October 22, 2007 You just think that because you’re a ‘radical’
An interesting thing happened in my office the other day, which, given I work in a suburban law firm, is noteworthy in and of itself. But it isn’t, in fact the end of the story.
So the wonderful ‘Dred Girl’, who wrote the second half of my ‘about’ section because my headache was so bad I could think of nothing worth saying about myself, and another good friend turned up to my office to pick me up to go to dinner on Friday night, as is our custom. Now these two friends are both passionately left-wing and social-justice oriented women. My boss is a self confessed conservative, and I have to say here, an absolutely lovely man despite our political differences. They have met previously and had good natured political debates and in the past, while I haven’t agreed with his arguments, they’ve stayed pretty ‘grounded’ rather than getting heated or personal. So when they turned up to pick me up I expected a bit of stirring, a bit of banter, then a quick (and long overdue) exit from the office.
While I was finishing up my work, they all began chatting about the upcoming Australian Federal Elections. I got a bit lost on the computer, and the next time I looked up, all three were engaged in a very…how shall I put it? -“energetic”- political debate. All I could think was “I’m really fucking hungry, could we do this another time?”…but evidently we could not. Tempers were beginning to rise in frustration.
What started out as a debate ended up with my wonderful, lovely human being of a boss dismissing the very informed opinions of Dred Girl with phrases like “Oh bullshit”, “That’s just not true”. I couldn’t quite fathom what I was seeing. I do believe that a part of him was looking at her dreds, marking her as a radical, and dismissing the idea that she could possibly have any evidence to back up her claims. However, she does. She’s been studying the Howard government’s responses to immigration and Indigenous rights for several years now, and was trying to communicate with him that she could name legislation and cases. But he wasn’t hearing her at all.
Further to this he kept claiming that her opinion was ‘radical’, and ‘extreme’. This feeds into my earlier post on just how left or right wing one has to be to be labeled as extreme. Whereas my friend had legislation, cases, dates, facts, empirical data to back up her claims, her use of language immediately put my boss’s back up and had him damning her as just as extreme as a white guy claiming all Aboriginal Australians are “no-hopers”.
How did someone being passionate about a well informed, factually reinforceable political view get conflated with a redneck’s knee jerk racism? Every ‘fact’ this imaginary figure could conjure to ‘prove’ his point could be quickly and easily countered with a mountain of empirical evidence which points to the systemic institutionalization of racism in this country. The best anyone could come up with to counter my friends factual, solid points is about as mature a response as “Oh yeah? I’m rubber; you’re glue, bounces of me and sticks to you”. Or, as actually happened in this office, out of the mouth of a professional adult who is normally exceedingly polite “OH bullshit”. Nothing at all to back that up, just the bald proclamation “bullshit”.
One of the things that comes out of this for me is that apparently only right wing people are allowed to use emotive language in this country. It’s fine to label anyone left wing as a ‘hippie’, ‘academic’, ‘bleeding heart’, ‘black armband historian’, ‘ignorant’ or ‘deluded’. But left wing people need to beg for the approval of others, must always keep their voice even, their language neutral, their body language calm. Anger and scorn is ok if you are on the ‘right’ side. Pun intended. If we as left wing people are to get our points across, apparently we have to babysit others through the logical steps in our argument, and mustn’t ever be human enough to get passionate about our beliefs. On the one hand, I often find myself doing this in an order to get my point across, but on the other, is it really our job?
Another is that DG was accused of having read “too much” left wing literature. At this point I couldn’t bear anymore and had to interject to point out that the mainstream media is right wing sympathetic. It is not always “extreme” right wing, (although often it is and it still has ‘mass appeal’ and gets deemed ‘common sense’ – think of John Laws and Alan Jones) but for instance, how many times have you read of the ‘fact’ that we’re being “tyrannized” by political correctness, that political correctness has “gone wrong”/ “gone mad”, that post-modernism is cultural relativism, that we live in a post-feminist world? So why is it that when someone reads anything “left wing”, ie critically engaged and questioning of conventional nationalistic narratives, they’re told they’ve read “too much” left wing literature, yet it’s perfectly acceptable for those of a right wing view, to never read any left wing literature, and still expect to be considered as having an informed and balanced opinion? Given the predominance and saturation of right wing information, all someone is doing when they read “left wing” literature, is redressing a serious imbalance and deficiency in information, yet this is cast as enough to ‘skew’ their reasoning and for them not to be taken seriously.
Anyway, the argument ended, and today my boss apologised and said he got ’carried away’ – we had a chat over coffee and though I had to keep my voice even and soothing, like talking to a skittish horse, he was actually receptive to my points and seemed to have considered some of our points over the weekend. It’s no people’s revolution, but you know, it’s nice that he’s taking some stuff on board. Anyway…I’ve ranted to the end of my lunch break. No concluding paragraph, just the end and a promise to crap on about this, or something vaguely related to it some time soon.