A couple of weeks back, I wrote a post that went if not viral, then just a little bit sick. It was one of those popular outbursts we see people have on social media wherein I told folks (in this case, those who believe that Islam is intrinsically evil) to go and fuck themselves. I did this in part because I find sentiment of the type lacking in logic, but mostly because a Muslim pal was copping shit.
Since muggins here did her thing on Facebook, several people have sought permission to republish the post and many more have published it in any case. Someone even asked me if they could set it to music. I said no. Because I regret writing it, and I wanted to explain why.
(Have a cuppa, this is not going to be short. You know me. I fucking go on.)
Let me say that the post was a fair summation of how I *feel* about intolerance of the type. As an address in a public forum, however, it does not represent how I think about intolerance of the type.
Telling people to go and fuck themselves is wrong; and not just because it’s impolite. It is wrong because it locates intolerance of the type in the individual, and not in the society that produced that intolerance. I write unstintingly with the difference between a society and an individual in mind, except on the day I wrote that post. Understanding this distinction and this relationship is central to my worldview. In hundreds of articles a year that few people read, I talk about society and plead with people to think that individualism is an ideology, and not a natural thing that just *is*’. And when I posted that “go fuck yourself” thing, I addressed individuals and made them responsible for a social disorder. Because I was in a mood and not thinking clearly. And it’s probably going to stand as the most “shared” item I’ve ever written. Shit.
I believe those of us who are concerned about the rise of intolerance of the type must return, again and again, to this idea of society, and not individuals, producing such sentiment. And, no, I am not letting deeply intolerant or fact-averse people off the hook here. I am not saying we need to love them or talk in a reasonable way if they are doing something awful. But I am saying, for the sake of the future and the fuck, that we MUST think about what we are doing when we criticise them, instead of criticising the society that produced that sentiment.
It is at about this point in my argument that someone always says “This is bullshit. Society is made of individuals, Razer is a suckhole and I am cancelling my subscription.” But, there is a real difference, and I think you can see it if you try. Societies are machines. They are not individual people. They are big and they have their own logic which often overwhelms individual intervention. You may be able to think about this in terms, say, of the nations from which a lot of asylum seekers are currently fleeing. You may permit yourself to understand how some people in Iraq might be coerced by economic and social factors and opportunistic leaders into thinking a certain way about the west . But,what you may not see so clearly is that some people in the west can be coerced by economic and social factors and opportunistic leaders into thinking in a certain way about Iraqis. You say that it’s all their fault. As though that fault were produced just by the individual, and not by the society the fault serves.
Intolerance serves a (terrible) purpose. Just as intolerance of the west serves ISIS, intolerance of Islam serves Australia’s investment class. All these people blaming Islam for the shit that they find themselves in, never blaming the rent-seekers who actually put them in the shit. This works really nicely for society’s richest people and entities. Yay, the underclass is fighting itself.
If I were to meet, say, a young Iraqi man whose desperate parents had given him to a radical mullah as a boy because, you know, the US and its allies have bombed all the schools in Iraq, and I spoke to him reasonably about his loathing for my nation, I wouldn’t achieve much, right? If I said, “Habibi. We’re not ALL like that,” he wouldn’t give a shit. It is unreasonable to expect him to give a shit. It is unreasonable to expect him to lift himself in an instant from years of ideology (I would say at this point that Islam is not an ideology, it’s a faith, but that’ll just provoke more intolerance in the comments) formed in poverty and war. If I gave him an awareness ribbon, if I told him to “just love” or if I told him to go and fuck himself, none of this would work.
Okay. Well, it doesn’t work on people who can’t afford air-conditioning in mining electorates, either.
There are SO many things that produce intolerance. A lack of needs-based education funding for starters. A stagnant wage. Experience of domestic violence, which occurs more often in impoverished homes. (Cue, feminist comment saying “all women suffer equally under patriarchy”. No, they don’t.) The knowledge that you’ll never have anywhere permanent to live. Insecurity (real insecurity, I’m not talking about vague-fear-of-terrorism Sonia Kruger insecurity here) makes people insecure. And, you know, it is really fucking difficult to think and to love, especially when you’ve got little education and no aircon and dad’s whacked you and called you a poofter again.
Some of the world’s best minds grapple with the stuff of society and how its arrangement produces particular attitudes, and they’re still confused. So, you tell me how some poor white kid in western Sydney is going to think about this complexity. When someone comes along, like P Hanson, and not only gives voice to your sense of persecution but gives you what feels like a big, social solution to your very shitty life, you might think, “Yeah. It’s the brown people and those gays with scholarships getting all the stuff that belongs to me”.
The young man from Iraq. The young man from Mount Druitt. They’ve got more in common than you think.
Like a lot of terrible things, intolerance is pretty complex. It does not arise for a single reason. It does not have a simple history. As such, it does not have a simple solution. I know that people mean well when they write or say or broadcast something simple and emotional. When they declare “My answer is to love everyone” or, as was my answer, “everyone go and fuck yourself”, they mean well. But the road to hell is paved with passionate posts on Facebook. (And I should have kept my Strong Feelings to myself. I guess what I’m saying is, ergh, “Sorry”.)
I do not claim to have diagrammed all the causes for intolerance. I don’t have a nice infographic I can post. But I will say that if we do not consider harsh economic conditions as a significant factor in the rise of intolerance in Australia and in other western nations, then we are fools.
