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Turnbull’s postal opinion poll: a vicious, bullying farce.

19 Sep

It’s rather difficult to empathise with the marriage equality No crowd’s insistence that they are being “bullied” by the Yes side, given that the postal opinion poll on the issue is, in itself, one of the most outstanding examples of government and social bullying that we’ve seen in quite some time.

Subjecting groups to the judgement of their fellow citizens on the basis of their sexuality is bullying, of the most insidious and damaging kind. Sexuality is an integral part of who we are. It ought not to be the business of anyone other than ourselves, and those we choose to share it with. And yet here we are, bullied into participating in a bullying opinion poll on our bullied fellow citizens.

(Well done, Prime Minister Turnbull. We all know you chose this persecutory path this because you’re scared dickless of your right-wing. We also know that bullies are always cowards.)

The opinion poll is a survey (and I use the word loosely, given it wouldn’t pass muster as an actual survey anywhere except perhaps North Korea) of what some Australians think of the sexuality of other Australians. It is inherently privileged: gay people do not and never will have the right to participate in a government-initiated opinion poll on the sexuality of straight people and their right to marry. (The very fact this comment sounds ludicrous is solid evidence of entitlement and privilege). It is a survey with a non binding outcome if the answer is yes, and a binding outcome if the answer is no.

I understand that the national result of the opinion poll will be broken down on a federal electoral basis, thereby enabling politicians to claim they will vote in parliament according to their constituents’ wishes and not their own. Yet again they’ve worked out a way of getting themselves off the hook. Eluding responsibility is the one skill this government seems to possess in abundance.

Although the postal poll is to say the least haphazard (piles of envelopes left in the rain at apartment blocks; sent to people who’ve left the address ten years before; stolen forms auctioned online and so on) the results will be a permanent record of opinion in each federal electorate without any safeguards in place to ensure everyone in that electorate had the opportunity to comment. It really is an absolute farce, confected by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton and embraced by Turnbull as a way to save his sorry arse from a right-wing kicking. If this isn’t bullying, I don’t know what is.

The No crowd, on the other hand, seem incapable of distinguishing between disagreement, and bullying or silencing. It’s a conservative trait to believe anyone with an opinion that differs from yours is your enemy. According to the right-wing, if you aren’t agreed with you are “silenced.” To this end, the No crowd continues to appear on every available media platform on a daily basis, protesting their “silencing.” Not one of them can see the irony in this.

Here, yet again, we see entitlement and privilege in action. The No crowd is working from the premise that they must be agreed with, simply because of who they are and what they believe. It’s become perhaps an over-used concept since the advent of Donald Trump, however, the notion that anyone who doesn’t believe what you believe is wrong and wickedly trying to silence you is teetering towards narcissistic. It’s also bullying.

So far throughout this debacle, the right has shown itself to be relentlessly seeking victimhood. However, for mine, Shelton’s appearance at the National Press Club last week conclusively undermined his accusations of silencing, both for him personally, and for his followers.

Let’s face it: we should be so lucky…

 

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Let him eat cake: Abbott & marriage equality.

12 Sep

Tony Abbott marries himself. Mural by Australian artist Scott Marsh.

 

In the first paragraph of his opinion piece in The Age today, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott encapsulates the condescension and toleration typical of many on the No side of the marriage equality debate thus:

Like most, I have tried to be there for friends and family who are gay. They are good people who deserve our love, respect and inclusion but that doesn’t mean that we can’t continue to reserve the term “marriage” for the relationship of one man with one woman, ideally for life and usually dedicated to children.

(Note: in almost every statement you can think of, whatever comes after a “but” negates wholly or in part what precedes it).

“They” are good people who deserve inclusion, however “they” do not deserve that ultimate straight privilege: marriage. And why don’t “they” deserve it? Because they are not heterosexual.

It ought to be obvious to even the dullest of minds that if your sole reason for denying another human the rights you unquestioningly hold yourself is their homosexuality, then you are practising homophobia.

Neither can you give the right to one group of citizens to determine the humanity of another and call for respectful debate at the same time. The premise of the debate is inherently disrespectful and harmful.

