Thursday 21 August 2014

18c – a win for Sally Sensitive

Sadly, it looks like 18c is not going to be done away with in a hurry.  It’s a shame, because making a crime out of causing offence to someone is an utterly ridiculous burden upon free speech and debate.  It does nothing to stop racism, or give justice to someone who is actually caused a harm based on their race, religion or anything else, but we’ve been told that getting rid of 18c will open the floodgates for all these things to become commonplace, or worse, normalised

The reality is, we have other laws that cover those crimes more than adequately, so it is hardly like the push for removing 18c was led by the frustrated local KKK ‘Grand Wizard’, who had until then, gone largely unnoticed in our community (burning his crosses and preaching his hate in private, as 18c was the only thing keeping him at bay apparently!).  The push to repeal 18c had supporters who weren’t asking for the ‘freedom to be bigots’ (wow, was that ever a bad choice of words), but rather the right to speak freely without fear of being taken to court for causing hurt feelings, offence or insult to a person.  Instead of a society that embraces vigorous, free and open discussion on all topics as a means to progress to better understanding, by holding onto 18c we’re announcing ourselves as a nation that needs to control and monitor debate.  Not because the topic of debate is unnecessary, but rather because some of the freely spoken words might upset some of the participants.

To placate the perpetually offended minority, we’ve got to wear a huge cost as a population.  Others have a more public and personal suffering though, like Mike Carlton.  I might not read much of what he has to say, but he has just as much a right as I, or anyone else, to voice an opinion. We aren’t forced to read it, nor are we forced to agree with it or support it.  It may have offended you, or someone you know, but there were also those who saw it and agreed with the sentiment it was expressing.  Therefore, we have a bit of an issue - we clearly have at least two sides to consider, so how does it benefit us, or allow us understanding of the whole problem, if one side is silenced?  I’m sure plenty more convictions could be had if we only ever allowed juries to hear the prosecution evidence in a criminal case, and debates would be easy to decide if only one side was allowed to present their argument.   

Part of the problem with repealing 18c is that fear sells, and fear motivates.  We were told that a future without 18c was a future to be feared, and it was sold with a catch.  If you support the repeal of 18c, you’re a ‘racist’.  People always feel far more assured when there is a clear right and wrong side to an argument, especially if it involves a touchy subject, so when ‘supporters of the repeal of 18c’ was equated continually with ‘racist’, or ‘bigot’, the choice was highlighted as having a clear ‘morally right’ and ‘morally wrong’ option – and as an added bonus, it didn’t even ask you to think too hard.  Racists and bigots = bad, therefore, repeal of 18c must be bad, because it is supported by bad people.  If racists and bigots are behind the push for something, don’t think too much, just decry it.  For a country so smart, we allowed ourselves to be drawn into a debate based more on emotion than intellect, reason or understanding.  

Perhaps we need a slogan, or a label, to use when referring to the supporters of 18c.  But what one word shortcoming or slur best describes someone who believes emotions should be so highly valued that we legislate to protect against anyone making us feel the bad ones? Hmmm, how does ‘hysterical’ sound?  Or ‘unbalanced’?  Doesn’t quite have the same ring as ‘racist’, or the negative connotations to surround it, does it?  Maybe that is because it is one of the things that unites us as human beings - our ability to have emotions.   
We fear them, embrace them, and try to control them.  We don’t want to be punished for having them, but also have an instinct to protect them.  Without them, we would be just a mess of flesh and electrical impulses, and life would be pointless, but allowing them to rule us, control us, or form the basis for the decisions we make – is madness.  When we give in to emotion, we tend to compromise our values, which should be far more important when we choose which laws we want to govern our lives and form the basis for the behaviour we expect from the society we live in.  

Minority groups do not have to fear a repeal of 18c.  The worst harms that can be done to anyone in a minority group in Australia are something every Australian is protected from.  I don’t want to be denied a job, a house, or places at schools for my children based on my race.  18c doesn’t protect me from this, but Anti-Discrimination laws do. 

If my face is plastered on the internet, along with untrue claims about my character or lifestyle, raised only because of my race or perceived religion (for the record, I don’t have one), then our Defamation laws are in place to afford me protection from this, not 18c.

If I am injured in an assault, that occurs because a gang of thugs decided to attack me only because of my race, then Criminal laws are available to have them charged and the appropriate punishment given.  

