Tag Archives: David Marr

Henderson, Marr and the privileging of “rational” thought

22 Feb

 

Feels

 

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.

The Wayne LaPierre solution to religious exemption from secular law

15 Jan

David Marr’s excellent piece in the Fairfax press yesterday is a reminder of just how conflicted our anti discrimination legislation is, and has been for some time.

Exemption from the law for religious organisations means they are permitted to behave in ways that are unlawful for the rest of us, because of their beliefs. For example, employing someone who does not engage in a heteronormative sexual life, employing a woman who becomes pregnant outside of marriage (the same rule does not apply to the man who impregnates her, by the way) and  employing people who live together unmarried (such as Prime Minister Julia Gillard, but her partner Tim Mathieson as well? This is not clear, perhaps it is only women religious institutions demand marry) transgresses some religious beliefs about how human beings ought to conduct themselves in their private lives. No religious institution should be obliged to put itself in a situation where its beliefs are insulted, it is argued, therefore they are all exempt from anti discrimination legislation that applies to everyone else.

I might find it difficult to work alongside someone who holds any or all of the above beliefs because they do not accord with mine and I find them offensive and insulting. However, were I to refuse the believer employment, or to terminate their employment because their beliefs trouble me, I will be committing an offence under the anti discrimination legislation and if they complain, I will be punished.

As I am not a religious institution, I must employ the religious regardless of my beliefs. This irrational imbalance continues, for some inexplicable reason, to be legitimised by the Labor government, itself led by an atheist woman living in a de facto relationship. In other words, as Marr points out, Prime Minister Gillard is legislating against herself.

Perhaps the solution is to declare atheism and agnosticism  religions, and apply for exemption from the law. I call this the Wayne LaPierre solution, after  the Executive President and CEO of the NRA. LaPierre recently claimed what is needed to stop bad guys with guns is good guys with guns. By the same reasoning, we might consider allowing the rest of us the privilege of denying employment to religious people as they may do to us. Then we will have achieved the equal right to deny a livelihood to everyone except ourselves and those who think like us. Which of us is good or bad will remain as subjective as it as ever been, but we’ll all have big guns with which to kill each other’s prospects.

On the other hand, the current consolidation of the anti discrimination laws offers a golden opportunity to effect changes that would revoke privileges extended to religious institutions, and level the playing field. Attorney General Nicola Roxon has introduced additions to the bill that now declare offending or insulting someone to be an unlawful act. Unless of course you are religious institution and then you can offend and insult somebody’s protected attributes (if they do not comply with your belief system) to your heart’s content by refusing to employ them, or by dismissing them on the grounds of that attribute, and you will get clean away with it. If we can accept additions, surely we can effect the subtraction of what is a most discriminating practice that makes a mockery of the entire legislation?

What we need to ask ourselves is: why are we prepared to allow religious institutions to behave in ways that are so unacceptable to the rest of the community that we have declared them unlawful?

The religious are entitled to their beliefs, of course. A secular state is not obliged to adapt its legal system to those beliefs, it is especially not required to do that when the adaptation is to behaviours that for the rest of the population are unlawful because they are deemed extremely harmful to others.

If an act is so undesirable that we have found it necessary to administer punishment to some of those who perform it, how can we say that same act is not undesirable because it is ameliorated by the balm of religious “belief?” And why on earth should we?

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