At this point, I could rest my case that the postal opinion poll is, in itself, homophobic, and as such anyone involved in it ought to be fined for vilification by participation, including me as I’m answering Yes. I remain enraged at Prime Minister Turnbull for his lazy and cowardly outsourcing of this matter to the public, thus forcing me, because I’m not prepared to chuck my survey in the bin, into engagement with a process I consider discriminatory and cruel. I couldn’t live with myself if I did anything to enable a No victory. The sucky little bastard has me wedged.

In Britain, Abbott bemoans, Catholic orphanages have been forced to close down as a direct consequence of marriage equality. This would seem to me to be a win-win, given the well-documented atrocities visited upon children in Catholic institutions but Abbott apparently considers it a reason to tick No. In the US, he continues, a baker (a baker, in the whole of the US, in the entire western world in fact, a bakerhas been prosecuted for refusing to put a slogan on a wedding cake. This, my friends, is all the drunken little toe rag has to prosecute his argument that marriage equality will destroy the principles on which our society is, in his perception, based. Bring on that long-overdue destruction, is my feeling on the matter.

This debate is about power. It’s about who controls the damn narrative. It’s about changing a society in which some people are considered less human than others solely because of their sexuality. It’s about ending exclusion. It’s about challenging the absolutely unacceptable hold religion has on our secular country. It’s about allowing the expression of human love beyond the narrow confines of the heteronormative.

By all means, let us discuss the institution of marriage, its pros and cons, its dominance in our culture. Its inherently exclusionary nature, the many ways in which it disadvantages women, all of its many problematics. However, these are separate issues from denying the privileges of marriage to anyone, solely on the basis of their sexuality.

If marriage equality does, as Abbott insists it will, fundamentally change our society, this can only be a good thing. Change will mean an equalising and an opening up, rather than the fearful and repressive hunkering down advocated by the No side, simply because they cannot deal with any kind of difference.

 

 

 

Tolerate my intolerance or I will destroy you

5 Sep

 

It takes some arrogance to declare that your support for others is contingent upon their actions and speech being acceptable to you. In other words, they earn your support by dancing to your tune, not because you have any real interest in their cause. Your primary concern is that your own sense of decorum may endure temporary violation, and you will not tolerate that, no matter whose human rights are at stake.

“Do it my way or else” is hardly a respectful way in which to approach debate and disagreement.

(I’ve long been of the belief that arrogance is a psychological defence mechanism employed to conceal from self and others terrifying feelings of  insecurity, uncertainty, and lack of self-worth. It’s a thin veneer.)

Such arrogance has been expressed by several right-wing commentators and was yesterday reiterated by one Tom Switzer, currently employed by the ABC as a “radio host.” Fairfax recently published this piece by Switzer on marriage equality and intolerance. To paraphrase: I would vote Yes in the marriage equality postal survey, declared Switzer, but the same-sex advocates are being so objectionable I’m rethinking that and may vote No.

I like to think of this attitude as a desperate (and despairing) effort to retain control by those who feel they are perilously close to losing their hold on the status quo. The “If you are not nice to me I will not support your cause” position is narcissistic, in the sense that offending these people is experienced by them as a narcissistic wound, a threat to their very being. It reveals the fragile, threatened ego that needs everyone to be nice to it all of the time, otherwise it will blow you up, metaphorically speaking in this instance though the threats of annihilation are more substantial at the more powerful end of the narcissism spectrum where we find Trump and Kim Jon Un. Switzer of course is not in their league: his narcissism is of the petit bourgeoisie class for whom bad manners, language and graffiti are offences that far outrank just about any denial of human rights.

The ultimate exercise of control: do it my way and don’t offend me, or I will use my power to affect your life against you.

Many of us can likely find a parallel in childhood, when our parents told us we wouldn’t have what we wanted unless we were good.  Switzer, et al, are applying the same authoritarian discourse to adults seeking equality with other adults. They are demanding their own intolerance, either of marriage equality or the manner in which the fight for it is fought, be placed front and centre in a discussion on equality. In so doing they destroy any possibility of equality and respect in the debate, let alone in its outcome.

