Roxon’s rocks in the head on discrimination

Historical union document demanding equal pay for Anorigines.
Historical union document demanding equal pay for Anorigines.

Following my previous, tongue-in-cheek comment on this subject, I received some feedback that I was not taking this ‘gravely important’ issue seriously enough. And I plainly wasn’t, but this analysis aims to ameliorate that ‘oversight’.

The draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 presented by Attorney General Nicola Roxon represents at once bad law, politicisation of jurisprudence, and the deliberate ideological fabrication of a stereotype class of ‘victims’, encouraged to act on emotional hypochondria to assert that discrimination has occurred under vexatiously ambiguous new grounds that include language or actions subjectively judged to be insulting or offensive in relation to social origins or political views.

Under such broad terms, the Bill could easily become an instrument for grotesquely malicious and massively expensive actions, including some explicitly designed to curtail freedom of speech and political expression. More likely though, it is capable of encouraging mercenary exploitation with a view to compensatory damages payouts.

This is particularly the case since the Bill subverts the fundamental legal principle that guilt must be proven, instead requiring an accused party to prove innocence in a setting in which language and meaning are up for arbitrary interpretation based on alleged emotional responses by an aggrieved party.

Using that time-honoured legal hypocrisy of the ‘right thinking person’, usually construed as a bourgeois type with extremely narrow-minded prejudices,[1] such a person is probably actually likely to regard this Bill as fabricating an entitled new class of victim along the very same lines as evoked so deliberately by the Attorney General when she referred, in her defence of the Bill, to an African woman’s double discrimination grievance on the basis of race and sex.[2] If she had alleged discrimination for being a lesbian from a low socio economic background it would have been a discrimination bingo score. Is that what the ambit of this Bill actually aspires to be? A game of chance?

Stated aims vs likely outcomes

In other words, there is some ground to assume that this is an ideologically driven exercise that has less to do with justice or anti-discrimination, and more with hitting all the right notes needed to court votes in key urban electorates[3] under threat from the more fashionably gauche Greens with their more trendy shopping list of underdog causes, many of which the ALP is seen as having abandoned after being regarded as their natural champion.

On a more sinister note, though, if this is the real motivation, the rather dim-witted manner in which this electioneering is being conducted represents a long-term tendency by the Labor left to confuse the appearance of ‘doing good’ with an old fashioned Stalinist subversion of predictable law in favour of arbitrary, entirely subjective judgements that actually undermine liberty and democratic principles.[4]

If the electioneering hypothesis were discounted, and we were to accept instead a sincere desire for ‘positive’ reform, the question arises how a notionally educated person could so deliberately gloss over the significant changes to the scope and application of the legislation. One immediately obvious answer might be that Roxon and the bureaucrats who drafted the Bill are an example of the far too many privileged state employees who are completely insulated against everyday realities for most other Australians, including robust debate with cutting language that can not only be construed as offensive and insulting, but as deliberately intended as such, and in the long-standing tradition of free speech, robust debate, argument, and the liberty of not having to respect or kowtow to anyone else’s beliefs. To retard this kind of robust freedom of expression is tantamount to legitimising emotional hypochondria as a desired state rather than a marginally mentally defective one. Worse, it almost legitimises the kind of petulant terrorism of fundamentalists responding with violence to any critique or satire aimed at their beliefs.

What kind of free speech is possible without the freedom to offend the views of political opponents, religious sectarians, politically correct morons, or even friends in a discussion about the weekend’s football games? It would appear that the stipulation that ‘feeling’ offended as the sole basis for a valid complaint aims at entrenching a culture of victimhood, encouraging people to believe they have been hard done by any time their views are not catered to. That is plainly a ridiculous proposition creative of perceptions that Australia’s population is unduly heavily laden with emotionally stunted or intellectually retarded people whose lives will be ruined if they ever experience any kind of conflict or insult at all.