If a new family moves in next door, and started to repeatedly insult and offend me, by making racial insults about me in public, in front of my kids or friends, I could seek an AVO against them if attempting to befriend them first and ‘enlighten’ them from their racism a more productive way continued to fail and I felt threatened or bullied by their behaviour.  If it was bad enough, perhaps even Vilification laws would cover their behaviour.  Either way, in a situation like this, 18c is again not going to give me the protection or assistance I require.

18c can be used, however, to remove some of my freedoms.  I cannot guarantee that the words I write will not offend or insult someone.  I cannot control how other people construe or choose to interpret my words, and I write about topics that can cause heated discussion from time to time.   I shouldn’t be denied the right to express myself freely through reasoned opinions, just because they may stir an emotion in another, nor should anyone else.   It is a standard we will all eventually fail, and not through malice, or with the express intent of causing harm, but because we’re yet to agree on everything, and something is bound upset someone, somewhere, at some time.  We’re 26+ million diverse people after all.

Tuesday 5 August 2014

Anyone for Coffee?

Aboriginality, apparently, can be equated to a popular beverage.  

But the analogy currently doing the traps is disingenuous.  A lot of the rhetoric like this is, but if you dig a little deeper on most of what is spouted, you may find that rather that support the claims of the offended, they only illustrate the opposite.

So, let’s take one of my personal favourites on a spin.  The old ‘Cup of Coffee’ analogy.  It usually goes something like this:-

“You aren’t really Aboriginal, you look White?”

“I am too Aboriginal.  It’s like Coffee, you don’t stop calling it Coffee just because you put some Milk in it!”

Sounds dandy.  But it’s bullshit.  And here is why they use the analogy.  It is simple, short and invites you not to think.  A puzzling conundrum seemingly solved by a pearl of wisdom passed down over time should ring alarm bells to any thinking person, but in an age where we discourage enquiring and questioning minds, it seems such platitudes are happily accepted as intellectual fact without any scrutiny.

Does the Coffee analogy meet the standard?   No.  It lazily skips over current and past knowledge to achieve a result that was desired and forced from the outset.  It also fails the ‘word replacement’ test.   It is a test I made up myself, but anyone can use it. All you do is take the comment, place it in its full context and replace the words in question in the appropriate places to see if it makes as much sense once you’ve got all the facts.

I’ll do that now for the Coffee analogy:-
For tens of thousands of years, there was only Coffee on a large island.  A few hundred years ago, ships began arriving that contained Milk.  At first, the Milk did not want to mix with the Coffee, and in the early years after the arrival of Milk, at one point it was decided that the island should get rid of Coffee, and switch to Milk.  Milk became the preferred drink, and sanctions and punishments of all kinds were placed on Coffee for more than a hundred years.  Over time, however, attitudes toward Coffee began to slowly change.  Far from being inferior, perhaps Coffee was an equal beverage to Milk?  

Milk and Coffee mixing sanctions were removed, and in an effort to undo the harm that the previous sanctions had placed on Coffee – more than a hundred years labelled an inferior beverage has to stick – some preferential treatment was rolled out for Coffee.  Despite the removal of the sanctions against it, it was still struggling.  Sure, people in the cities were starting to have a little Coffee from time to time, but they seemed to overwhelmingly reject Coffee alone, opting instead to have a blend of the two, when allowed to choose for themselves.  Coffee became relegated mostly to the poor areas, and looked down upon despite no longer being legislated as a second class beverage.  

Some of the Milk decided to introduce pro-Coffee legislation, in an effort to help bring about equality between the lagging Coffee and the outperforming by comparison Milk.  Taxes that were dutifully collected from all were pooled and Billions allocated to address the problem.  The reforms were passed, and people were given money to drink more Coffee.  Coffee needed to be in Universities! Hospitals! Schools!  Having Coffee around had to be normalised, if equality could ever hope to be achieved.

At the same time, it was decided that a definition of what Coffee actually was would need to be decided upon.  It seemed an easy task, but there was an outcry from the city dwellers.  They were drinking Coffee, and although it was not without Milk, it contained Coffee, and this should count.   There was a history of Coffee and Milk mixing for some time, and the resultant combination was being just as hard done by as Coffee alone.   The pro-Coffee economic reforms needed to help mixed beverages as well, as they saw themselves as fundamentally no different from Coffee.   Arguments were put forth that some of the mixed beverages had a large amount of Coffee as opposed to Milk, and lived in poor areas where there was mostly just Coffee.  They also experienced discriminatory attitudes as some of the Milk saw them as ‘tainted’ by Coffee.  A vocal number of mixed beverages did not see themselves as a mixture of Coffee and Milk, but rather, Coffee alone.  Other mixed beverages did not see themselves as Coffee, but rather Milk, and did not want to be forced to identify as Coffee.  Complicating matters was the Billions of dollars in assistance for Coffee on the table, and the mixed beverages had support and numbers.  The mixed beverages, it was decided, would be considered Coffee, but only if they wanted to be.   

