Don’t Look Back In Anger

Yesterday, I watched an older man shaking with rage as he screamed at a younger man on a crowded railway station platform. I didn’t witness their initial exchange, but I’m guessing the younger man had asked the older man to move back from the pedestrian area so that he and his three young daughters could pass, whereby minimising the risk of falling off the platform or being hit by the oncoming train.

Now, when I say the younger man “asked”, the ensuing back-and-forth slanging match suggests it may have been more an aggressively issued command than a polite request. The two men continued to exchange menacing stares and harsh words until a set of train doors conveniently came to a halt right in front of said man-with-daughters.

Ironically, after having been so grossly offended by the older man’s unacceptable lack of social awareness, the younger man shot one final menacing stare back along the platform and called out “asshole”, before proceeding to force his way into the carriage like a salmon swimming upstream, as if oblivious to the tide of exiting passengers. Perhaps he’d never heard that old saying about the goose and the gander. Or perhaps he was, at that moment, literally blinded by his own anger?

I’m not sure when we became a society of such angry people. Is it a recent phenomenon, or have we always been like this?

Today, everyone has strong opinions about everything all the time, and we feel a need to air those strong opinions, in one way or another—often via blogs like this one. We’re frequently incensed by the opinions of others, and we dismiss their words on the basis that we simply disagree, rather than accepting—and being grateful for the fact—that everyone has different perspectives. Typically, anger about the views of others is most evident in the online world. In fact, online anger is so commonplace these days that it’s apparently become de rigueur to issue death threats to anyone who holds even the most unremarkable point of view, simply because it differs, however moderately, from our own.

There are public demonstrations, almost at the drop of a hat, against virtually anything we’re angry about, however relatively large or small the issue—and I almost guarantee that statement alone will generate multiple strong opinions; many demonstrations invariably become violent, despite organisers’ alleged intentions for peaceful protest.

We’re angry about other angry people, in particular terrorists and religious extremists. We’re angry that the concept of ‘terrorism’ has had the entire world almost permanently on edge for more than 15 years; it’s unnerving, even frightening, it’s psychologically exhausting and emotionally draining—and that makes us angry.

We’re angry about the incidence of oppression and dictatorship, war, death and destruction all over the world. We’re angry about the part our own nations play in warfare. We’re angry that the so-called “leader of the free world”, the United States, repeatedly inserts itself into the hostilities of other nations, then involves, almost involuntarily, any nation that wants to remain on their list of so-called “allies”. We’re angry with the leaders of our own nations for not rejecting this or, at least, for not objecting more strenuously or conscientiously.

We’re angry about things that shouldn’t really concern us; chief among these is sexuality. We’re angry about the sexuality of others and about our own sexuality. We’re angry about sexuality that isn’t the same as our own and about sexuality that is the same as own. We’re angry about those who are angry—or, at least, who take issue with—sexuality and we’re angry with those who aren’t angry—or, at least, who don’t take issue with—sexuality, or with those who are angry about sexuality.

Our indigenous people, the so-called ‘first Australians’ (a description which almost certainly angers them), have an ongoing seething rage about the European invasion of their land in 1788, as well as everything that’s happened in the ensuing 229 years; many post-1788 Australians share that seething rage with, and on behalf of, our indigenous people.

We’re angry that it took until 1967 for a referendum “to alter the Constitution so as to omit certain words relating to the People of the Aboriginal Race in any State and so that Aboriginals are to be counted in reckoning the Population“—or, in other words, Australians were asked to vote on whether or not indigenous people should be recognised as actual human beings, rather than capturing them within the “Flora and Fauna Act” as animals. We’re still angry that indigenous folk were, for so long, not recognised as human beings. We’re also angry that so many people are still so bogged down with anger about it taking until 1967 for said referendum.

And on the topic of anger-by-proxy, we live in an age of ‘outrage culture’ where many of us are, for whatever reason, angry about something on behalf of someone else. Never before have such levels of referred anger been so prevalent. We’re outraged about something that’s happened (or not happened) to others. We’re often outraged on behalf of a less-privileged class of people—typically, “less-privileged” by comparison with ourselves and despite us having no first-hand experience of the conditions about which we’re presently outraged. We’re outraged about the assistance that isn’t forthcoming to ease or resolve these situations. We’re even outraged by the lack of outrage of others. Outrage is, of course, another word for anger.

One ethnic minority doesn’t much care for another and so there is anger and hostility between the two (or sometimes more) of them, whether here in Australia or at home.

Some Australians are so angry that they use guns to maim or kill others, such that it seems that someone in, for example, western Sydney is shot on an almost hourly basis. And many angry Australians evidently decided, at some point in the quite recent past, that carrying knives around with them as they go about their day-to-day business, and stabbing anyone they have even the slightest disagreement with, is normal behaviour; some claim their knives are necessary for self-defence against other extremely angry Australians. Many of us are angry that this should be the case and we’re angry that more isn’t being done to stop it.