It begs the question why it is that Roxon and her Labor colleagues believe that Australians (particularly those who are not white men) are inevitably victims (of those white men), and must rely entirely on the state for ‘a fair go’. This in the same breath, though, as denying basic human rights to same sex couples who wish to be married, and on the long-established understanding that the Commonwealth Government (and all its departments) is actually exempt from its own laws. Worse, it seems that the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has also issued a personal assurance that religious organisations will be completely exempt from all facets of the proposed new laws.[5] On what basis? More pandering to swinging voters? A counterbalance to the Royal Commission that will expose just what a bunch of perverts, child molesting rapists, ands apologists for these sickening crimes many of them are?

It appears, through all these contortions, that discrimination is characterised by Canberra as occurring solely in the private sector or among the great unwashed, and people, including the dreaded category of white men, working for the government or religious groups are not the racist, sexist predators that their private sector counterparts are. Or that discrimination in government and churches is to be encouraged/ignored? Alternatively, the new laws might be seen as designed solely to offer an avenue for extracting revenue streams from the private sector by means of the discrimination card. If both these conclusions are wrong, why is such a huge swathe of institutional Australia exempt from such a wide-ranging instrument? Finding any sincerity in the propaganda about ending discrimination is thus rendered pretty difficult. Instead it is far easier to conclude that this must surely be a new triumph for a dim-witted, paternalistic political correctness, attached to a gravy train entitlement mentality for a sacred cow class of victims.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard supports discrimination by religious organisations and opposes marriage for same sex couples. Impeccable anti-discrimination credentials.

One has to wonder, though, how it is that Roxon can completely ignore in such grandstanding some other kinds of discrimination in Australia that are sharply divisive and not at all tractable by way of her Bill, nor even by the application of criminal law, which appears to be waived because the racism in evidence is not perpetrated by white people.

Is discrimination always white?

For example, Queensland has been transfixed for five days by the spectacle of pitched street battles in the southern Brisbane suburb of Woodridge between Aborigines and Pacific Islanders, which is reportedly motivated by racism, with the only white men to be seen being the cops standing in between the warring factions, the latter armed with wooden fence pickets no doubt unwittingly donated by terrified neighbours.[6]

Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheehan recently mentioned another kind of open, unpunished, and untouchable discrimination that continues to flourish because timid bureaucrats and politicians beholden to ideologically fixed ‘truths’ do not recognise it as the flashpoint problem it really is. This kind of racism is the one practiced routinely by fundamentalist Muslims in Australian suburbs, where they terrorise young women for being ‘sluts’ if they don’t conform to Islamic misogynistic prejudices, sometimes leading to horrific ritualised gang rape and/or murder (honour killings), and the gathering of mobs of thugs via mobile phone to deliberately start and/or fuel ‘race riots’, of which they then declare themselves the victims.

They know they can get away with this because our journalists are too dumb or lazy (or both) to investigate real causes and effects once they have a preconceived headline in mind, and our courts are staffed with people who feel guilty enough about Australia’s paternal, racist past to assume they must forever prostrate themselves automatically, without regard to facts or judgement, whenever an accusation of racism is made against Caucasian Australians.

It should be acknowledged that Sheehan has been roundly condemned by association with radio shock jock Alan Jones, but his commentary is worth reading, if only to locate evidence for that charge, and to offer at least a chance to make an independent assessment of what he said, as opposed to rejecting that opinion merely on the basis of the stereotype he has been associated with.[7] A point that actually goes to the heart of discriminatory acts altogether: they must each be examined entirely independently from preconceived notions. That cannot occur if an accused person or organisation is assumed guilty until proven innocent, or judged according to an eternally fixed stereotype and unyielding prejudices rather than on empirical evidence; like the guilt inferred by associating the name Alan Jones with Sheehan, or perhaps the pre-determined guilt of any Caucasian (who does not work for the state or religious groups) accused of discrimination by any non-Caucasian (who can work for anyone without affecting the legal status of an anti-discrimination action).