Big companies began to commit to drinking a certain percentage of Coffee every day, and so did the Government, Hospitals and Universities.  But things still just weren’t going well for a large percentage of the Coffee, despite all the investment and legislation and money spent.  Coffee when mixed with Milk had found a real niche, and found a far greater acceptance among the Milk.  So accepted in fact, that the numbers of Coffee that were mixed with Milk outnumbered the Coffee almost 5 to 1, and were almost commonplace by the turn of the last century.  Much of the Coffee noticed this, but the mixed beverages had more power and sway than them, and had lobbied to be included and thought of as Coffee the same as them years ago.  Most were fond of mixed beverages, so speaking in a way construed negative to them was something they avoided.  So the Coffee sat and suffered in silence instead, for a few more years.  

Around the same time, a new concept emerged called “Coffee Snobbery”.  Used to describe the oppression and poor treatment historically and ongoing towards Coffee, very little of the Milk doubted that Coffee Snobbery did exist. A documented history of Coffee being seen as inferior on the island supported that fact, together with horrific examples of injustices done to Coffee over the years, coupled with the ongoing poor conditions for the Coffee in remote areas where they were largely grouped and dumped away from the mixed beverage and Milk areas back in the unenlightened days all supported this notion.  Coffee Snobbery was both officially and unofficially declared a crime.  

A trend began to emerge among the mixed beverage population.  More and more they claimed to be the victims of Coffee Snobs, and what constituted Coffee Snobbery became harder and harder to define.  This all went largely unnoticed, until some Milk questioned why Coffee statistics were so poor, and so little money ended up going to help the Coffee it was supposed to.  After doing a little research, the renegade Milk noticed that Coffee assistance was continually going to mixed beverages in an extremely uneven flow.  The Milk began to question whether the pro-Coffee reforms were benefitting Coffee at all, and made mention of several instances of pro-Coffee assistance going to mixed beverages that were indistinguishable from Milk.

This enraged some of the mixed beverages, whose actions had been largely, up until that point, unnoticed.  They felt that the Milk in question had committed a crime against them, and the Milk was in fact nothing more than a Coffee Snob who was trying to skirt the laws.  They were allowed to be classed as Coffee, and although they begrudgingly accepted they contained Milk, they identified themselves as Coffee and should be allowed to benefit from pro-Coffee reforms.  When the Milk continued to question the laws surrounding Coffee definitions, things began to get ugly.  Anyone who made any mention of the content of Milk in a mixed beverage was threatened with punishment under the law, and it didn’t take long for a case to be brought before the courts.

It ended up being one of the most divisive cases for the island in some time.  The accused maintained that he was not a Coffee Snob, but was agitating for change to a system that was leaving large portions of Coffee without any assistance.  A proponent of the “We’re all Beverages, why can’t we get along” camp, he didn’t deny the problems facing Coffee, but he just didn’t think they were being helped by the policy of defining mixed beverages and Coffee as the same.  It was helping mixed beverages, but was overwhelmingly unhelpful towards Coffee, who didn’t have the same access to the benefits of positive reforms as many mixed beverages did.   The Coffee reforms were doing little to help Coffee, it had become an undisputed fact often lamented about in the media, but a fact few ever wanted to find a solution for.  It was too touchy a subject to go near in any depth, because to do so meant you had to discuss the mixed beverage issue, and that was clearly off-limits.  At least for now. 

I wonder if I will ever hear the word ‘Latte’ again and not have a little chuckle inside after this effort. 

People are free to use whatever analogy they wish to simplify their circumstances and belittle the point of another.  I believe, at least for the time being, I am free to continue to call bullshit when they do so.

Adam Goodes - ensuring racism as a sport

We can all learn a lesson or two from Adam Goodes.  
What began as an insult thrown by a child during a football match has turned into an epic saga, drawing in and devouring plenty in its wake.  It didn’t need to be like this, but apparently over-reacting has spread like the common cold.