We’re angry about domestic violence and violence, generally, perpetrated by men against women—in fact, we’re so angry about it today that you’d almost think it never existed before about ten years ago; some of us are angry about that unbalanced view, too. We’re angry about the (seemingly) increasing levels of violence in today’s society, generally; we’re angry at inaction to curb societal violence, but we’re also angry about action that is taken to curb societal violence and we’re very angry about the perceived knock-on effects of some of those actions.

We’re angry with our Governments; we’re as angry with the prevailing political parties as with the opposition parties. In fact, we’re angry about politicians generally. We’re angry about their behaviour. We’re angry about their perceived elitism and dishonesty and piss-taking and out-of-touchness. We’re angry about pre-election promises that aren’t honoured once they’re swept to power. We’re angry about virtually everything they do and, more likely, don’t do.

We’re angry about gender equality, religious equality, income equality, marriage equality, social and class equality, ethnic equality, indigenous equality, equal opportunity, so-called ‘postcode discrimination’, freedom of speech, civil rights—essentially, we’re angry about anything and everything that we can or can’t do, and all the levers and mechanisms we perceive to play a part in such matters.

We’re angry about the destruction of trees and parklands for the construction of housing, roads and other infrastruture, yet, conversely, we’re also angry about a lack of housing, roads and infrastructure. We’re angry about historical elements of our built environment being destroyed to make way for new elements of our built environment. We’re angry about our built environment becoming increasingly high-density. We’re angry about the appalling cost of housing. We’re angry about a perceived onslaught of foreign investment in said high-density accommodations and we’re angry about the ever-decreasing ability of first home owners to afford to buy their own home.

We’re constantly angry with our fellow road users. We’re angry with drivers who hog the right lane on motorways. We’re angry with drivers, particularly truckdrivers, who ‘tailgate’ on highways. We’re angry with drivers who we perceive to have cut in or otherwise cut us off on suburban roads. We’re angry with virtually everyone on our clogged inner-city streets. We’re so angry that, at some point, the phenomenon of “road rage” became an actual thing.

We’re angry with the drivers of over-sized vehicles, because said vehicles are too big, take up too much space on narrow roads, block our forward vision, and are too slow. We’re angry with taxi drivers because they’re usually crap drivers who pilot their vehicles erratically and who stop anywhere irrespective of legality or impact. We’re angry with cyclists just because car drivers always are; we’re angry with cyclists because they’re too slow and they hold us up and there are now stupid laws in place that mean we must drive at least one metre away from them; we’re especially angry with cyclists who use the road when there’s an available bike lane.

Basically, our roads are almost exclusively populated by angry people.

We’re not engaged with our neighbours; we’re no longer talking to people in the street; in fact, more often than not we’re going out of our way to avoid eye contact altogether. We’re more likely to call the police about a neighbour’s noise than to ask the neighbour if they could take the decibels down a notch or two. We’re more likely to ignore a bewildered tourist with a map than to ask if they’re lost. We’re hesitant to help anyone who appears to be in any kind of trouble and we’re almost certainly not going to intervene in any kind of street conflict.

In all of this, do we ever ask ourselves why? Is it because you never know what someone will do? You never know how people will react? Someone might get violent? When did our world become this way? Is our collective hesitancy and mistrust and fear a product of our anger? Or is it the cause?

Or has it always been this way?


*Disclaimer: references to “we” and “we’re” are used, intentionally, to reference the broader society, and are not intended to suggest that the anger in question is that of the author, nor anyone known to the author, nor necessarily to anyone reading this statement right now.

Why Outrage Culture Is Stifling Marriage Equality Debate

MarriageEqualityHello. My name’s Matt and I’m a ranty old man. I’m also gay. Not making a big statement there, but it’s worth reiterating given the issue we’re about to look at.

I’ve probably always had a bit of a rebellious streak about me. I don’t care for the zombie-like drudgery of 9-to-5 culture. I don’t care for things being done for the sake of doing them. I’ve never much cared for pointless or self-appointed authority and I’ve never liked being told what to do, not by anyone.

If there’s one thing I hate even more than being told what to do, it’s being told what I can’t do. I get particularly riled by instructions that serve no clear purpose, or which effectively constitute legalised discrimination.

I don’t much care for relationships either. The idea of being legally and emotionally entangled with one person for the rest of eternity fills me with abject horror. Once marriage equality finally comes to pass, you’re more likely to find me hitching up my skirts and heading for the hills at the merest suggestion of nuptials.

But choosing not to enter into the solemn bonds of the sanctity of marriage is an entirely different proposition to not having the choice to enter into them at all.

Tell me it can’t happen because it’s physically or scientifically impossible and I’ll walk away from the whole thing as something that would be illogical to expend energy and emotion on. Tell me it can’t happen because it doesn’t fit with some fundamentally misunderstood and selectively remembered “traditional definition” and you’ll have a fight on your hands.

