…But Who’s Protecting My Right To Be Myself?

Island_133_Cover_300x420Aaaaah… Tasmania—the ever-progressive island state that bobs about in the ocean, 500-odd kilometres off the south-eastern corner of mainland Australia. Synonymous with wine and snow-capped peaks, sandstone and history and retirees. Home of the country’s worst mass-shooting of our time. A state that has problems with its electricity supply because the cable that runs under the ocean from Victoria has a hole in it. A place that’s so backward, you’d almost think the convicts who built all those sandstone ruins had only just arrived.

So apparently Tasmania is set to “change anti-discrimination laws to protect freedom of religion ahead of the same-sex marriage plebiscite”.

Appears someone down there thinks it’s important to have laws in place to protect religiously inclined folk from being called names, in the event that they object to so-called “marriage equality” on the grounds of their religious beliefs.

Of course, there’s a precedent for such a move, but that was in Redneck Central, USA so it’s clear how sane and sensible the idea was to start with. Why a tiny island state in another country on the other side of the world would think adopting the same approach was a good idea is anyone’s guess.

Concerns have already been flagged by the Tasmanian Gay & Lesbian Rights Group, to the effect that changing existing anti-discrimination laws in this way could result in so-called “hate speech” in the lead-up to (not to mention in the wake of and, presumably, at any other time) the upcoming federal plebiscite on so-called “marriage equality”.

So let me get this straight (no pun intended): religious folk want to change anti-discrimination laws, so that nobody’s allowed to call them names because of a belief system that they choose to follow, because of opinions and viewpoints that they choose to hold and/or because of comments and thoughts that they choose to air on the basis of those opinions and viewpoints, and they want this change to be effective before, during and after a public opinion poll, where it will be compulsory for all Australians to cast a vote, based on their opinion, in response to the question of whether or not they believe that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians—people who haven’t chosen to be who and what they are, they just are—should be ‘allowed’ to have the same right to legally recognised marriage as everyone else… yep, I think that just about sums it up.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for freedom of speech. I’m all for every Australian having the right to hold any opinion they please on any topic they choose to hold an opinion on. Equally, I’m all for any laws that expressly forbid that freedom and those opinions from being rendered in the form of hurtful or hateful words and acts.

But exactly who is looking after the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer Australians in all of this?

Where is our right not to have the entire country—many of whom probably couldn’t care less one way or the other—dragged into an absurd opinion poll about what they think we should be allowed to do? Where is our right to call in to question the outcome—whatever it may be—of that plebiscite and not be called every name under the sun?

Where is our right not to be told that religious freedom—remember this references a lifestyle choice that these folk make—is more important and has greater validity than our access to the same kind of marriage arrangement as any opposing-gendered couple?

Most importantly, how is any of this not simply extending the reach of all the legalised discrimination that already exists around this topic?

Should we now expect the Tasmanian Government to call for the introduction of similar legislative changes to protect political freedom? There’s certainly some dreadful name-calling when you put Labor and Liberal supporters together in a room. And don’t even get me started on the Greens or One Nation!

Or what about protection of extremist freedom? That is, the freedom to express extreme views and take part in extremist activity without being called names by the general public, or labelled and slandered by the press, or imprisoned or even killed by law enforcement. After all, it would be terrifically unfair if Australia started vilifying people just because it was felt they supported something like, say, the Islāmic State.

While we’re at it, why don’t we crank up a federal plebiscite with the aim of excluding left-handed folk from traditional marriage arrangements? Everyone knows left-handed people are a bit odd, what with how they hold their pens, the weird angle of their handwriting… and have you ever seen one cutting a pumpkin? OMG! Worse still, they could actually influence our right-handed children to become … <GASP> …ambidextrous!

We should probably also plebiscite redheads out of the marriage game too. Gingers, Rangas, call them what you will. Like their left-handed compatriots, they too are most definitely a minority group and everyone knows minority groups—or, indeed, anyone who’s different in any way—can’t be trusted. And Lord knows we certainly don’t need any more pale-skinned, freckly, orange-haired people with sunburn issues clogging up our public health system!

Of course, all of that is quite absurd. Just as absurd as the idea of dressing up discrimination as so-called “religious freedom” which, in turn, would simply condone ongoing discriminatory behaviours, as and when it suits them to do so, from those who would otherwise espouse the virtues of loving their neighbour, treating others as you want to be treated yourself and forgiving anyone anything, just as <deity of choice> would.

“Religious freedom, don’t you know?”, they’d claim. “It’s just what I believe. Please don’t call me names because of it”. Oh, OK then. My bad. I’ll also just forget that you implied I’m somehow less of a human being than you, shall I?

