Taking on the ‘Outrage Brigade’July 28, 2015
It always surprises me when people ask whether a comment I’ve made is ‘appropriate’ for a Senator. It implies that my standards should be different from everyone else’s.
Before last July – when I was sworn in – I was a normal person who burped, farted, swore and shared ribald jokes with my mates. Now it seems any suggestion I have done or continue to do any of these things may make it into the media, provoke an Internet explosion, or cause civilisation to collapse.
A few well-placed swear jars in the Canberra press gallery would soon make a dent in the deficit, so it seems rather rich for journalists to pretend to be shocked by things I say, or to report that others are shocked. And yet, report it they do.
It seems to me that politicians live in fear of being found guilty of that great modern heresy – being ‘inappropriate’. Genuine debate suffers as a consequence. Much of the public contempt for politicians, I suspect, is due to the fact people believe they’ve elected a bunch of cardboard cutouts.
This was brought home to me recently when I made some ‘inappropriate’ observations opposing taxpayer subsidies for childcare. Aside from the fact that one of my key points – that childcare should be deregulated to bring down costs – was ignored, it now seems to have become politically impossible for a childfree person to comment on childcare policy. Unless, of course, that person wholeheartedly agrees with every claim on public funds made by the Childcare Industrial Complex. I was also treated to the usual round of insults – ‘brainless’, ‘heartless’, ‘vicious’, etc.
Also recently, an individual with too much time on his (or her) hands (seriously, there are other things you can do with those hands) discovered comments he deemed – oh dear – ‘inappropriate’ that I had made on the political blog Catallaxy four years ago. The discovery was sufficient to create a Twitter storm.
All this nonsense required a great deal of effort from people who are experts in the business of pretending. Someone first had to pretend they were innocently browsing comments under old blog posts when he was so affronted by something I had written that he felt it necessary, in the role of Guardian of Community Morals, to pass them onto a journalist.
A journalist then had to pretend that the comments were shocking enough to be newsworthy, but not so shocking that publishing them to a mass audience would not degrade the Community Morals that he feared may have been transgressed.
Some of my fellow politicians then added their comments, pretending they would not make comments like mine online, presumably due to their sounder upbringings and purer minds. Let’s hope, for their sakes, their metadata never gets hacked.
Then – on the childcare issue – feminists who have campaigned for years to prevent women’s personal choices from being used against them in debate decided, since they have failed to achieve that goal, everyone’s personal choices – including mine – are fair game.
And hundreds of tweeters had to pretend that whatever I said was not only an affront to their high moral standards, but that these moral standards were not quite so high as to prevent them from launching a stream of invective that would make a wharfie blush.
That largely summarises what passes for a lot of modern political debate in Australia: driven by a fear of the inappropriate, fuelled by lashings of hypocrisy, achieving precisely nothing.
Politicians ought to be judged robustly on their policies and honesty in public life. Arguments should be assessed on merit, not on who makes them. Nobody – prince, politician, or pauper – should be judged for engaging in peaceful (if vigorous) political debate.
Yes, most politicians wear being judged in this way, meekly accepting the double standards involved. I do not.
Taking offence is a choice. Wanting other people to share in your chosen feelings of offence is petty and trivial. We need more openness in public discourse, not less. Elected officials who don’t say what they think are bad for democracy. And if you don’t agree with me, I genuinely don’t give a fuck.