Any writing that emerges from the right is derided as being utterly unworthy of publication, and the authors are regarded as being either mindless mouthpieces or vicious propagandists.
To the militant left winger, there are few so evil or so hated as Andrew Bolt.
Now, to be fair, Bolt writes for a publication that delights in and often courts controversy — as he does himself. There can be no doubt that he writes with at least one eye on the weeping and gnashing of teeth that his writings provoke from the left.
But he is not a stupid man. And, whether his political views emanate from a long held beliefs or simple opportunism, he appears to write with great sincerity. He is read by vast numbers of people, and many, many of them agree with him. Not because he told them too (although a level of slavish adherence can be assumed) but rather because he strikes a chord with them. His writing reflects their world view.
Some of the vitriol directed at him is light-hearted, (such as the #LOLBolt hashtag). Some of it, however, is downright abusive. However, a quick review of the comments on his pieces reveals that many regard him as a guru. It isn’t hard to see why. Whilst some would have you believe otherwise, the right’s views (as enunciated by Bolt) are perfectly defensible.
Help those who want to help themselves. Reward hard work. If you’re not bothering anyone, the government should get out of your way. The private sector is a lot better than government at getting things done. Look after your own, because no one else will.
You may disagree with those ideas, but they are perfectly defensible points of view. Writers who espouse them are popular because those views run deeply throughout our society. If you can’t see that, you’re being wilfully blind.
But it’s not just left wingers who are guilty of ideological blindness. The Right are never slow to deride the views of the Left and frequently go beyond sensible commentary in doing so.
The contempt that the right feel for the left seems, as best I can tell, to be less “How can anyone really believe that?” and more, to use the catchphrase we so frequently see mocked, “You hate Australia.”
The left winger’s greater focus on the well-being of group, race and nation rather than the individual is anathema to the right winger. Why on earth are we sending money to other countries when there is no benefit to us? We have problems of our own over here! And don’t get me started on welfare — teenage mums pumping out the babies to get another baby bonus handout.
The Welfare State and the support given to the weaker in our society and our world directly contradicts the core belief of the rightwing that people should be helped just enough to be able to help themselves.
Unsurprisingly, all that flows from such sentiments is cynicism about the recipients of those funds, whether it be other countries or the long-term unemployed. The Right often believe that we as a society are being played for fools by the recipients of our goodwill, and deride the Left for being so easily fooled.
For me, no issue better demonstrates the Right’s contempt for lefty politics than asylum seekers.
The Right, if I might generalise, believe that asylum seekers should be afforded only the minimum protections and benefits necessary to comply with law, whilst the Left would have Australia take as many (genuine) refugees as possible and then treat them generously..
Certain members of the Right have made the most extraordinary allegations against the Left — that the Left wants Australia to be “overrun” by Muslims, that the Left are happy to see the Australian “way of life destroyed”, or that the Left are nothing more than “compassionistas”. They are (dare I say it?) “UNAUSTRALIAN”.
The Right often appear unwilling to accept that the Left hold these views for rational, defensible reasons and on that basis, feel justified in holding the Left in contempt. Rightists cannot countenance our money being “wasted” on others, and are blind to any argument to the contrary.
Before I go any further, I should concede that I am of course generalising. The “left” and the “right” are broad schools, with a diverse range of views, and there are many people on both sides keen on engaging in political debate and discussion.
But it appears that the chasm between left and right is growing, and, to stretch the metaphor, as the differences deepen, it looks like it is becoming too difficult to hear what the other side is saying.
But coming back to my original point — why is there such an enormous blind-spot to the opposing points of view? Why is there such an unwillingness to appreciate an opposing position?
At least one cause is a stubborn unwillingness to listen and to truly attempt to understand the opposing point of view. It’s all to easy to listen to an argument you disagree with and to consider it only for its weaknesses. Rather than evaluate an argument and then allow it to influence their view, many are only enraged by the argument’s weaknesses.
This is why many lefties would storm parliament house naked before they would agree with anything said by Miranda Devine, and why the right would rather drown themselves in bong water before accepting that the Greens have ever had any idea worth writing down. Overwhelmingly, we just don’t listen to each other — not properly.
You expect this kind of behaviour in political parties, where people are paid to at least give lip-service to a certain ideology - at least as long as it is politically expedient — (but that’s another discussion). You expect it from writers who are pigeonholed, put on a payroll on that basis, and then encouraged to provoke outrage. You expect it from the bloggers, tweeters and commenters who delight in creating a furor. But it seems that more and more people today have a fundamental inability (not unwillingness, but inability) to comprehend an opposing point of view. A mindset so concrete, so impervious to argument or persuasion, that anyone who attempts it is immediately labelled with some unpleasant epithet and ignored.
Why has this has happened? A media more focused on “news entertainment” rather than news? The internet, meaning that anyone with a connection can launch their own opinion site? Far greater opportunities for political engagement and discussion?
But what is clear is that many people no longer want to use reason. read those they agree with, and only read those they disagree with, when the content is sufficiently outrageous to provoke ridicule.
No matter how outlandish your personal views, there are those with whom you can fervently agree for as long as you desire. And the more time spent moving in those circles, the more those views are entrenched, and the more committed you become.
I am by no means bemoaning partisanship. Everyone can and should have their own views, and it is right and proper that politics (and life itself) should be about a battle of ideas. I celebrate a debate where each side has its turn to make their case and where ideas can be measured and found either wanting or well-grounded.
What I am saddened by is a narrative where people not only cannot countenance the opposing point of view, but cannot even understand it. Where the speaker is so baffled as to why anyone would have any other point of view that the only reasonable conclusion is that the opponent is a liar or a propagandist.
I think we’re better than that.