Goodes was the first to fall ill.  During a football match, he heard insults directed at him, one of which was ‘ape’.  Able to identify the culprit, he pointed her out and security removed the girl from her seat and gave her a lecture for a few hours.   The media seized, the family were shamed, branded and humiliated, and ignorant people everywhere patted themselves on the back that their vitriolic revenge was justified in the name of stamping out racism in this country. 

When it turned out that the young girl was a Collingwood supporter, Eddie was next to fall ill.  He was immediately outraged and disgusted, telling all who would listen that he and his club would not tolerate racism.  Sadly for Eddie, his ability to moderate a situation that was not yet at ‘code red’ down to a mere ‘whoops’ was either ravaged by the virus or unable to operate in tandem with any mention of race, and he was jumping on the bandwagon in full.  The girl was made a pariah, and Eddie was hailed a friend to black guys everywhere…until of course, he made the same fundamental human error that the 13 year old girl had made herself.  Suddenly, he was the pariah, and after coming out against ‘racism’ so strongly, he was left with nowhere to go and worse, he couldn’t claim to be underage OR unaware as an excuse for his ‘crime’. 

And just what was the crime?  To suggest that Adam Goodes might do well to get on board and promote a musical called ‘King Kong’.   In typical Eddie fashion, he saw a way to make a buck out of a drama.  Who else has done more to make apes famous than Adam Goodes in this country I ask you?  It’s what I would have suggested if Adam Goodes had asked me how to climb out of the hole he was fast digging for himself at that point.  Find the humour in the situation and show people that despite the controversy, you are not so invested in yourself that you can’t play any other role than the victim.  Save your outrage and hurt feelings for the times when you’ve really, truly been vilified, rather than when you’re called a name by a kid as a grown man.

Who knows, if you show other people you are capable of finding the humour in things, you might not end up feeling so hurt and victimised yourself.  That is a lonely life that only isolates you from others as your constant inability to forgive minor social transgressions will slowly but surely turn all but the most loyal from wanting to be a part of your life.  They’ll all screw up at some point, everyone does, and the ones you haven’t driven away by a one-man jury verdict of ‘racist’ will eventually flee when they tire of your constant need to pick apart their comments like a paranoid crack addict through garbage.

Was all the hysteria worth it?  

It was a 13 year old girl.  A child.  Someone who is entitled to privacy, and to the childhood right of making mistakes and behaving poorly at times without the entire country knowing their name, transgression, and labelling them as anything based on a few moments of their behaviour.   No name she called anybody justifies the treatment she received.  Those involved in the public shaming of this girl did not take a stand against racism, they frightened a child repeatedly, and made judgements about her family in public.  

For what it’s worth, I’ve been called an ape, a monkey (as well as the more outdoorsy themed ‘porch monkey’) and plenty of other insults that I could easily say were used as a ‘racial slur’ against me.  That does not stop me, however, from referring to myself these days - as I go through the aging process and attract more grey hairs - as ‘Silverback’.    I like monkeys, I’m a hairy bloke, and I should be free to use whatever nicknames I like for myself.  I tell my friends to do the same.  It doesn’t mean I’m ignorant of the  ‘historical context’ of hurt feelings of Aboriginal people over the years (the typical argument brought forth when you suggest ‘ape’ should not be a censored word), but that I’d rather use logic and reason instead of emotion when it comes to stuff like this.  Logic tells me that when I’ve been called a name, it’s almost always because someone wanted to take a cheap shot and was angry or frustrated or wanting to appear superior, or some other powerful emotion that tends to blur our logical thought processes.  Being that I’m easily identifiable as Aboriginal, the cheap shot will usually take the form of a racial slur.  For others, it might be based on their weight, hair colour, appearance, religion, skin colour – it seems as humans we find a million ways to see differences in one another and separate ourselves according to those, and it would seem there is nobody who is immune from this.    

As for Adam, well, in the end, I think he got what he really wanted.  Before the game, he spoke of Nicky Winmar and his now historic stand against racism.  As a man whose days are numbered at the top of his game, he really wants to be remembered like Nicky was.   He wants a legacy.  And as he inches closer to retirement from football, a job afterwards would be nice – perhaps the victim theatrics were just his way of auditioning for a job in the Industry.  Viewing his performance from that angle, I give him an A++.  They’re gonna  love  him.  As for me, I can’t look up to you Adam.  I’m ashamed of the way a child was used as a pawn to achieve your goal, and you should be too.