The age of political hostility

It seems in recent times we have seen an unprecedented rise in hostility, not only here in ‘the lucky country’ but around the world. We have seen mass killings, heinous crimes, acts of terrorism, violent protests, ‘egging,’ and a general intolerance of people with different opinions to ours. At this time of writing, right before the 2019 election, the display of hate towards political parties has perhaps been the most exemplary of this intolerance.

There are several reasons for this rise, and I won’t cover all of them here, but will mention a few, as well as offer some solutions.

Social media, while not a cause, has been a platform and a catalyst for the hostility. Where people once had time to cool off before expressing their frustrations or rage at anyone who would listen, social media now provides them with an instant audience. The problem is however, that such a release (or outburst) often only provides a temporary satisfaction. The frustrations grow and the aggressor will sometimes progress to express them in the real world on innocent targets in ways that can hurt them.

I will discuss three causes here I believe are contributing to the hostility we witness and experience today: failure to recognise our human commonality, political correctness, and identity politics. These three are highly interrelated. They are not mutually exclusive, not exhaustive, and not definitive. They are simply convenient explanations for organising my thoughts for expression in this brief article.

First, while people have their differences, their commonalities far out-weigh the differences. We are human and we are connected. Australian social scientist and commentator, Hugh Mackay, has stated that a good life requires the recognition that we are all inseparably part of each other and that we are to accept and nurture our connection. Similarly, one of the twentieth century’s outstanding theoretical physicists, David Bohm, has suggested that much of the world’s problems came from the belief that people are separate from each other, which results in our  wanting to defend ourselves against perceived ‘others’.

This insight immediately gives us a clue to a solution to this unprecedented hostility and intolerance of each other—begin to recognise, value, and work with the commonalities that unite us with one another.

Second, we now live in an age of political correctness where people are looking to be offended, and hoping to be compensated for their offence. For them, offence is their oxygen. But why would people look to be offended? Simply, because to be offended, is to feel important. We’ve all been there. We’ve all had a taste of the pity and attention received when you utter those words “I’m offended.” We’ve all felt the gush of power when someone says “I’m sorry” in response to our claim of being offended. Newsflash: offence is a choice; it is only ever taken and never given. So my advice is giving up choosing to be offended and don’t reward others when they do take offence. If you confident in the stance you have taken, simply reply with “I respect your right be offended but I’m sticking to my decision” of “You can make yourself as upset as you want, this is what I am doing.”

It seems we have an army of PC warriors working tirelessly searching back through history with today’s understanding to judge the past and find some statue, some story, some nursery rhyme, or some prominent individual who can be cast as insensitive or racist. Sometimes they are searching back through someone’s Twitter or Facebook accounts to find that one ‘offensive’ joke from 10 years ago. They are quick to express their offence and remind others that they should be offended also.

We pay a price for the virtue signalling and pity parties however. When people are constantly told they are the cause of someone else’s offence, are told they are racist, or forbidden from expressing opinions that may be unpopular, don’t be surprised if they fight back. As a good mate once told me “if you keep the lid on the pot, don’t be surprised when it boils over.” Please note, I am not for one minute condoning the backlash, I am simply stating the consequences for what happens when we have to tiptoe around for fear of upsetting someone’s delicate feelings.

Finally, people increasingly want to be part of a group, whether it be based on race, religion, gender, sexual preference, or political affiliation. Or if one does not fit into any of these groups, they can at least be a supporter of a group of their choosing and derive a vicarious sense of accomplishment by being a cheerleader for the group.

I don’t outright oppose group membership. When group members’ motives are about the common good, they can achieve much. However, when motives are questionable, such as when group membership is used to build one’s identity or manipulate others, problems arise.

With most identity politics, identity is based on having an assumed disadvantage or suffering some perceived injustice simply because one can claim to be a group member. I’m not suggesting that some members of these groups don’t suffer or are not unfairly done by, but far too often group membership compromises individuality, as a disproportionate focus is given to only one aspect of an individual’s being—that aspect that qualifies them from group membership. But a failure to see the whole person can never be helpful.

So in addition to recognising that we are all Australians and therefore all on the same team, there are other actions we can take that minimise disagreements turning nasty. Or if they do occur, it is important to ensure that respect and goodwill can be quickly regained and maintained.

First, let’s stop seeing others as special and instead see them as equal, even if they hold different views. To see some as special means seeing others as not special, and this helps no one. In a very real sense, everyone is special, so if we are all special then none of us special.

Second, let’s not make our happiness dependent on other people’s opinions of us. Because when that happens, that’s when we resort to manipulation, coercion, and force to get others to give us the opinions we want. And how good are you going to feel after receiving that favourable opinion knowing that the other person didn’t offer it freely? Let’s not make our goodwill towards others contingent on them agreeing with us on every issue. We can disagree with others without losing goodwill towards them. A simple “I respect your right to see it that way” would save a lot of marriages, friendships, and lives.

Anthony Dillon

Anthony Dillon, originally from Brisbane resides in Sydney where he works as a researcher at Australian Catholic University and is a noted commentator on Aboriginal affairs with contributions in The Australian and Quadrant Magazine.  More of his writings can be found atwww.anthonydillon.com.au 
Anthony Dillon

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