Disconnect

I had a brief argument yesterday morning with my closest work colleague about Adam Goodes. Just when you thought it was all over there was a brief episode of booing over the weekend. It provoked comment and ridicule. This time I couldn’t let it go.

As a general principle I believe in calling out these moments when they occur. But that’s just a general principle. Reality is different, on practical grounds as much as anything.

It’s dispiriting to realise that no matter what you say or how compelling your argument is that you’re not going to change someone’s mind. Irrational beliefs are rarely challenged by rational reasoning. That’s just the way it is. There’s a lot of people with closed minds not because they refuse to think anything different, but because they refuse to think full stop, or are incapable of it. An open mind is a rare and beautiful thing. It may feel noble to fight the good fight, but at the end of the day all it does is give you a warm glow, and quite likely earn you the enmity of those you’ve argued against.

That’s the second practical consideration. I’m wary of arguing these things in a work environment. It’s not the place for it for a start, and you run the risk of disenfranchising yourself from your colleagues. I’ve bitten my tongue many times in the last few months because of that. Sometimes though you can’t let it go.

And so yesterday I argued for Adam Goodes, knowing it was pointless, but impassioned nonetheless. It was no surprise to find my arguments got nowhere, but at the same time I am eternally surprised how so many people are incapable of grasping what seem to me simple propositions. In this case, how would you feel if you were booed and heckled every time you went to work? But no, he was a sook, a weakling, and that was the end of it. There’s an empathy disconnect, and it’s quite widespread.

I’m very much the odd man out here. Everyone is pleasant. They’re good types, salts of the earth, hearts of gold, etc, yet at the same time that disconnect is almost universal.

It’s been an interesting and occasionally puzzling experience for me. I don’t really want to buy into class politics, but the difference between me and pretty much everyone else here is that of demographics.

I venture out to go to work. I’ve lived most of my life in the trendy inner suburbs of Melbourne – the latte set. I’m well educated, well read and well-travelled, which is just about the standard for those areas. I grew up middle class in a liberal family. Conversation and debate was common in my home, and I was encouraged to think beyond my own small world.

Probably 90% of my colleagues live further out and venture in to work. I’ll hazard a well-founded generalisation that they’re not as well-travelled or as well read as the people I grew up among, and who I rub shoulders with socially.

I remember when I lived in Brisbane one of the things I noticed was a vague disinterest with issues of national import. There was the general conception that because those things were decided and settled in the southern states – whence I’d come – then they wouldn’t bother overmuch with them. There was a small sense of petulance in this, but it sat well with their hedonistic outlook. That was 10 years ago, and I figure it’s different now.

I suspect there’s a similar attitude in the outer suburbs, though without any petulance – they’re happy not to engage with anything at more than a superficial level. I’m continually surprised at how little interest people around me have in really quite important current affairs. I’ll mention something and they’ll look at me vaguely, unsure if they know anything about it. It just hasn’t registered because it doesn’t matter to them.

Now I’m an extreme case of someone very engaged, whether I like it or not. Among my social contemporaries I’m an outlier, but while not everyone is passionate most are aware. The further you out you get, it seems, the less aware you become. When awareness dawns understanding extends no further than a sensationalist headline, which often become established fact and opinion.

Is this apathy I’m speaking of? Disengagement? Has it always been thus? Why doesn’t it matter?

It does matter though, and that’s the problem. In an ideal world a fully engaged electorate keeps the government – and opposition – honest because they scrutinise them rigorously. In the real world there’s only a select few who do that, and the political class as a result get away with murder. We’re the losers out of that, the punters, and it explains in large part the present diabolical state of our politics.

I suspect many have turned off politics because of how depressing it is, but that only exacerbates the situation. Sadly, I think more are disinterested because they’re not sufficiently curious to be interested. That seems to be a human state, perhaps more prevalent than ever before. Is it education? Is it social? Why is it so?

It’s a state of mind that discourages serious consideration of anything much, and so the thinking facility atrophy’s. At the same time we have been conditioned by political statements and by media to a more simplistic perspective, captured very neatly by Tony Abbott in his “goodies and baddies” view of the world.

Without sensitivity, nuance or discernment reactions tend to the edges. And so we get violent reactions to the likes of Adam Goodes, and not a considered evaluation. It’s not just goodies and baddies, it’s us and them.

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