Even I have been surprised this week in regard to the amount of hostile emotion that has been stirred up in Australian politics, and I am well aware of the rhetoric of hate that stalks the media like an avenging spirit nowadays. What I find most disturbing is how it has managed to permeate the minds and lives of average, apparently normal people. The debates are becoming more extreme. Insults are nastier, denigrate others and are intended to personally wound. While everyone would agree, I think, that debate is a healthy thing, the kind of rhetoric that passes for debate but actually has inciting hate as its true agenda is quite another thing.
Many of our politicians, almost anyone who writes for the Murdoch print media and the radio “shock jocks ”, would do well to remember this. Public proclamation also comes with public responsibility. Once upon a time I could rely on most both print and electronic media to give me facts. Now I have to look elsewhere for facts, because reporting is no longer about facts. It is about sound bites and controversy when it comes to anything that can be classed as ‘political’ idealogy. Issues have been polarised between factions rather than being considered on their own merits.
As I was trawling the Net doing some quick research on the rhetoric of hate in politics, I found an article written by Laurie Oakes no less (Daily Telegraph 5 March 2011), about this very topic. Laurie thinks that Tony Abbott’s call for the people to revolt will have “crazies foaming at the mouth”.
In the article, he goes on to note that
The Australian Tea Party - a fringe group based on the US right-wing movement - also attracts some prize specimens. A US tea-bagger, for example, writes: "Hello Down Under. Sorry to see we are not the only nation plagued with vermin like Obama. We stand with you in your quest for liberty from tyranny and oppression."
They are all enraged, even the New World Order conspiracy theorists (10 per cent from the carbon tax will go to a World Government, in case you didn't know).
Tyranny and oppression? Are these people really serious that the current Australian government is either a tyranny or oppressive in a country where any person can have a say?
Even John and I are getting some very strange ‘hate mail’ up here in National party heartland. You may have read about John’s postcard mail in my last blog. This week it was my turn. I received a postcard in the same hand writing allegedly from the Gold Coast (postmarked Mid North Coast) gently telling me that a real church (the Port Macquarie Anglican in this case) had been left 10 million dollars, and didn’t I see this as a poor choice? The inference was that my understanding of ‘church’ and Christianity was somewhat deficient and therefore I could not expect such largess to descend upon the Uniting Church.
On Thursday I was filmed (I wasn’t interviewed, just filmed sitting on my seat) at the Mid North Coast Climate Alliance launch. We have signed up as the Uniting Church, becoming one of the member institutes. I happened to be sitting next to Rob Oakeshott, who was presented with a signed copy of the Alliance Statement at the end of proceedings. I also gave a brief statement to the ABC Radio, and the event was covered in the Port News.
This apparently has provoked more weird rantings from our anonymous friend. This morning we received an email, purporting to be from the Byzantine Catholic church in the Ukraine. It was titled “God’s anathema upon the Uniting Church in Australia” and it called down curses on the Uniting Church for its intention to become “a homodictatorship” and “to live in sin here on earth and to end in hell after death”.
Among other things, the Uniting Church was accused of having a “false gospel of the traitors of Christ, behind which is the “angel of light” (Lucifer), “shines through” one’s sinful nature in such measure that people “enlightened” in this way glorify the god Lucifer by homosexuality in every dimension of their life.” It is also “an assembly of Satan” and “has ceased to be a blessing
for the nation and brings down a curse upon it as well as upon all Australia, leading them to self-destruction”.
Right then. So next time the floods or fires or droughts come, you will all know who to blame - the “Uniting anti-Church in Australia”.
Perhaps it is fair to say at this point that some of our more conservative church brothers and sisters would probably agree with this estimation of the Uniting Church. But it is also true that our anonymous hate mailer (and Mr Carp is still our preferred suspect) is clearly homophobic and responds to anything we say in regard to climate change by accusing us of ‘believing in homosexuality’. How climate change translates to a “belief in homosexuality” is a conundrum that escapes us. But it is fair to say that this places our anonymous hate mailer squarely within the rhetoric of hate, for as well as damning all gay and lesbians he wants to also damn the entire Uniting Church and is now calling down lurid curses upon all its members.
I believe Laurie Oakes is right. Why has this debate become so heated and flushed so many nutters out? What is it about climate change, or this particular government that has people like our friend “foaming at the mouth” and using the rhetoric of hate to dump on his fellow citizens?
I find it difficult to believe that scientists are actually receiving death threats in this country. They have become objects of rage and hatred for doing their research. Their children have also been threatened. They are called liar and frauds, and every conspiracy theorist has them working for a different shadowy (though always left wing) organisation, secretly funded by the current government. Their carefully worded statements based on the science are treated as they were the product of a dangerous fringe ideology.
Such claims can only be hatched surely in brains that have been twisted by the rhetoric of hate.
We can stop this, if only by demanding that our shock jocks and politicians (and their party faithful) behave themselves. They need to stop using the rhetoric of hate, and desist from feeding what has become an overt culture of bullying and fear-mongering.
Such behaviour would be condemned roundly in any schoolyard, and could be seen as undermining the stability and fabric of our society. Is it any wonder children become bullies with the exemplary model of our politicians (Tony Abbott take note in particular) before them? Is it any wonder usually sane people become confused and angry when they are faced daily with sensationalist headlines and negative sound bites designed to destroy rather than to inform and build good healthy debate? The media in general, the shock jocks and their continued use of the rhetoric of hate, the arrogance and self-interest of the wealthy and those with vested interests in not supporting climate change measures, and an opposition leader who can smell blood and a prime ministership just a few negative opinion polls away are all in danger of eroding what is good and decent and fair in our society.
People, it is time to take a long hard look at yourselves and see what you are really doing.