Easy virtue or easy outrage?

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
ABC The Drum /
October 12, 2012 /

Click here to view original /

Judging by the gratuitous adulation expressed of late, evidently I too should be overjoyed that the PM used the M-word.

The feminist in me, apparently, ought to be delighted that she dared call a spade a spade. Dared label thine enemy with feminism’s biggest verbal weapon.

A courageous move, apparently. A ballsy venture. A sign of leadership acumen, of oratory skills.

Yeah, personally I’m not so convinced.

While I want to write a piece about why playing the M-card was a dodgy move, the thought of writing a defence of Tony Abbott makes me shudder. Instead, I’ve chosen to write about just how perfectly the PM’s accusation encapsulates the contemporary political landscape.

A landscape dominated by distraction, by faux-political discussion and by so much bloody outrage.

Of all its many virtues, cyberspace has resulted in quite a bit of media power redistribution. No longer do the established news outlets hold all the cards, no longer do they alone get to dictate public discourse.

This more egalitarian mediascape has meant that everyone cannot only have their say, but broadcast it. Everyone can have an opinion and if it’s suitably – and deliciously – egregious, then everyone will end up knowing about it.

In recent times, the Australian political discussion seems to be grounded in outrage. Mining every quip, every barb, seeking malice apparently today constitutes political engagement. Political commentary, seemingly, can solely consist of hunting for more and more excuses to get fired up; to feel outraged and wronged and offended. And then to tell everyone just how outraged and wronged and offended we feel.

My ego doesn’t extend to considering one opinion as more valuable than the next. I’m much less reluctant however, to argue that outrage is the least complex, the least interesting and certainly the least helpful of political commentary, of political engagement.

Anyone can rant and rail. It’s effortless participation and it’s cheap.

There’s the adage about praising everyone means praising no-one. And the same thing transpires with outrage: if we’re always outraged, if every dig and every smart-arse remark causes us to feel aggreived, either we’re never really outraged, we’re dangerously – and deludedly – thin-skinned or the outrage is all just a performance.

I’m convinced it’s the latter.

It’s just easier to attack political enemies for their ill-timed comments and poorly chosen words than on their policies. The latter, after all, requires an attention to detail and political nous that is, sadly, unevenly distributed.

My problem with outrage is that by beating our breasts, we’re implying that every comment – no matter how trivial or private or stupid – is not only worth listening to but worth commenting on.

By bothering to get all mad and ulcerous, we’re elevating nonsense to the status of political discussion.

And here’s my problem with playing this politics-of-distraction game.

By allowing our emotional and intellectual energies to be spent on outrage, our eyes are taken off the prize.

While we’re busy playing the girls vs the boys game, the he-said-she-said game, or the mummy-mummy-my-feelings-are-hurt game, we’re not talking about policy. We’re not talking about values. We’re not having serious debates about the kind of country we want to live in. About the style of government we want.

There’s a time and place for outrage, for protest. And then there’s a time for quiet eye-rolling, sending a couple of vitriolic Tweets and then turning the proverbial cheek. Sure, we could get in their filthy sandpit with them. Me, I’d rather build my own.

© Lauren Rosewarne