Surely, protecting chosen ideological freedoms must be somewhere in the queue behind the need to protect my right to just be myself and to be treated exactly the same as everyone else? Surely?

Or maybe just not in Tasmania.


Terrible ≠ Terrorism

newspaper-with-terrorism-headlineIt could never be said that the recently unalive boxing legend Muhammad Ali ever shied away from hyperbole. Anyone who made Ali-esque claims about themselves today would likely be dismissed out of hand as a massive wanker. But Ali’s oft-quoted 1963 proclamation “I am the greatest” was, at least, contextually correct, given he’d just become the youngest boxer in the history of the so-called sport to steal the heavyweight crown from the reigning champion.

(At the time Ali also claimed he was “the prettiest thing that ever lived”—the accuracy of this claim, contextually or otherwise, remains open to debate).

These days, virtually everything is exaggerated as being the greatest to one extent or another. From the obvious sensationalist and leading questions of journalists, to TV advertising and the typically over-the-top expressiveness of social media, it’s no exaggeration to say that hyperbole has hijacked so many aspects of language in the 21st century.

If it’s not the most exciting or the most exclusive, then it’s the largest, the first, the earliest, the biggest or best, the loudest or quietest, the least or the most—whatever the claim to fame, today’s language invariably takes it to an extreme.

It might be argued that this is the best way (or maybe the only way) to capture attention amid the ceaseless din of the 24 hour news cycle and the ever-decreasing attention span of the social media generation. But all it ultimately does is dilute the message—or, specifically, dilute the power of the pronouns and superlatives that are so constantly over-used.

Example #1: the popular turn of phrase “best. <insert subject here>. EVER”. Young folk and the social media set flock to this one like lambs to the slaughter. They apply it to just about any random situation they can think of, however run-of-the-mill it may be and however likely it is to be imminently bettered. The result is that any punch such statements might pack is lost. From over-use, as so often the case, “best. <subject>. EVER>” has become as nuanced as the ubiquitous “lol”—and we all know how often “lol” is the result of an actual laugh-out-loud.

Example #2: Mazda’s obsession with the “First-Ever” concept. It extends beyond the headlines into the copy: “First-Ever Mazda CX-3 comes in front or all-wheel drive”, it announces, as if the name of the car is actually “First-Ever Mazda CX-3”. I have an equal love of language and all things automotive, so the Mazda CX-3 marketing always annoys me. Yes, it was a brand new model in the range and had never existed before, but a decade ago the occasional “all-new” reference would’ve cut it, so what’s changed? The ongoing use of the “First-Ever” moniker is all the more inexplicable, given the audience to whom such hyperbole is clearly aimed—arguably CX-3’s target demographic—is probably the least likely to give a toss about the CX-3’s “First-Ever” status.

Example #3: our TV networks claim their programs are “must-see” when promoting finales or outcomes that “everyone’s been waiting for”. Then they use “Australia” as a collective noun to address the audience, as if all 24,151,300 of us are on the edge of our seats, in breathless anticipation of the much-hyped televisual feast. This despite the fact that even our highest-rated programs in any given year amass probable audience sizes of less than 10% of the total population.

hyperbole_buttonBasically, hyperbole is everywhere and nowhere is this more obvious than the way it’s extended to the concepts of “terror” and “terrorism”.

Sadly for those of us who form the majority of the world’s population that doesn’t harbour extremist views on any topic, there’s been an increasing incidence of freaks and nutjobs having major psychological meltdowns, then heading out into the streets to perpetrate truly horribly crimes. Thanks almost entirely to September 11 and everything that came after, there’s now a tendency to respond and react to everything as if it’s “terrorism” or an act of “terror”.

But in this age of bigging everything up, we seem to have forgotten that the proportion of the general populace made up by those freaks and nutjobs—many of whom are nothing more than unoriginal copycats, or just waiting for some twisted inspiration—is actually pretty tiny.

When a Sydney man recently set his car alight while he was still inside it, before it rolled—no, it wasn’t driven, much less rammed—down a driveway and into the door of a suburban police station car park, the immediate response was to address it as a possible act of terrorism. Turns out it was just some guy having a fairly substantial meltdown in response to a family situation.

The recent mass-shooting in Munich was immediately announced as a “terrorist attack”, but it really wasn’t one. And when news of the stabbing deaths of 19 people in Japan first started to filter out, there were initial suggestions that it too could’ve been a terror incident.

Terrible? Yes. Terror, in the tradition sense of the word? There’s no doubt that if any of those poor devils actually registered what was happening, terror is very possibly what they felt.

