The other day, stepping out of my car in a car park, I heard a male voice screaming loudly. Looking around I spotted him yelling into a mobile phone clutched in his left hand while his right hand waved around in the air. Occasionally he kicked the tree he was standing under, or a car nearby, as he twisted and turned.
The language was, as they used to say, purple, though in his case it had moved beyond that into the ultraviolet. It very quickly became obvious that I had inadvertently arrived in the middle of a, shall we say euphemistically, domestic disagreement being conducted by phone in public. So much in public that, if the partner lived anywhere within a 100km radius, the phone was superfluous – she could have stepped outside her house and heard him roar. He was broadcasting to the world.
And roar in the nastiest possible way. The gist of his side of the conversation, repeated, with variations, over and over was “Why are you doing this to me you f#cking bitch I’ll kill you you c#nt?” Had any of the curious listeners, variously situated, unobtrusively, at safe distances from him, attempted to approach him it was on the cards he would have tried to kill them. Conversely, if he had been physically with his wife/partner, in a shop or restaurant, or indeed at home, and had been behaving the way he was, domestic violence charges of some kind would have been on the cards. Merely broadcasting to listeners in a car park left him safe.
Anyway, I went into the shop, glad to get away from the virulent misogyny, and when I returned he had gone. The end of one of the eight million stories in the Naked City. Except that it had left me thinking.
It came in a week when our Opposition Leader, and probable future leader, had told delighted right wing think tank cadres that in government he would be repealing the Racial Discrimination Act so as to prevent any restriction of “Free Speech”. Didn’t those wide-eyed Libertarians applaud until their hands ached. Standing ovation? I’m thinking yes.
Always causes difficulty for the Left, this “free speech” meme exploited so ably by the Right. The mere whiff of a hint of a possibility of a reservation about some of the effects of hate speech and Libertarian Think tanks and their political and shock jock friends are pouring shit on you from a great height as a hater of freedom and liberty
So effective has this tactic been that the rise and rise of hate speech, mainly but not only in America, and mainly but not only supported by Rupert Murdoch, has been a major factor in the rise of neonazi groups (under various names) everywhere, and the success of right wing political parties.
This strident garbage provides, like the first blowfly maggot hatching in a sheep’s wool, the perfect environment for the Right to flourish. In nurturing racism and misogyny (like our friend in the carpark) and anti-science, it promotes the steady drift Rightward of public discourse. So effective has this been that it is noticeable, unremarkable, that social democratic parties like the US Democratic Party, Australian Labor and other Labour parties, have policies and attitudes that would have once upon a time placed them far to the Right of conservative parties of the past.
The Libertarian proponents of absolute freedom of speech might sometimes stop short, like a fist almost reaching a nose, at the point of considering whether shouting “Fire” in a crowded theatre (a metaphor taking on a new edge after the massacre at the Batman movie) should be allowed.
But the hate merchants (also applauding Abbott’s speech loudly) are not just shouting fire, they are providing matches and petrol, blocking exits, removing light fuses, cutting emergency phone lines. The classic case of the effect of this sort of thing was the terrible shooting and near killing of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and the killing of half a dozen people she was with, after the Palin camp produced a map with gunsights painted on a map showing offices of politicians who had dared to have a different political view to the appalling woman once a Diebold voting machine away from being a heartbeat away from the presidency.
In effect all shock jocks and populist politicians are painting targets on people who do not share their views. In Australia the people who said the Prime Minister was a “witch” or a “cheap prostitute whoring herself” who should be “drowned in a sack” or “kicked to death” were inviting violence in a way that should not be permitted in a civilised society whether applied to the prime minister or the unfortunate woman who was the partner of Car Park Man.
Bullying, in home, school, workplace is rightly taken very seriously these days. And it is clearly recognised that verbal bullying can cause as much distress and psychological damage as physical actions.
Yet we facilitate, protect, applaud, the bullying and incitement to bullying that takes place every day in out media. Target after target of helpless and/or vulnerable groups (Aborigines, gays, single mothers, unemployed, refugees, public housing tenants, environmentalists, unions) are chosen day after day by bully boy and bully girl shock jocks and politicians. And day after day there are attempts by the same people to denigrate, delegitimise, degrade, political and philosophical opponents. Day after day words are twisted, lies told, rage consequently incited.
This is not a political discourse that, say, Eisenhower, Menzies, or Churchill would have recognised, let alone accepted. It is however one that Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot would have felt very comfortable with.
We have laws to try to protect people from poisons in water, air, food. Time to try, however difficult it might be in practice, to reduce the amount of poison in our airwaves.
And in our car parks.