded and tormented people attempting to escape intolerable circumstances, but rather the internal clusterfucks that have rent the LNP’s fabric in ways that make the ALP’s internecine strife of a few years ago look pretty average, really.

And let us not forget that despite the ALP’s leadership debacles, they still got phenomenal amounts of legislation through. This cannot be said for the LNP, which has yet to resolve the 2014 budget.

However, the LNP is maintaining some consistency, you have to give them that much. They’ve blamed Labor ever since they took office, so there’s a three-year precedent. They’ve barely missed a beat in their blaming, making a smooth transition to blaming the ALP for the current election debacle and no doubt whatever the outcome, they’ll continue to blame Labor without so much as a hiccough.

This is, really, their area of expertise. Good governance? Not so much.

 

The Senator, the camper vans & The Chaser

30 Jun

fiat car ad

 

Some of you may remember back in May this year there was a swell of outrage against Wicked Campers, the organisation that spray paints its vehicles with slogans such as: A wife: an attachment you screw on the bed to get the housework done; Inside every princess there’s a slut waiting to get out; The best thing about a blow job is five minutes of silence, and so on.

The slogans are usually accompanied by cartoonish illustrations of disembodied breasts, Snow White sucking a penis… you get the picture.

Free speech advocate and libertarian Senator David Leyonhjelm was scathing in his criticism of those who protested the vans:

“If you want to take offense that’s your choice and you’ve got to remember it’s a choice and other people make different choices. 

Most of the statements I’ve read from the vans are able to be interpreted in a couple of ways and they require a degree of sophistication to know what they’re getting at.”

Leyonhjelm told the ABC Wicked made funny statements, “which obviously have sexual connotations.”

“But surprise, surprise sexual connotations are part of life. You need to be a particularly wowserish type of person to not find them funny,” he said.

But surprise, surprise ABC TV’s The Chaser recently parked a van outside Leyonhjelm’s residence that bore the slogan The best thing about oral sex from David Leyonhjelm – 5 mins of silence, and the Senator has gone ballistic.

When called on his perceived hypocrisy by Melinda Tankard Reist, an anti-Wicked advocate, Leyonhjelm tweeted to her: If you don’t understand free speech STFU. This a problematic prescriptive if ever there was one: the right to free speech isn’t supposed to be contingent on whether or not you fully understand what you are saying about free speech, or anything else, for that matter.

It is true that the Senator didn’t call for the Chaser to be silenced, he merely complained vociferously about their intrusion into his street. He also claimed the slogan was “homophobic,” a complaint I find quite baffling unless of course he doesn’t know about men orally pleasuring women.

My Twitter friend Kate Galloway recently wrote this post on sexist language in public discourse in response to Eddie McGuire’s expressed desire to drown journalist Caroline Wilson. What is it with some men and their desire to drown us? Alan Jones wanting to send Julia Gillard in a chaff bag out to sea, and of course that legendary test to see if we’re witches, perhaps from which this obsession with drowning us stems: tie us to a stool and drop us in the river and if we drown we’re witches and if we survive we’re witches, so burn us. Yeah.

I think I’m a woman with a sophisticated sense of humour. I can also laugh myself silly with a four-year-old. But I find absolutely nothing humorous in the Wicked van slogans, or in Eddie McGuire and his mates cackling hideously over the possibility of drowning Caroline Wilson. Nor  do I accept the apparently unassailable belief amongst some men and women that it is fine to say things about women that if said about any other human group would be thought crass, unacceptable, and even illegal.

There’s no right not to be offended, but there is the right to speak about what offends. A frequent response to expressed offence is an accusation of political correctness (gone mad, for added emphasis), or a judgement that one has “over-reacted.” These are  attempts to derail any discussion of the offensive nature of the commentary, and focus instead on the offended person’s alleged weakness and lack of humour. Such attempts at derailing should be treated with the contempt they deserve. As a general rule, people who make sexist comments don’t take kindly to being challenged and their first line of defence is attack.

