18C: Why bigotry and rudeness break the social contract

By | | comments |
Well, if this isn't hypocrisy, we don't know what is! (Image via @CFMEU)

Why do the so-called "PopCons" (populist conservatives) constantly denounce this thing they call "political correctness"? John Maycock argues it’s because they want the right to be rude as well as bigoted.

PERHAPS THE bigots think that tearing down Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act will tear down "political correctness" and that, in doing so, it will negate their social responsibility — giving them free rein to re-write history.

However, what the right wing nut jobs (RWNJs) are calling "political correctness" (PC) might better be described as "social correctness".

"Social correctness" is really only about being civil in our public conversations, while so-called "political correctness" implies a stifling of debate.

Most social issues do have a political element and there are policies and legislation that wear the PC Label — from different perspectives. However, it has to be acknowledged that it is a political/religious ideology behind the “othering” narrative that “drives” the public use of "political correctness" as an RWNJ term of abuse against progressives. When viewed this way, the notion of political correctness – as used in the public domain – is actually an “out” for bigots, who are actually saying: "Those people who object to our bigotry really agree with us, it is just that they are too scared by PC to support us."

The bigots suggest that if not for "political correctness" there would be nobody saying anything about their bigotry — and that more people would be bigots if they were not intimidated by PC. When the bigot is “called out”, s/he declares they are “being silenced” and propose that others who would otherwise support them are also “being silenced” — while those who call them out, according to the bigot, only do so due to PC.

Yet most of these conversations takes place in the social world – pubs, clubs and BBQs, or the social media equivalent, so to speak – not in a political world. It is within this social world that their peers call out the bigots. In other words, it is a commonly-held social norm that requires the bigots to desist with their divisive anti-other narrative/behaviour; their flooding social media and public discourse with material that many find offensive abusive and intolerant – the lies, baseless accusations and vexatious stereotyping generalisations – tacit taunts and threats of (or actual) violence.

And here it is the boundaries of "social correctness" the bigots are crossing, not PC, but they cannot accept this. Bigots seem to really believe that there is nothing wrong with what they do. Blinded by their own tainted ideology they accuse their critics of being blinded by ideology.

In this context, "political correctness" is not a real thing, it does not exist outside of their "othering" narrative – it is a defensive meme. When the bigot complains that the "PC card" has been played, it is the bigot who is – then and there – playing their own version of the "PC card". They say "political correctness" ends debate, but the reality is they have nothing to debate with.

More sinister, though, when the bigots declare that objections to their anti-social behaviour are politically driven – not socially driven – they deny the free will of those in the community who empathetically seek "social justice". They smear the credibility of their peers.

"Political correctness" is, therefore, not an issue at all for the bigot, other than being a propaganda device used to steal the moral high ground and to mount ad hominem attacks on their detractors.

Indeed, IA reader Paul, sums it up nicely with this comment on John Menadue's article entitled 'Globalisation: Winners and losers in the gathering storm of alienation':

Those of us who view ourselves as humanists are marginalised by the clarion call of the self-righteous extremists.’

However, within this public narrative, "political correctness" is only the indoctrinating “hammer”. The real enemy is multiculturalism. The bigots claim that it has been thrust upon an homogenous society and now is auguring the destruction of our supposedly unique "Aussie" culture.

Pauline Hanson secures ratings with her racism (SBS 'The Feed​​​​​​​')

Yet, here too – like their notion of PC – the bigot’s use of multiculturalism is meaningless outside of their "othering" narrative. For them, it is about Australia somehow being forced to become a multicultural society. As if multiculturalism is something that was created at the stroke of a pen sometime in the 1970s. According to this narrative, we just woke up one day to be told that we were now going to be multicultural – and to do so we would have to change our ways – culminating today in this populist notion of impending cultural obliteration.

If we consider the following definitions of multiculturalism, this is a ridiculous position, so beloved of the so-called patriots and reclaimers.