But terrible and terrorism are two very different things.

Were all these incidents terrible? Absolutely they were. Were all these incidents terrifying for those directly involved? No doubt. Are they always acts of terror, terrorism or terrorism-related, perpetrated by terrorists? In a word, no.

GunsInUSAHere’s something to consider: in the United States, between 1970-2014, more than 3,500 people were killed as a result of terrorist activity (with nearly 3,000 of those lost on September 11 alone). But in 2015, 13,000 people were killed in the United States by a gun, in either a homicide, an unintentional shooting, or a murder/suicide. That’s terrible vs terrorism right there! They’re so not the same things.

Every day in Australia, someone’s attacked, physically assaulted, stabbed or shot—in their homes, at their workplaces, in schools, or in the street. ‘Anger-management’ and ‘road rage’ are terms we toss about as if they’ve always existed but, in reality, it seems to be getting worse. Domestic violence has more focus now than ever before. Radical steps have been taken to curb alcohol and drug-related violence. Violence is all around us—now more so than ever. But a terrorist attack is more than just a loud noise and some violence. And that’s not just semantics.

Indeed, in direct response to the burning car incident, but broadly addressing all such incidents, our Attorney-General encouraged Australians—and chiefly, it must to be assumed, the media—not to think of or describe every single violent act that occurs in our communities as possible terrorist attacks. Said the A-G, “Not every act of violence, even a pre-meditated or carefully planned act of violence, is an act of terrorism”.

And herein lies the biggest issue: all at once, we’ve become both desensitized and overly sensitive to the notion of terrorism, to the point where virtually every time there’s an unexpected loud noise, wildly varying and largely unverified “eyewitness accounts” and social media coverage lead to almost immediate announcements of a terrorist attack.

The lines between the acts of bona-fide terrorists and those of your average certifiable nutter have certainly blurred in recent years. But let’s ask ourselves why everyone’s so hung-up about privacy and metadata and which aspects of their lives are being tracked when our law enforcement, with all that tracking ability allegedly at its fingertips, seems no more able today than it would’ve been a decade ago to intercept, or even predict, the current tide of increasing violence.

“Be alert, not alarmed”, the TV ads used to tell us. At the same time they were playing, which was about a year after 9/11, people I worked with were looking out the tenth-floor windows of our office building, convinced that they’d see a plane flying straight at us at any moment—just because it was the first anniversary. The alert-not-alarmed message clearly failed from the outset.

The world has seemingly become over-populated by screwballs with some very scary tendencies. At the same time, the behaviour of the rest of the population indicated a far greater demand for news and information than could adequately be supplied. But now that it can be, the media can’t get enough of click-bait catchphrases like “one punch” and “lone wolf” and has an obsessive reliance on reporting exaggerated versions of every single thing that happens, just to keep people interested, because—and here’s the greatest irony—the population who indicated that ever-increasing demand for an unceasing supply of news and information has proven itself incapable of concentrating for long enough to actually take most of it in.

The hyperbole shouts the loudest and who wants to read dull, factually correct news anyway?

Just as the question remains of whether a tree that falls in the forest, unheard and unseen, makes any sound or even fell at all, so, too, does the question of whether a news item about something terrible, which isn’t embellished or exaggerated by a journalist in any way, is any more or less newsworthy. The answer, of course, is a categorical ‘no’. News is news. If it happens and it was terrible, then it’s terrible enough. It doesn’t need to be made to sound any more terrible.

We—the population at large—certainly don’t need any more terrorist attacks in the world than there already are. Nor should we have allowed ourselves to get to a place where we automatically assume that every terrible thing that happens is one.

It must surely be obvious that, more often than not, terrible ≠ terrorism.

After The Love Has Gone…

Acknowledging that the time has come to pull the pin on a very long relationship can be remarkably difficult. If even people in abusive relationships find it hard to do, when every fibre of their being tells them that getting out is the only positive option, it’s little wonder that this torturous decision can seem overwhelming when love’s just run its course. But no matter how often we put ourselves through it, we somehow always manage to forget that facing the inevitable actually has its upsides.

There’s nothing quite like the feeling of a new relationship. And then later, when you realised it’s love—wow! It’s like sunflowers and ducklings and a warm, fluffy towel fresh out of the dryer on a cold winter’s night, all rolled into one.

New love is so good that it makes you forgive—if not forget—every bad thing you ever experienced in your last relationship. The poor treatment, the abuse, the being taken for granted, the ever-diminishing trust, that it became a chore… then a struggle… then something you just couldn’t wait to be away from.

Then you realise that this thing is so much better than anything you’ve ever experienced before. You wonder why you ever spent any time at all thinking that you had what you deserved and that what you deserved was no more than what you already had.

