Feminists and socialists: can’t live with them, can’t live without them
WORDS BY BEN JOHNSTON
Growing up at a school where commentary on contemporary events was never far from my principal’s lips and where a mantra of questioning everything was encouraged from a young age, I felt reasonably confident with my take of the world when I walked through the towering, golden (figurative) university gates for the first time in Autumn 2016.
I always thought that I had a reasonably ethical and moral conscience. Before the age of 18 I’d spent two weeks teaching Cambodian children and building houses in rural villages, and been to several parts of rural NSW working with Aboriginal communities where alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence and racism are all major problems. Beyond the cries of tokenism that these acts so often evoke, I felt that having been exposed to these experiences I had a fairly solid view that, whilst I was relatively unaware about where my career was likely to take me specifically, it was going to involve helping people in some way.
Why do I share this? So far you could be excused for thinking you’ve read the first half of my application for a graduate position at some big firm (PWC you out there?), but I promise you there is a hot point incoming. What I’m trying to tell you, students of USYD, is to not let my CV fool you; I am actually a very bad person. Why? Because outside Fisher library yesterday, I declined when approached to sign a petition to free refugees on Nauru.
Before I go on I just want to make clear, to those who associate themselves with the socialist movement, or the feminist movement, I have the utmost respect for what you are trying to achieve. The prospect of a better, fairer, more ethical world is a precious one that I try to play some small part in realising every day. But, and I’m picking my words very carefully here, endeavours towards long term social goals should not come at the expense of day-to-day decency in a first world democracy. I say this because recent experience has brought home some hard truths. Foot soldiers of these movements have a moral high ground over their more apathetic counter-parts, I won’t argue with that. The problem is they are starting to realize it, and it’s this realization that has manifested into an increasingly extraverted, whistle-blower expression of beliefs that reward an “it’s us against them” mentality.
Take yesterday for example, I was made to feel that my ‘malicious’ nature was matched only by the policy makers who are personally responsible for the wretched system that illegally holds refugees in de-facto prisons where disease, abuse and suicide is rife. Do I think these policies are wrong? Of course I do, but because I am unwilling to get up early on a Sunday morning and march through Martin Place waving banners I am not made to feel welcome. What’s more, on the times I have signed petitions, I have been made to regret it by constant heckling over the phone in ensuing weeks, often about unrelated issues. If this happened in any other context it would actually be illegal, but again a perceived moral high ground supposedly offers ample excuse to act post-conventionally relative to what’s socially acceptable. It’s this indifferent attitude towards the means to the end, and an apparent inability to recognize the need to treat all people’s views with respect that is making the prospect of joining social movements increasingly repulsive, even to humanitarian sympathisers like myself. If you can’t win me over, there’s no way you’ll ever be changing the attitudes of conservatives, and it’s this irony that I think successfully underlines the self-destructive and regressive tendencies of many socially progressive groups and movements that exist today. “It’s okay to say no,” does this phrase ring any bells? An entire anti-progressive, seemingly reasonable-sounding, surge was born and given too strong a voice directly out of the militant left’s blatant disregard and disrespect for other people’s views.
So, whether you’re a socialist, feminist, evangelist or just someone who is aspiring to change the world, stop what you’re doing and soak in some friendly advice. You’ve heard the cliché ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day?.’ This is true, but to extend this adage, I’d add that Rome was also not (slaves aside) built by hassling, sneering, whistleblowing, arrogance and smugness. It was built out of respect, communication and the coming together of people from colonies across the world for one common, powerful, inclusive vision. Furthermore, in solving the intricate labyrinth that is contextual humanitarian problems, remember that micro acts of kindness are the first piece, and the final.