  • Multiculturalism describes the existence, acceptance, or promotion of multiple cultural traditions within a single jurisdiction.
  • Multiculturalism is the co-existence of diverse cultures, where culture includes racial, religious, or cultural groups….

Two points from the first definition: existence and acceptance of multiple cultural traditions reflect the second definition: co-existence of diverse cultures. The cultural “melting pot” of “racial, religious, or cultural groups” has to exist in the first place for co-existence to be happening, while co-existing can be taken to mean acceptance. However, the use of the word “acceptance” is also troubling for the bigot, as is the word “promotion” (of multiple cultural traditions). The "othering" narrative has it that “we” are being forced (hammered) into “acceptance” and that the “promotion” of multiculturalism has somehow created multiculturalism.

Putting aside the very reasonable assumption that a monocultural society would not be promoting multiculturalism, it seems that multiculturalism cannot exist outside of a multicultural society – or, in other words, "multiculturalism/multicultural society" describes a society made up of a multitude of cultures – and nothing more.

So then, in the Australian context, 40-or-so years ago, Gough Whitlam’s use of the term "multiculturalism" was describing our society as it then “existed”. The word was putting a name to what was unique about Australia’s society — not just the recognition that ours was a multicultural society but more so acknowledging that it had been for quite some time.

In fact, Tess Lawrence’s recent observations on “who we are” would be just as relevant describing our makeup even 60 – or more – years ago as it is today when she says the “we” of Australian society:

‘…includes the Indigenous, the migrant, the refugee, the homosexual, the female of our species, the asylum seeker, the detainee, the Polack, the Roma, the Jew, the Muslim, the Christian, the unbeliever, the homeless, the sick in body, mind and spirit, the uneducated and the poor….’

Indeed, according to ex PM Paul Keating:

Australia was perhaps the most successful multicultural society in the world… [but then] John Howard put the torch to that.

Although I would suggest that it was Pauline Hanson (a baby boomer like me) who set the fire of populist demagoguery going in the public domain back in 1996, by bridging the gap between the History Wars going on in the political/academic sphere and the social world of the the public domain (pubs, clubs and BBQs). Hanson did this with a racialised downward envy — initially targeting Indigenous citizens. Howard, Abbott and others have kept pouring on the fuel. The re-emergence of Hansonism this year may well extend bigotry in the social domain.

How Hanson’s downward envy and notions of reverse racism play into the rise of right-wing populism – because that is what seems to be more behind the anti-multicultural meme – is another story for another time. It seems to revolve around a simplistic notion, along the lines of "They are getting something that I 'am not', due to multiculturalism".

Suffice to say, both Hanson and I were born into a multicultural world — as was everyone else born then or since. That whitebread "Aussie" monoculture that is supposedly under threat from multiculturalism – the one that the bigot claims to defend – has not existed since the late 1940s. To put that another way, the so-called unique "Aussie" culture that the bigots claim is being eroded is actually multicultural and has been since long before a lot of them were born and it is they who are doing the eroding. It is not "political correctness", it is "social correctness" that stands in their way.

At the same time, their distorted views of multiculturalism could simply be described as truth going down the memory hole.

You can follow John Maycock on Twitter @L3ftyJohn.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Australia License

Monthly Donation


Single Donation


Support independent journalism. Subscribe to IA for just $5.

Recent articles by John Maycock
The Morrison Government's robodebt cover-up lies

Rather than offer an apology, Scott Morrison has shifted the blame for the robodebt ...  
BOOK REVIEW: White Tears Brown Scars

Ruby Hamad's new book confronts the historical and contemporary oppression faced by ...  
Australian history according to Joe Hildebrand

Comments recently published by Joe Hildebrand on Indigenous issues demonstrate a ...  
Join the conversation
comments powered by Disqus

Support IAIndependent Australia

Subscribe to IA and investigate Australia today.

Close Subscribe Donate