Leyonhjelm is outraged that The Chaser’s stunt upset his wife, yet he was seemingly oblivious to the upset caused to women, girls, and men who had to attempt to explain to their children the slogans on the van next to their tent. One grandfather round these parts took to every van he saw with a can of black spray paint, so fed up was he with having to see the denigrating and misogynist garbage every time he went on the highway with his grandchildren. But according to the Senator, this man is an unsophisticated wowser with no sense of humour who has chosen to be offended.

Well, Senator, if the tiara fits…

 

 

 

The Marriage Act: what is it good for?

30 Jun

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In 2004, the Howard LNP government amended the Marriage Act of 1961 to read as follows:

Marriage means the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.
Certain unions are not marriages. A union solemnised in a foreign country between: (a) a man and another man; or (b) a woman and another woman; must not be recognised as a marriage in Australia.

Then federal Attorney-General Philip Ruddock introduced the amendment in order to prevent any legal challenges to the concept of marriage as a solely heterosexual institution.

It would be useful if religious organisations opposing marriage equality took note of the origins of this amendment. It did not come from god. It was authored by Philip Ruddock and John Howard.

Then Greens leader Bob Brown described the amendment as “the straight Australia policy.”

There was no plebiscite held on the amendment, and no referendum.

I have yet to be convinced that the state has any role at all to play in the voluntary unions of its citizens, and would prefer to get rid of the Marriage Act altogether rather than just the 2004 amendment.

As it stands, the Act is discriminatory and has no place in a just society. It privileges traditional heterosexual marriage, an institution that functions more in its idealisation than its reality, and whose many and massive failings remain largely unexamined.

We do not need the state to define and control our expressions of love. Of all the situations in which we ought to be able to act with agency and autonomy, this must surely be the most fundamental. All citizens are entitled to enjoy this agency and autonomy, regardless of whom we love.

The fight for marriage equality is also the fight for everyone’s freedom, and our right to live without state intrusion, definition  and control of the most deeply intimate aspects of human life.

Do you really want politicians deciding what marriage is?

 

 

On Turnbull and stability

27 Jun

turnbull

 

Turnbull relying on Australians seeking stability during a time on [sic] unrest in Europe is the headline of Malcolm Farr’s précis of the LNP election campaign launch, held yesterday.

The problem with the word stability is that far too often, particularly in politics, it’s taken to mean “everything staying the same” regardless of whether that “same” is desirable or not.

According to Turnbull we need to avoid changing government at all costs, and we need to avoid a hung parliament at all costs. We need to stick with the stability (read sameness) of the two-party system, despite the profound lack of stability within both those parties, publicly demonstrated over the last six years.

Admittedly, the ALP seems to have pulled itself together and united behind its leader, achieving temporary internal stability. The same cannot be said for the LNP as Turnbull attempts to straddles the chasm between himself and the right-wing of his party. Revenant-in-waiting, Tony Abbott, continues to grimly stalk the Prime Minister and although he has been muted during the election campaign, it’s unlikely he’s relinquished all ambition to heal his pain by overthrowing Malcolm and reasserting himself as leader.

If it’s stability you’re looking for and you choose the LNP, you’re looking for love in all the wrong places.

It takes strength of character to weather uncertainty and instability, which together are the very substance of change, and, as Dylan said he [sic] who isn’t busy being born is busy dying. A politics with which we have become very familiar is in its death throes: look at Brexit and look at Trump in the US. This isn’t a time of stability it’s a time of change, and if we don’t get busy birthing the change we’ll get busy burying the dead.

Turnbull’s call for stability is a cynical and opportunistic attempt to co-opt the Brexit decision to his very unstable cause: governance by a party that is cataclysmically divided, and therefore incapable of providing the country with that which the government itself so conspicuously lacks.

The LNP will undoubtedly ramp up the emotional manipulation with its faux assurance of stability in an unstable world: Brexit is the best thing that could have happened for them at this time. Brexit could well be Turnbull’s Tampa: create fear, then offer yourself as the only protection from the terror you’ve manufactured.

It’s not about the policies, stupid. It’s about the emotion.

 

 

 

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