Bottom line: the only people who will ever be directly and materially impacted by the passing or defeating of a marriage equality bill are gay couples who want to marry. Stuff their family and friends! Sure they know the couple and they want to see them happy, yada yada yada… that’s all well and good, but none of it makes the situation theirs. The couples themselves are the only ones missing out. The way the outraged generation have inserted themselves into every orifice of this debate – as with so many others – has only muddied the waters of something that should be criminally simple.

So no more debate, please! It’s way past the point of having become counter-productive.

As if the endless debate hasn’t been damaging enough, the outraged generation  – in tandem with the media’s predisposition to all things ‘equality’ – is now unashamedly shutting down proponents of traditional marriage. That’s definitely no good thing. While it may appear that marriage equality is the topic of the moment for supporters, for those who never had a strong opinion either way, or for anyone open-minded enough to have revised their position, that doesn’t mean it really is, nor that everyone feels the same way.

Just as it would be unacceptable to cajole everyone into having the same beliefs on any other issue, it’s equally unacceptable to turn supporters of traditional marriage into social pariahs. Imagine the uproar if the shoe were on the other collective foot and it was the marriage equality lobbyists being summarily silenced – oh, the online outrage that would ensue! Even now, I can see all the melodramatic hashtags representing all the things that most hashtag users would never actually say in real life.

Let’s call a spade a spade: anyone with any significant concern about homosexuality is thinking far more about intimate acts between consenting adults than they’re willing to admit. But I’ll never ask them anything about what happens in their bedrooms, so I don’t expect them to be concerned about what happens in mine. I don’t define anyone by the where, when, who and how often of their sex life, just as I don’t expect anyone else to define me by the same narrow criteria.

At any rate, this debate isn’t about sex, so the viewpoints of anyone whose position** is rooted** in sex are entirely irrelevant. And that’s not me contradicting what I just said, either, it’s simply my position on theirs. They’ve as much right to their points of view as I have to dismiss them. I don’t attempt to silence them and I don’t vehemently argue against them. I simply dismiss them, in my own way, as respectfully as I can.

Because, as a gay man, realistically I can’t give a damn what supporters of traditional marriage think about marriage equality. That they support traditional marriage tells me all I need to know and that’s an end to it. Any finer points and qualifying comments are moot at best. Equally, we don’t need the topic debated to within an inch of its life by those who espouse the virtues of equality by quoting report after report, case study after case study and an endless list of ‘real world examples’ that support why marriage equality must be embraced as a good thing.

I don’t necessarily want the whole world to think marriage equality is a good thing. I don’t necessarily want the opposite either but, more importantly, I don’t want to live in a world where everyone thinks the same thing as everyone else. And I don’t want to live in a world where public opinion is not just influenced but determined by journalists and social media. I want to live in a world where it’s still OK that some people prefer dogs to cats, some prefer Samsung to Apple, some prefer Vegemite to Peanut Butter and some prefer Holden to Ford. I want to live in a world where it’s OK for some boys to prefer marrying boys than girls and some girls to prefer marrying girls than boys. Choice is a good thing. Acceptance is even better.

But let’s keep one critical point in mind with all of this: just because a marriage equality bill passes doesn’t mean automatic acceptance. It doesn’t mean that discrimination will end. Legalising something isn’t synonymous with everything becoming all rainbows, flowers and sunshine.

Today, worldwide, minority groups of all descriptions are discriminated against; many Australians are still, by and large, racist – or at least xenophobic; our indigenous population is still widely discriminated against; some Australians are ageist; some don’t like people of a different colour or religion; granting Australian women and indigenous people the legal right to vote had to go to a referendum; gays and lesbians broke the law every time they had sex until as recently as the mid-1980s; otherly-abled Australians are often discriminated against in a variety of ways; Australian women still apparently struggle for equal pay; indigenous Australians are still in debate with the federal government about how – or even if – they should be represented in the Constitution. Discriminating against anyone on any of these bases is already illegal, but the illegality of the act does nothing to quell the emotion behind it. Prejudice is driven by emotion, not logic, and discrimination and prejudice are everywhere.

Ultimately, some people just don’t like homosexuals, for whatever reason, nor the idea of homosexuals polluting the ‘traditional definition’ of marriage. A marriage equality bill isn’t going to change that. You can’t make people think, feel or believe something they don’t. Passing something into law isn’t a magic potion.

But like anything else that suffers from overexposure, people will eventually switch off – and overexposed is absolutely what the marriage equality issue has become. It needs to be resolved far sooner than the Abbott Government is currently saying it will be. It needs support from as many people as are willing to raise their hand in its support. But the one thing it absolutely doesn’t need is any more debate.



** double entendre not initially intended, but warmly embraced and enthusiastically acknowledged!