Writer Benjamin Law used the final Q&A for the year to claim discussion around 18C was just our privileged class claiming to be censored.
Among the chattering class, there is a prevailing belief that they are on the side of the disadvantaged and against entrenched privilege. A cursory glance of the major events of 2016 would tell you that that is no longer true. Nor can it be said that defence against 18C is a defence against the privileged.
The argument that 18C is needed to give power to the powerless has been blown out of the water with the QUT case. It saw a court case seven QUT students for comments they made on a Facebook forum about being kicked out of an indigenous only computer lab.
Four of the students settled out of court, but the three students — Alex Wood, Callum Thwaites and Jackson Powell — were not privileged. Their defence came from the generosity of two seasoned lawyers- Tony Morris QC and Michael Henry acting pro bono.
For three-and-a-half years their reputations and futures were placed on the line as they anxiously awaited the outcome of the case. One of the students, Callum Thwaites gave up his ambition of becoming a teacher in a remote indigenous community because of the irretrievable damage to his reputation that this case caused him.
However when faced with a choice between an elitist, multi-million dollar organisation and ordinary white men who had been vexatiously targeted, the Left- ABC journalists, Greens and Labor politicians- were at best silent and at worst sympathetic to the Human Rights Commission. They only backed down slightly when the sheer ridiculousness of the case was exposed, and even then defended the Commission as acting appropriately. Greens Leader Richard Di Natale said that no changes should be made against Section 18C, as it would make things easier for bigots.
So the financial and professional costs faced by those QUT students does not warrant action? What happened to the old liberal adage ‘We would gladly let ten guilty men walk free, than one innocent man go to jail’? The Labor/Greens motto would be something like ‘We would gladly let seven innocent QUT students suffer irreparably than let one special snowflake QUT staff member be offended without filing a lawsuit.’
As noble a cause as it is to fight racism, we cannot heed the creed of the Benjamin Laws of the world, that the profound personal and professional stress placed upon these students is somehow lessened because they are perceived to be of the ‘privileged’ class. Moreover, the Left’s fixation on the identity politics has compromised their proud history of fighting suffering on all fronts.
Where they could once run the argument that they were combating privilege, today the Left entrenches privilege through support for multi-million dollar bureaucracies like the Human Rights Commission to give a platform for the likes of Gillian Triggs to practice radical social theory at odds with the rest of the community.
To continue with nineteenth century-style Marxist arguments about combating the ‘privileged’ is no longer tenable for the contemporary Left. This is a Left which sneers at ordinary people and reflexively argues that the lives and reputations of innocent students were either necessary lambs to the slaughter in fighting hate speech or in the wrong for expressing themselves freely.
The simple reality is that the world is too infinitely complex to collectivise any one gender or ethnic group. For every one Rupert Murdoch, there are countless low-income men struggling to get by. To ignore them is not just disingenuous, but it also undermines the relevance of the Left amongst cosmopolitan elites. As Mark Latham wrote: ‘There was a time in Australian politics when people calling themselves “tolerant” were blind to questions of race, gender and sexuality. Mainly because poverty itself was blind to these factors. A poor individual was an individual in need, regardless of their personal characteristics.’
One would think that it was integral to the contemporary Left to identify those whom they overlooked in their focus on social equality and back-pedal on these anti-white, anti-male cultural wars. Yet increasingly, the Left have given rise to its loudest and most extreme voices who legitimise conspiracy theories such as the all-encompassing ‘patriarchy’.
The television star, Lena Dunham recently called for the extinction of straight white males in order to breed ‘better men’. It’s a convenient notion for a would-be radical, that it is privilege that is responsible for sexism so that they can simultaneously rant against capitalism, the patriarchy and homophobia but it doesn’t hold up to reality. Bigotry and chauvinism cut across cultural and economic lines.
On a previous episode of Q&A, Richard Di Natale linked domestic violence to male privilege. This is unfounded for a number of reasons. Firstly, domestic violence is proportionally higher amongst lesbian couples. Secondly, of the male perpetrators of domestic violence they are less likely to be of the privileged economic or racial strata.
A 2009 paper by Renzetti and Larkin (http://vawnet.org/sites/default/files/materials/files/2016-09/AR_EconomicStress.pdf) found a correlation between domestic violence and economic stress. Likewise, the highest rates of family violence in Australia come from remote indigenous communities, which corroborates the link between domestic violence and financial hardship.
Yet those facts are ignored in order to craft a narrative against a privileged, omniscient class of men known as ‘the patriarchy’. This is a product of intersectionalism, which posits that you cannot understand economic hardship without understanding gender and racial discrimination (and vice-versa), as well as cultural Marxism, which believes that all issues must be considered on a privileged scale.
In the world of intersectionalists, all minority groups would live together in perfect harmony were it not for their rich, white male overlords. If it were true, then wealthy Western cultures where white men are at their richest and most powerful would be the most dangerous for women and domestic violence would be at its highest in Australia’s most affluent suburbs.
The fact that minority groups do not always get along with each other is seldom given a look in. In the world of the identity politics Left rich, white, heterosexual men are the most violent, bigoted, intolerant and oppressive people on Earth and to pretend otherwise is to deny the millennia of intangible micro-aggressions and structural oppression that the Left have found us guilty of.
This obsession-with-privilege, identity-politics-driven rhetoric is not just disingenuous for public debate but it is also bad for the left-wing political parties as they routinely sell out the needs of ordinary citizens in favour of lofty social theory.
The story of the last thirty years of Australian, British and American politics is the story of a Left becoming increasingly more ingrained with the cultural, media and bureaucratic establishment and from their working-class base. The rise of Hanson and Trump is the extreme result of working-class voter alienation. If the Left continues to pursue boutique social theory that flies in the face of material reality for a number of voters, they can expect those votes to remain disillusioned with the current establishment.