Assurances that only cases found to have ‘prima facie’ merit will be allowed to proceed in State and Federal courts or the Federal Commission, are tendentious because the factors which will determine what prima facie means in each case, which always boil down to the opinions of officials and jurists, are completely beyond the control of the proposed new laws. Moreover, the draft Bill does nothing to address the reality that once listed, anti-discrimination cases will be reported, and the assumption when reading a headline that might say ‘XYZ Corporation CEO summoned on sexism/racism charges’ will be one of guilt that cannot be washed clean by a subsequent verdict that there was never a case to answer, or that the original complaint turned out to be vexatious or opportunistic.

It is almost forgivable to encounter such cretinous self-righteousness in social situations like bars or drunken barbeques. Lately even more often in social media forums, like Facebook and Google Plus, where the physical remove and often anonymous ‘presence’ of people permits a no-risk environment in which people can feel quite safe and immune from the consequences of forming into gangs of politically correct/incorrect evangelists, dispensing their own sanctimonious judgements on what should be permissible to say, and what should be censured or even ‘reported’ or ‘banned’. At their worst such people idiotically confuse their own preconceived notions and prejudices with truth and righteousness, in a kind of insistence that if they, and their friends, agree that something is wrong, it must be thus. However, these are mostly harmlessly self-important people entirely powerless to do more than simply mirror what they complain of: discrimination against the people they accuse of discrimination, probably to make themselves feel important, validated, or empowered in ways they plainly are not, or, on an even more basic level, because they thrive on hysterical overreaction and drama, which they fabricate when re-runs of Oprah or Jerry Springer are just not hitting the right spot anymore.

That excuse cannot be extended to the Commonwealth Government of Australia. The nation’s citizens have every right to expect their leaders not to behave like, or cater to, petulant children, fragile intellectual hypochondriacs, or rent-seeking mercenaries.

No matter how well intentioned the Roxon regime might have been in its conception, it shouldn’t take a genius to understand that the mind-set it represents will serve solely to undermine the intent of opposing discrimination and entrenched social attitudes, by breeding a kind of inevitable contempt for laws that actually perpetuate discrimination, casting in concrete a victim status for certain kinds of people, demonising by statute certain kinds of other people, and turning upside down the old axiom that justice must not only be done, it must also be seen to be done.

When that axiom is no longer observable in outcomes, it becomes obvious to everyone but a socially isolated stratum that the resultant cognitive dissonance has and will continue to give rise to crypto-fascist fringe groups like One Nation and National Action, whose fringe status nevertheless highlights an alarmingly high number of Australians looking to vent frustrations linked to their perceptions that there is a growing, enforced inequality in our society. That such people are wrong-headed to begin with is irrelevant to the harm the resultant social division can cause.

Ultimately, too, bien pensant enforced ‘do-gooding’ may well erode some of the existing, sincere, and thoughtful support by the great majority of Australians for the tranche of still far too common and deserving anti-discrimination prosecutions, proceedings, and efforts with undoubted merit to change social attitudes.

There is also reason to be disconcerted by Labor’s apparent ignorance or disinterest in the potential for its legislation to widen a class division that ALP propaganda actually says it exists to reduce or eliminate.

Labor’s embarrassing class prejudice

While, on the one hand, making social origin and political opinion new targets for potential complaints, language that offends or insults is also to be legitimate grounds for complaint. Earthy, crude, epithets and idiomatic use of language are much more common among people of lower socio-economic backgrounds than those mixing in more affluent milieus, and the pronounced bourgeois prejudices of bureaucrats and politicians are demonstrably censorious of these signals of class; just imagine telling a politician or public servant ‘you’re a fucken useless dickhead’,[8] which is a pretty common exclamation even among family members in suburbs and country towns right around Australia. The result in a public service or office would be an instant presumption that you are completely in the wrong, even if the language is quite common in your own surrounds, and your reason for holding such an opinion were quite sound. The defence of this prejudice is that such language should be ‘unacceptable’ in workplaces, which demonstrates immediately an already inflexibly entrenched prejudice against people for whom such language is common and unremarkable. It is easy to see how the socially isolated political and bureaucratic class might come to its conclusions about what is, and is not, ‘appropriate’ (another great bureaucratic nonsense word), but it is unarguable that such conclusions are predicated on class-based prejudices, not an objectively representative social standard.[9]