This is a tactic used by the privileged against many minority groups. The ruling class sets behavioural norms, and gives itself permission to break them while severely punishing and shaming those who are not of their tribe. Tony Abbott’s taxpayer-funded drunkenness comes to mind as an example, as he advocates for the humiliation of indigenous people with the imposition of a cashless welfare card to prevent their purchase of alcohol.

The intolerant, such as Switzer, are not interested in respectful debate and just outcomes. They are concerned with their own feelings of offence, and consider themselves to be so important that a vote on the lives of others hinges entirely on whether or not they suffer affront.

Respectful? I don’t think so. Tolerant? Nah. Silenced? Give me a break.

 

 

 

 

The fluidity of tradition.

2 Sep

 

Tradition is a word we’ve heard a lot these last few weeks, as the anti marriage equality crowd cast about, in increasing desperation, for valid arguments to make against the Yes vote.

I’m being generous here, in describing the No contingent as engaged in a search for valid arguments: there are no such arguments and the Nays are resorting to all manner of nebulous scare tactics, including, but not limited to, the threat same-sex marriage allegedly poses to” traditional” marriage.

Here is  federal Liberal MP Andrew Hastie with his understanding of traditional marriage:

I could spend the rest of the day deconstructing Hastie’s evangelical Christian opinion of marriage as solely for procreation, but readers here are more than capable of doing that for themselves. Suffice to say the man has publicly revealed his sexual repression, commiserations to his female partner and back to tradition.

There is a sense in which people who call on tradition as a justification for perpetuating contested attitudes and actions hold the belief that tradition, in and of itself, entirely validates the status quo. Tradition is to them a numinous concept, and as such, unchallengeable.

A moment’s reflection ought to alert them to the perils of such an assumption: think of the many traditions our society no longer tolerates and one is immediately aware of the fluid nature of tradition, why it’s almost as fluid as gender, hey Mr Shelton? 

There are many examples of traditional values that have revealed themselves, in a society struggling to evolve, to be bigoted, exclusionary and privileged, not to mention racist, sexist and genocidal. Traditional is not a synonym for good, or compassionate, or decent. It merely means that a certain set of behaviours has been naturalised or normalised at the expense of another set of behaviours. The determination is inevitably made by those who have the most power, and the most to gain by investing their favoured behaviours with the allegedly eternal quality of tradition. He (and sadly it usually is he) who controls the narrative controls what is to be considered traditional.

I’m going to venture out on a limb here and suggest that tradition, in and of itself, is bollocks. There’s absolutely nothing numinous or eternal or universal about it. It’s nothing more than reified repetition. There’s nothing wrong with doing the same thing generation after generation provided it isn’t damaging people, but please, let’s not pretend it carries a mysterious power of incontestable rightness, simply because it’s always been done that way.

So there you go, No vote. That’s fixed tradition for you as an argument. Next?

 

 

On religious freedom

18 Aug

 

Yes, I know, this might at first blush seem an odd choice of topic given our current circumstances but really, what can one usefully say about the political shenanigans that currently overwhelm any possibility of good governance?

One can only cling to the words of the late George Harrison: all things must pass, all things must pass away, and hope to dog they don’t take too damn long in their passing.

The erudite and decent Father Frank Brennan published this piece in the Guardian yesterday on the necessity to protect religious freedom as well as to support marriage equality. As far as I can tell from the piece, Brennan is arguing that while he hopes for the prevailing influence of good will all round, there must be room made for the religious to discriminate against same sex couples. He does not quite frame his argument in those terms, of course, however it seems to me that in this instance religious freedom equals the unchallengeable right to discriminate, on the sole grounds that the sexuality of some humans offends your religious sensibility.

If the religious are to be granted a legal right to discriminate against same-sex couples, they better provide some sound evidence of the need for that discrimination. Otherwise, discrimination on the basis of sexuality becomes normalised as “religious freedom” with no justification other than “it’s against my religion.”  I’m going to stick out my neck and declare that this isn’t good enough.

Why should your religious belief trump another’s human rights? On what basis does your religion condemn same-sex couples as humans you are entitled to discriminate against and therefore inevitably less fully human than you, be it in baking them a wedding cake or employing them in your schools?

