The Politics of Rage

Dale Appleby

"The Second Coming: On the politics of rage". Christos Tsiolkas. The Monthly Dec 16-Jan17

The White Queen: One Nation and the Politics of Race. David Marr Quarterly Essay 65 2017

Christos Tsiolkas concludes his article by bemoaning the impact of anger in public debate: “...but this rage and this pornography of wrath, it is proving dangerous.” (35). His discussion claims that rage is everywhere and expressed by all kinds of parties. “There is a narrative of this anger…: that the rage festers in the disenfranchised white working class of the globalised capitalist world.” (30) A narrative he says, which is mistaken. “We are fooling ourselves if we believe the rage is only misogynistic or rural, only white and right-wing, baby-boomer and not millennial.” (30)

His view is that it has invaded all aspects of public discourse. Some if it is the language of elites used against those who don’t speak that language – the less educated for example. “...identity politics has become a weapon to punish any ambivalence of thought and expression, any incorrect use of gendered, racial or theoretical nomenclature, and to launch accusations of bad faith.”

(31) Some of it is exacerbated by “..the internet, which allows for a lubrication and indulgence in wrath just as much as it does for lust” (30). It shows itself in the increase in dichotomies, false distinctions and separations. Each group thinking in their own bubbles, class divisions and lack of understandings. His suggestion is that “We have to relearn listening and we have to relearn argument, to free both activities from the indulgent wrath of the new digital age.” (34)

David Marr discusses the rise and influence of Pauline Hanson and her One Nation Party. Despite her appeal to those disaffected with politics and politicians, those fed up with the influence of elites, and her positioning as part of a working class and nostalgic group, her central appeal has to do with race, according to Marr. The focus of the rage against other races has changed over the years. At present it is Muslims. Previously it was Aborigines and Asians. Dr Anne Aly agrees with various researchers who think that there is around 14 per cent of the population that are clearly hostile to Muslims and another 10 per cent that hold vaguer fears towards Muslims (17).

Marr thinks Hanson has harnessed the fear and anger of this part of the population. Her power, he says, is not just that it has won her another term in the Senate, but that she holds sway over a significant voting block which affects the fortunes of the major parties. Hence the gradual and unashamed adoption of many of One Nation’s policies by the Government, and the refusal of any of the leaders of the major parties to call her on her racism. Because that would immediately alienate a group which the major parties need to woo.

Marr’s essay outlines a deliberate use of fear and racial hatred to promote a political agenda. Hanson would say that she is merely giving that 24 per cent of the population a voice. Marr’s conclusion is that “the far right where politicians are spending so much energy harvesting votes these days is not Australia. Nearly all of us are somewhere else, scattered around the centre, waiting for a government that will take this good, prosperous, generous country into the future.” (95).

Both essays are rational and irenic. Both are speaking the language of their group. Marr’s is an attempt to explain and dismiss. Tsiolkas offers some advice about listening and arguing. And a plea to give up anger. But what is the alternative, or antidote, to engineered anger?

At a community level, fear and engineered hate are ways of reinforcing tribal boundaries. Because tribal boundaries are felt as means of retaining security. Listening and arguing better may be of some help to those who want less tribal conflict. But some of the talk needs to be inside the tribe to identify other ways not to be afraid. And leadership that shows a path for righteous anger not to become festered anger.

I was at a meeting of EFAC members recently at which the discussion came around to the kind of hate that is directed towards evangelicals. Some of it is passive, of course, and most of it may not be addressed directly. Yet there is a strong antipathy to what evangelicals are perceived to stand for. Inside the evangelical tribe there is a strong desire to listen and argue gently, humbly and in a conciliatory spirit. There is also anger particularly by those who are chronically marginalised. But evangelicals don’t need to be afraid and they don’t need to feed their anger. Either as members of a church or as citizens in a nation.

What they do have is a way of thinking, living and feeling that follows the principle of “blessing those who curse you”, and of “doing to others what you want them to do to you”. Marr wants a government to lead this nation into a better future. Christians still have the opportunity to show their church and nation (and political parties) how the tribes of the earth can listen and argue and grow together in friendship.