I am from a white working class family. However, I am not an intolerant person (well, not of social categories of people, just of fucking everything) due largely to the social wealth I experienced. I grew up in a time when my parents, neither of whom finished secondary education, could afford to buy a home. Four doors down was a pretty decent state school. I am legally blind and like many disabled kids back then, I was afforded extra funding to make my education useful. Close to us was a nice library, built from the belief that citizens who pay taxes deserve knowledge, inter alia, in return. It genuinely never occurred to me for the first nine years of my life to think of brown people as inferior, dangerous or somehow more or less persecuted than I was. Then, I heard some white kid call a brown kid a bad name and when I asked my dad what it meant, he said, “It means that the kid that said the bad name comes from a poor family”.
And, much of the time, that’s still what it means. And we fucking alleged “progressives” very rarely take this into account. We correct their spelling, we call them idiots and we say “why don’t you check your facts”. I don’t know. Maybe after ten hours on the floor at Target, all you have time or inclination to do is smoke a bowl.
And, no. To be gracelessly clear, I am not saying that you should feel sorry for such persons. I am not saying they get a free pass because life is tough. No more than, say, Islamists should.
I mean, do I need to actually say to my tens of readers that some persons in aspiring Islamist states became extreme in their views because they didn’t have a choice? And I know bombs aren’t raining down in Lindsay, but things are pretty shit there, all the same. And they are shit in a way that I, having been educated reasonably well and produced by good social policy settings that have now been switched in favour of investors, cannot imagine.
But, we must try to imagine why people are becoming so intolerant and blaming their lot on a particular ethnic or religious group. And you must think how fatuous you seem are and how extreme your privilege appears when you urge them to use “respectful” language. They see, and not without reason, such verbal shifts as the hobby of a class with greater leisure. They think that if you have enough time on your hands to chastise them for wearing Native American headdress to a costume party or to ask them not to use “gay” as a slur, that you’re on a better wicket that they are.
And you know what? Much of the time, they’re right. Individualist progressivism is a middle-class pursuit. It’s also an ideology.
We “progressives” no longer think about solidarity with people whose lives and labour conditions have been screwed. There are certain of these people we might lend our support to, sometimes. But we largely consider the chief measures of progressivism to be things like respectful language and same-sex marriage and being “culturally sensitive”. We have little interest in fighting for wealth equality and even less than in admitting that this lack of equality is, in part, what produces intolerance.
We are culturally sensitive but we are no longer socially and economically sensitive. The ALP took the decision more than twenty years ago to turn its back on its working class base. They appeal to people like you and me who have evolved or inherited a middle-class sensibility and just love it when Shorten says something to Corey Bernardi like, “At least I’m not a homophobe”.
Now, I am a queer person and I have very good reason to loathe homophobia. But I am also a citizen of a nation so busy talking about cultural sensitivity, it has no obvious interest in economic and social reform. Why is Shorten wasting his time trading personal insults with an idiot, when he could be talking trade? Which has FUCKED us. And has fucked so many people so badly, they become intolerant.
And, no. I am not saying there was a golden time in Australia. I know, I know. The White Australia Policy. But, if we can preserve what is good about our cultural sensitivity and let it, please, take a back seat for a while to social sensitivity, we could drive into the future without crashing.
Progressives will not admit these culturally insensitive people to their movement. Progressives have come to believe in the idea of the good individual. All this “It all starts with you” shit. Fucking, balls. I think the idea of the good individual is an ideology as extreme as Islamism or as intolerance of the type I’ve been describing. And I know it’s extreme, because so many people who believe it can’t recognise it as a belief. (N.B. I recognise my beliefs as beliefs. I might come across as smug. That is largely because I am an arsehole. But still, an arsehole who acknowledges her beliefs.)
You think an intolerant person or an Islamist thinks they’re extreme? No, they don’t. They think they’re utterly logical. So do the “It All Starts With Me” and “If I Can Touch Just One Person” mob who make up the progressive rainbow army of the present. It might feel all nice and fluffy and right-minded, all this compassion talk. But, I’m telling you, this individual shit is extreme.
We can use the respectful language. We can do the eco-tourism. We can buy fair trade chocolates and teach our children that some people have two mummies and tell newcomers that we’re very interested in their culture. But we must not expect that everyone can do this before we see them as our comrades.
We cannot demand of a white underclass in Australia “be tolerant” unless we offer them solidarity and solutions in return. Which we do not. Because we’re so far up our own fundaments with awareness ribbons and respectful this and compassionate that, we do not consider their problem of poverty a problem. Notwithstanding that poverty is, in large part, responsible for their intolerance. We progressives really do think of them as the undeserving poor.
(Not all of intolerance is down to poverty. As I said, intolerance is complex. Especially in the case of that directed toward this nation’s indigenous peoples. That’s some deep psychological shit, as well as economic. I’ve already gone on too long. But. Just. FFS. Follow the money, people.)
If I were wired just a little differently, I am pretty sure I’d be on the wrong side of the culture war, right now. I would look at my pay packet and see the loss of my leave, superannuation and right to a steady job and say, “It’s the foreigners”. And, it is the foreigners, although not the ones an intolerant person might think. It’s a very small group of them who have accumulated a great deal of wealth and, with it, immense power.
That’s how I, and others, see the world. And we see it this way largely because we had access to a comprehensive education. And this education stops us from going completely bonkers when we watch someone experiencing or administering intolerance, because we feel we have some idea of the social conditions that produced such acts. We believe that we can change the settings if only we have a true solidarity.
These days in Australia, most progressives see only the intolerant individual, not the society that produces intolerance. And for just as long as we remain fixated on individual morality and not the kind of social policy that will buy a blind kid a typing tutor or a mother a home, we will not be a progressive movement.
You don’t just break someone out of ideology with kindness OR the instruction that they should go and fuck themselves. However, on this occasion, I am telling those who believe in individualism as an account of society to go and fuck themselves, just a bit.
And, yeah, I am sorry that I wrote that thing.