And why should the secular state support you in your deliberate creation of a lesser class of beings?

It isn’t religious freedom to discriminate against others who don’t fit your vision of how humans ought to live. It’s religious exceptionalism. The language of religious freedom serves to obfuscate the reality: it is unjustified and unjustifiable dehumanisation of those whom it excludes.

Freedom of religion ought to mean, and in my opinion does mean, the freedom to practice your religious beliefs without oppression and persecution. It does not mean you are granted freedom to oppress and persecute those whose ways of being do not accord with your beliefs, and discriminatory behaviour towards such people is inarguably oppressing and persecuting them.

If your religious beliefs demand that you must, through discrimination, oppress and persecute a particular group of your fellow humans, perhaps you need to seriously consider the worth of that religion.

Religious freedom in this instance sounds an awful lot like justification for homophobia. And as long as the religious can’t offer sound reasons for needing this discrimination based on sexuality, it will continue to sound and look like homophobia. If it quacks like a duck…

 

 

Voting Yes

11 Aug

 

 

Friends of this blog know I’m not particularly enamoured of marriage as we know it. It’s an institution, as one wit noted, and who wants to live in an institution? Flippancy aside, my main objection to marriage is the entirely unwarranted privilege it is accorded in our society, a discriminatory privilege currently available only to heterosexuals.

Some of the most heinous behaviour of which the human species is capable is acted out in heterosexual marriage. Treachery and betrayal. Domestic violence. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children. Murder. The dark side of marriage ought to cause us to question its privileged position, but as a herd, we have a capacity for cognitive dissonance that is nothing short of astounding.

So voting Yes in Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s disgraceful $122 million postal survey on marriage equality is a complicated decision, given that I think marriage as we know it is a bit of a nonsense in the first place. However, the reality I must accept is that marriage is an institution, and as such must be available to anyone who wishes to live in it. Excluding people on the basis of their sexuality is appallingly discriminatory, and makes second class citizens of anyone who isn’t heterosexual.

Add to this the allegedly illegitimate nature of Turnbull’s postal survey, about to be argued out in the High Court, and it becomes tempting to boycott the whole despicable process, rather than validate the PM’s sordid machinations with my participation.

However. You can be absolutely certain the No vote is, as we speak, marshalling all its forces to fight what the Australian Christian Lobby’s Lyle Shelton describes as “the fight of our lives” against marriage equality. Lyle, you might recall, some months ago issued a paranoid tweet to the effect that nobody will know he’s straight if gays are allowed to marry. Unfortunately most of his public commentary on marriage equality is far darker than that idiocy, and you can be absolutely certain he and his supporters will be cranking up their homophobic rhetoric over the next few weeks. If we don’t vote Yes we risk a No victory, and I do not want to think about the myriad ways in which that will licence Shelton and his ilk, possibly for years.

The No contingent will not care that a reduced Yes vote comes about as a consequence of principled boycott. They will rejoice in their victory. Nothing good can come of this, so please vote Yes.

Turnbull has wedged the electorate. He has presented us with a singularly depraved process, one he admits will go nowhere as a Yes vote is non-binding. He has co-opted us into his internal strife. He has made the Liberal party’s turmoil ours. He has forced us either to join him in his corrupt process, or risk an ongoing abuse of and discrimination against LGBTQI people that will be validated by a No vote. For this he should never, ever be forgiven.

We all know the right-wing of his party stands ready to nail his testicles to the despatch box. In another desperate attempt to avoid this fate, Turnbull has outsourced his responsibilities to the electorate.

I loathe the situation in which the PM has placed us. I loathe that he has made us a part of his cowardice and depravity. I would like nothing more than to boycott his stinking survey. But I believe the only way of fighting back is to vote Yes to marriage equality, an overwhelming, resounding Yes. If nothing else, this will place Turnbull in an absolutely untenable position if he then refuses to accept this Yes, and will forever make a mockery of his claims to listen to the will of the people.

A Yes vote is a demand that everyone in this country be accorded equal access to what is recognised as a human right to marriage and family. It is a demand for an end to the perception of LGBTQI people as somehow inferior to heterosexuals. It is a demand for an end to heterosexual privilege and power.

