Shortly after Pauline Hanson wore a burqa into the Senate in an attempt to prove some kind of dubious point about her desire to ban that item of clothing, she appeared on Sky News to bemoan the rise of political correctness in this country. This political correctness, Hanson argues, is preventing ‘Ordinary Astrayans’ like her from “having a say”.
It’s a line the Queensland senator and founder of One Nation has trotted out on numerous occasions, usually in appearances on television, in newspaper interviews and on the radio spots that deliver a steady deluge of Hanson into the public eye. For someone so horrendously “silenced”, she has certainly been given ample access to a microphone to air her grievances.
Hanson’s childish whinge reminds me of the reaction had by Andrew “Australia’s Most Read Columnist (Unless You Count His Book Sales)” Bolt following findings of the Federal Court that he had breached Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act.
The day after the verdict was handed down, Bolt appeared on the cover of the Herald Sun under a gigantic headline screaming, “I WAS SILENCED.” He was not only defended in the newspaper’s editorial but also given a double page spread to dissect his feelings about what it meant to be denied a voice. No doubt he expanded on those feelings throughout the course of the week during both his regular appearance spot on 2GB and on his eponymous television show, The Bolt Report.
Poor, silenced conservatives. It must be dreadfully hard to experience the kind of oppression that involves people disagreeing with your ideas.
For of course, this is what truly plagues people like Hanson and Bolt and the chorus line of similarly prominent and privileged mouthpieces who share their paranoia about a diminishing relevance in the world. When your Uncle Kev laments that “you’re not allowed to say anything anymore,” what he really means is that it’s not fair that people can tell him he’s wrong or offensive or racist or any other number of things that he most definitely is but feels aggrieved to labelled as.
Similarly, when you hear people say of Hanson or Bolt or Donald Trump et al that “they’re just saying what everyone else is thinking,” what they really mean is “they’re saying what I’m thinking”. It gives them comfort to see people publicly flaunting their bigoted thoughts around religion, homosexuality, race politics and women (to name just a few things). Witnessing this provides an anchor point for them to not just reinforce their own regressive views on the world, but to do so without the shame they instinctively understand is associated with this kind of thinking.
This kind of behaviour has been on full display in the lead-up to the postal survey on marriage equality. Marriage isn’t something that especially interests me, but a fair and equal society that values marriage in the way ours does (and prides itself – albeit falsely – on being the land of the “fair go”) should make that union available to all consenting adults.
There shouldn’t be anything complicated about that premise, yet we are still forced to listen as homophobic people claim the mantle of victimhood because they don’t like the fact that their homophobia has been identified and named. The Lyle Sheltons of this world have no problem sharing their view that homosexual people pose a threat to the foundation of the nuclear family, but seem affronted when the people they attack respond in kind.
Similarly, those Australians who freely denounce the rights and dignity of First Nations people cry foul the moment someone dares to level the accusation of racism at them. Australian media will still proudly host televised debates inviting all-white panels to debate whether or not it’s appropriate to maintain statues of men who slaughtered Aboriginal inhabitants. Poor, “silenced” Bolt opines regularly on what he calls the ‘myth’ of the Stolen Generations, but sure – you just can’t say anything anymore without being attacked.
In the hyper defensive and triggered world of the average Australian conservative, it is considered a far more egregious crime to call someone racist, homophobic or sexist than it is to actually perpetuate racism, homophobia or sexism.
Hanson and her cohorts are not being “silenced”. If they were, they wouldn’t be lined up in the dozens to flog their cooked opinions across a variety of media platforms. What they’re actually advocating for is an Australia where they can say whatever ludicrous, offensive and downright incorrect thing they want without having anyone publicly call them out on it or even fiercely disagree.
There’s a wry irony in the fact that most of these people discount feminist activism in Australia by pointing to an Outland where women experience “real oppression”, yet seem to forget the political prisoners persecuted around the world by actual totalitarian dictatorships when it comes to moaning about how their right to free speech is being taken away from them.
And at its heart, where does this paranoia come from? It spawns from the fear of irrelevance. And it’s not unfounded. Conservative voices are just as loud as they’ve ever been, but they’re being countered with a greater spirit and force than has been seen in a long time.
They aren’t angry about being silenced. They’re angry that fewer people are listening.
Still need convincing? In the spirit of amplifying a voice under threat, I’ll point to this observation from an article written in 2007.
“It’s persecution envy. And [Tom] Switzer suggests there’s the usual rage of the snubbed intellectual:
When Marr and Hamilton warn that the Government is silencing their opinions and corrupting public debate, that’s code for saying: we no longer set the cultural agenda.
Substitute “political” for “cultural” and I’d agree.”