This becomes even more intricately vexatious when you consider that under the new laws it would be entirely legitimate to complain of language merely overheard, not directly used against the plaintiff. In that sense, for example, a ribald conversation between two young men about their sexual encounters might lead to a legitimate complaint of sexual harassment by a third party who overheard that conversation, but was neither the subject of it, nor an intended audience. Such a circumstance might appeal to the prim and proper would-be arbiters of public taste and decorum, but represents little more than the criminalisation of free speech and opinion, no matter who judges it to be offensive or why.

Explaining the ‘do gooder’ dynamic in terms of the attitudes and prejudices inherent in social class and peer groups, particularly those prevailing among our leaders and bureaucrats, but not excluding significant sections of the public, illuminates a kind of irrational demand that internalised prejudices are recognised publicly as not prejudices at all, but as commendable standards suitable to be imposed on others, while the actually rational demand for a neutral and fresh examination of the precise and specific circumstances of each and every single complaint received at law becomes regarded as a kind of heresy, or even as illegitimate political ‘incorrectness’.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this problem of enforced class subjectivity is why the notions of blind justice, and innocence until guilt has been established beyond a reasonable doubt, actually originated in the first place. To do away with these solely on the basis that Roxon, or her government, or even significant numbers of Australian voters, simply assert that they know better is a dangerous territory for the Australian polity to enter. That danger is absolutely not mitigated by the present government’s long record of flirting with crude, highly subjective forms of censorship in other areas.[10]

discrimination-002

Explaining do-gooder irrationality

If it might be argued that the perspective presented here is alarmist, it should be noted that what is presented reflects, at least in part, an unambiguously negative trend towards irrationality that writer Damian Thompson labelled as ‘counterknowledge’ – the phenomenon whereby intellectually lazy, or plainly simple-minded people actually demand, and support demands, that opinion alone is as valid as rationally argued propositions, or scientifically rigorous hypotheses, no matter how preposterous the opinion might be.[11]

It is also noted in scientific literature that many people form social and political attitudes and prejudices only once, and then never re-examine them, instead identifying only arbitrary indicators of supposed rightness and wrongness in all future decision-making situations,[12] and that political or social views may be based on genetics rather than reason.[13]

Such information may help us to understand how people come to plainly ridiculous conclusions not based on empirical evidence or statistically significant observations, but they do not excuse an unthinking collaboration with prejudice dressed up as anti-prejudice.[14] The very idea of that juxtaposition of motives with outcomes conjures up the perversions of justice that were so evident in German, Russian, and Italian courtrooms during their totalitarian periods. Show trials to give effect to propaganda messages attached to pre-determined guilt.

The responsibility for such subversions today, here in Australia, of what might be legitimately seen as the foundations of liberal democracy, lies squarely at the Attorney General’s feet, and at the feet of all who support her.

This fundamentally flawed Bill does not deserve to be passed through Parliament without substantial amendments. The price to be paid for the legally sanctioned cretinisation of public discussion and debate it undoubtedly represents is the risk of legitimising the progressive stripping away of such social equality and legal justice as have thus far survived the blight of political correct Stalinist tyranny, which is almost already a byword to describe the stifling atmosphere of the Australian State and Federal public services.

 


 

Notes

[1] Somewhat of a perversion of the literal meaning of ‘right-thinking’, unless this is meant as an explicit political qualification.

[2] AAP (2012). ‘Roxon defends her anti-discrimination bill’. Sydney Morning Herald, 12 November, http://news.smh.com.au/breaking-news-national/roxon-defends-her-antidiscrimination-bill-20121120-29mwc.html, accessed 15 January 2013.