Turnbull has co-opted us into his vile process. Turn it back on him. Don’t play into his hands with a boycott. Vote Yes.

Oh, and you can also will the High Court to chuck the postal survey as an option out on its carbuncled arse.

 

 

 

Presumption of innocence, or attacking victims & the legal system?

2 Jul

 

I’m somewhat baffled by the insistence of George Pell’s more vocal and public supporters that he is being unfairly treated. He has, they assert, been subjected to years of suspicion and innuendo and this, they argue, makes a fair trial impossible. Their opinion: he is the victim of a witch hunt and should not have been charged. The ludicrous conclusion of this argument is that nobody should be charged with anything if there’s been public commentary prior to those charges being laid.

I would like to see some proof of this claim of inevitable prejudice due to Pell’s profile, though I doubt there’s relevant data. What is interesting is that whilst Pell himself has welcomed the opportunity to at last defend himself in court, his Australian supporters seem hell-bent on declaring the process already poisoned. Obviously they aren’t respecting Pell’s desire for his day in court. So what are they doing?

Amanda Vanstone, former ambassador to Rome and Pell admirer, wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald in May: how would you like to throw out your own right to a fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place together with the right to a fair trial if you are charged? Vanstone goes on to further question the integrity of the Victorian DPP (to whom she was presumably referring in the phrase “fair assessment of whether you should be charged in the first place”) and Victoria Police, and to rail against latte sippers in cafes who she claims deny Pell the presumption of innocence. Vanstone’s descriptions of those calling for Pell to be held to account include “a baying crowd” and a “lynch mob from the dark ages.” Inevitably, she includes victims and alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests in her derogatory commentary.

Then take Tasmania Archbishop Julian Porteous’ comments in the Hobart Mercury on Thursday, when police announced they ‘d charged Pell:

HOBART Archbishop Julian Porteous says he is “shocked and disappointed” his former colleague Cardinal George Pell has been charged with historical sexual offences by Victoria Police.

“I think it’s terrible these claims have been made against him. I don’t believe they’ve got any substance to them,” Archbishop Porteous said. [emphasis mine]

He said he was also worried about the impact the high-profile nature of the case would have on a fair trial.

“The possibility of a fair trial is compromised. I don’t know how a jury could proceed with a trial where [there is] so much media out there.”

Archbishop Porteous also referred to journalist Louise Milligan’s book Cardinal, published in May, which details some of the allegations made against Cardinal Pell.

He said media coverage and the book were “creating a very unfair environment for justice”.

Cardinal Pell, 76, the Vatican’s finance chief, was charged by summons today with several historical offences dating back to his time as a Ballarat priest and Archbishop of Melbourne.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney — where Pell was Archbishop from 2001-2014, and where Archbishop Porteous was an auxiliary bishop from 2003-2013 — released a statement saying the Cardinal was “looking forward to his day in court and will defend the charges vigorously”.

Archbishop Porteous said Cardinal Pell was “a man of absolute integrity”.

The Porteous and Vanstone reactions are little different from the reactions of some family members when one of their number is accused by another of sexual abuse. There is disbelief and scapegoating of the alleged victim, and blind defence of the alleged perpetrator. This is not presumption of innocence. It’s taking a side, and it’s prejudiced. It’s nothing more than opinion, and reveals the inability of the bystander to acknowledge any possibility other than his or her opinion.

Pell has welcomed the opportunity afforded him by Victoria Police to put his case in a court of law. His supporters must respect his stated wishes, and cease muddying the waters by attempting to manufacture cause for a trial to be abandoned. This is not presumption of innocence. It’s a denial of justice, both to Pell and to the complainants.

It is worth reiterating that nobody, not Vanston, not Porteous, not Paul Kelly, Andrew Bolt, Miranda Devine or indeed anyone one of us can know the truth of this matter. None of us were present. Pell was present. The alleged victims were present. This matter must be left to the best process we have: the process of law. It is not presumption of innocence to deny that process to Pell, and it is not presumption of innocence to attempt to denigrate and undermine the institutions that, in this intensely scrutinised case, are all we have to administer justice.

 

 

 

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