When your new love feels that good, you begin to realise that the reason you became so unhappy before, so unsettled, so troubled and so very rebellious was that, in fact, what you were capable of finding was so much more than what you’d settled for.

With each year that comes and goes, you continue to marvel at the strength and resilience of this wonderful relationship, that just keeps getting better and better. With each anniversary, you recall that you’ve still not spent a scheduled day apart in two years, then three, then four.

It’s seemingly forever onwards and upwards. Learning and growing together. So many experiences—together. You even go off and explore the world together. You start to wonder if the fact that you’ve never had a single bad word to say about any aspect of this relationship might actually be slightly unhealthy.

As the years continue to roll by, without even realising it you begin to wear your relationship like a comfy old pair of slippers. You’re now so interwoven that it’s a case of ‘two become one’. You’re intrinsically linked. Other people almost treat you as a single entity. You, yourself, even find it hard, sometimes, to separate one from the other.

Then one day, more than a decade into the world’s greatest love affair, a comment is made. You don’t even notice it at first, but something keeps niggling at you, in the back of your mind. Then you start replaying the comment, over and over, wondering where it came from and what it meant. It’s not a good feeling. You haven’t heard that kind of comment before… well, at least, not since that last horrible relationship. But you brush it off. Misunderstanding. Misheard. Misinterpreted. Must have been one of those.

As time goes on, things keep changing. Slowly but surely the realisation dawns that not only are you being less involved in those changes, but also you don’t even always agree with them. Then it occurs to you that you’re not even being consulted about them any more. Then you realise that you don’t actually feel heard at all any more.

That wonderful, reassuring sense of mutual understanding and support and security that was once almost omnipresent—where did it go? When did this happen? Why is it so?

Like false repressed memory syndrome, you do your level best to force those feelings back. You must be wrong. You must be imagining things. You’re just confused. Or stressed. Or tired. Or something.

Then you realise you’re spending more and more unscheduled time apart. Not because you have to, but because you want to. At first, it’s just because other things take priority every now and then—that’s what you tell yourself. But then other things keep taking priority over and over again. Before long, those other things become less priorities and more the things you’d actually rather be doing.

One day, you’re horrified to discover yourself wondering what it would be like to be in a different relationship. But you quickly put it out of your mind, because it’s just not something you want to think about. And besides, after all these years, you couldn’t even begin to imagine finding anything like what you have now. Coz, after all, you remind yourself, you probably have what you deserve and what you deserve is probably no more than what you already have.

Then you have one of those mirror moments from the movies—you know, where the camera lense zooms in while the actual camera pulls back, so your own reflection gets closer while the room surrounding you looks like it’s moving in the opposite direction? That kind of effect is what you experience. Because what you just heard yourself think was truly shocking.

That’s when you realise that the time’s come. You have no choice but to acknowledge what you’ve known, but have been avoiding, for so long. It’s hard. It’s going to hurt, you know that. But you realise you’re trapped. It’s a no win situation. There’s nowhere left for you to go. You realise it’s time to admit defeat. You’ve failed. The whole thing’s turned toxic. There’s nothing good can come of it now. You have no option but to get out.

Your beautiful affair is over. The love is gone. You no longer want to be there. However much—and whoever—it might hurt, you just have to do it because there’s no going back. That ongoing self-imposed state of inertia is no longer an option.

And then, just like that, as if by magic, suddenly you feel better. Heartbreak and relief in equal measure. Acknowledging to yourself what needed to be acknowledged was enormously cathartic and it’s allowed you to think more clearly about what to do next, and all the other things you need to do from here.

Australian Air Hostess Tegan Jovanka was always my favourite Doctor Who companion as a kid. I’ve actually taken something she said in her very last episode with me throughout my life: “My Aunt Vanessa said, when I became an air stewardess, if you stop enjoying it, give it up”.

I didn’t have an Aunt Vanessa, nor did I ever become an Air Stewardess (despite probably harbouring a secret childhood longing to be one), but I’ve kept the rest of Tegan’s parting words tucked away in the back of my mind, ever since the very first time I heard her say them more than thirty years ago.

Because, as good as this glorious new love I’d found seemed at the time, I knew in my heart of hearts that I couldn’t blindly expect it to carry on forever. As wonderful as it would’ve been if it had—and believe me, after this many years, sometimes it actually does feel like it’s lasted forever—I had to face facts. I had to make sure I went into this thing pragmatically, with eyes wide open and with one very important statement as my mantra: if you stop enjoying it, give it up.

It’s stopped being fun, Doctor.