[3] Not unlike Roxon’s own inner Melbourne seat of Gellibrand, which she nevertheless holds with comfortable margin … thus far.

[4] To illustrate that this is not a singular interpretation, see, for example, Editorial (2013) ‘Roxon seeks to impose government idea of goodness’. The Australian, 11 January, http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/letters/roxon-seeks-to-impose-government-idea-of-goodness/story-fn558imw-1226551404939, accessed 15 January 2013; and Gilmour, Martin, (2013) ‘Debating is likely to offend’. The Examiner, 15 January, http://www.examiner.com.au/story/1235388/debating-is-likely-to-offend/?cs=94, accessed 15 January 2013.

discrimination-005

[5] Swan Jonathan (2013). ‘Religious groups free to discriminate’. Sydney Morning Herald, 16 January, http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/political-news/religious-groups-free-to-discriminate-20130115-2crlw.html, accessed 16 January 2013.

[6] See, for example, the ABC report at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-01-15/tensions-flare-in-woodridge/4466292, accessed 15 January 2013.

[7] See Sheehan, Paul, (2013). ‘Racial hatred bill offers open slather to obnoxious’. Brisbane Times, 14 January, http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/opinion/politics/racial-hatred-bill-offers-open-slather-to-obnoxious-20130113-2cnf1.html, accessed 15 January 2013.

[8] The literal response I recently overheard from a clearly irritated ‘customer’ at a motor vehicle licensing office to the suggestion that he had to get a stamped piece of paper from another department and then return to complete his business.

[9] Note for example, the ruling by a Sydney magistrate in 2010 that a student calling a police officer a ‘prick’ was innocent of a charge of using offensive language on the grounds that the word was in common use and should not have shocked police officers (Anonymous (2010). ‘Australian Court clears student on offensive language charge’. The Telegraph, 4 May, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/australiaandthepacific/australia/7676064/Australian-court-clears-student-on-offensive-language-charge.html, accessed on 15 January 2013.).

[10] There was Kevin Rudd’s widely denounced but quite public opinion in 2008 that Bill Henson’s photography of children was ‘revolting’, without artistic merit and capable of being construed as child pornography (see for example http://www.abc.net.au/archives/80days/stories/2012/01/19/3415368.htm, accessed 15 January 2013); the Rudd/Conroy/Gillard internet censorship agenda currently in hiatus; and Julia Gillard’s 2010 public pronouncement that Julian Assange was guilty of an unspecified crime in relation to Wikileaks, despite the fact no charges have ever been been laid against him in Australia at all. The ALP since 2007 seems rather fond of making law by decree rather than democratic process.

[11] Thompson, Damian (2008), ‘Lies, damn lies and ‘counterknowledge’’. The Telegraph, 12 January, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1575346/Lies-damn-lies-and-counterknowledge.html, accessed 16 January 2013.

[12] See for example, Federico, Christopher M (2009), ‘How People Organize Their Political Attitudes: The Roles of Ideology, Expertise, and Evaluative Motivation’. American Psychological Association, September, http://www.apa.org/science/about/psa/2009/09/sci-brief.aspx, accessed 15 January 2013; and Shermer, Michael (2006). ‘The Political Brain’. Scientific American, 26 June, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=the-political-brain, accessed 15 January 2013.

[13] See, for example, Giles, Jim (2008) ‘Are political leanings all in the genes?’ New Scientist, 2 February, No 2641, http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg19726411.800-are-political-leanings-all-in-the-genes.html, accessed 15 January 2013.

[14] See Poole, Steven (2012). ‘Your brain on pseudoscience: the rise of popular neurobollocks’. New Statesman, 6 september, http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/books/2012/09/your-brain-pseudoscience, accessed 16 January 2013. Poole presents an entirely credible rejection of ‘neuroquackery’ as an excuse for avoiding rational thought and independent judgement.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *