This weeks escalation of outrage over ‘roasting’ demonstrated the extreme end of the political technique in which you define yourself by what you are against.
It was easy fodder. Young men bragged about deliberately getting younger girls drunk for sex. Never mind the reality, it was despicable enough just to consider, let alone achieve.
With so many people in the beltway outraged, it was hard for everyone to get enough publicity and self-definition from the event.
The story required escalation to give the political class more opportunities for self-definition.
So they found new people to be upset at (more young males), new issues to be against (male attitudes to women), new perspectives (young women ‘coerced’ into having sex).
It got better for the political class when two radio hosts asked the ‘questions that can’t be asked’ of a female caller. A new front was opened to use for political grand-standing and furthering the anti-rape issue.
It was manna from heaven when we discovered that the police had not been accurate is saying no one had complained to the police. Well, it was kind of true – one complaint couldn’t be sustained and three people wouldn’t make a complaint official. There was just enough difference in the police position to open a third front on the issue.
I can understand the exasperation and bewilderment of the Police Commissioner at the hysterical outrage whipped up over the matter.
The political class willfully blinded themselves to messy realities of human sexuality to escalate the matter out of its pathos and into tragedy.
The technique of defining ideology by being against other groups or attitudes is useful, but the ease with which outrage can be used means it too often supplants constructive politics. Politicians must be careful to weigh their outrage and constructiveness in equal doses.
I am demoralised by watching the political class lurch from outrage to outrage, leaving behind not a single improvement.
But I have worries about the “being against” technique from a wider view of what’s good for society.
- Simplifying issues doesn’t resolve them. Shoe-horning events to fit a simplistic moral ideology runs roughshod over all the levers that really exist to make changes. A society built on respect doesn’t come from political shouting or big-platform government policies. Simplifying people and issues encourages lack of respect. It encourages an environment where people to treat others as if they are stereotypes. It reinforces the American model of ‘there’s me and I’m right, and there’s you and you’re wrong’.
- We are pushed to the extreme. The irony of focusing on, and inflating, the worst about humanity, is that we don’t become better people. Extremes are so self-evidently ‘wrong’ that it’s easy to oppose and learn nothing.
- It ignores reality. Reality is so damn messy. When we simplify things we ignore the way life really is. We push ourselves into policies which are just not practical. Politics should be about real life – the art of the possible.
- “What-I-am-not” politics is destructive, not constructive. It’s easy to be against something, but what are you really for? What specific things do you think should be different, and how will you bring them about?