“Anger is an energy” sang PiL nearly three decades and countless horrors ago. Anger is everywhere, and with good reason - the environment, social and income inequality, attacks on already-decaying education, health and welfare systems, the apparent need to protect our borders from desperate refugees. Whichever side of the fence you sit on these issues, it's easy, and most healthy, to get angry.
But anger about so many of these things seems to change nothing. And from that powerlessness, that impotence, springs Rage, the most pointless, self-harming and yet uncontrollable feeling of all.
Of all the passions, rage is possibly the worst. It’s the ugliest – the frustration that makes our face contort, jolts our bones and tears at our throat. It’s a circle of anger and powerlessness where the two feed off and strengthen each other – think of Basil Fawlty attacking his broken-down Morris with a tree branch, needing to lash out while knowing that it will achieve nothing, which only adds to the anger.
And if you’re watching what’s happened in Australia over the last few months and not feeling rage, you’re just not paying attention.
So let’s catalogue what is happening right now:
Clive Palmer: about to come into his own in the senate with a party already so fractured and disjointed that Palmer United qualifies as Australia’s most dangerous fault line. But let’s ignore that, because Palmer’s trickster comedic turn is the closest we get to a topical news show in Australia (Billionaire fauxdiot says “You are very naive when it comes to politics, my girl“ to experienced political journalist. LAUGH TRACK).
The independent panel that selects the ABC’s board stacked with hostiles as a corrective rather than balancing measure, putting the national broadcaster under threat.
Bill Shorten: an opposition leader whose success in the polls can be directly attributed to the fact no one hears from him. Which is actually a good thing because his opposition to the Government is as well camouflaged as his media presence.
An at-sea 4-question asylum “enhanced assessment” process that makes my Tinder hookups appear researched in comparison.
A Prime Minister who has perfected the ability to goosestep his feet straight into his own mouth has described Australia as “unsettled or, um, scarcely-settled“ ignoring around 68,000 years of pre-invasion history and established trade relations, not to mention a landmark 1992 court case that established the Australia was not an empty land and was rich with settlement.
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison: a man so bereft of empathy for the human condition we need to consider if this organic meat computer is the first form of AI able to pass a Turing test but fail the three laws of robotics. His latest callous creation, Border Force, offers all the entertainment of a Masterchef invention test using fascism as the hero ingredient.
This would have been a longer list had I not had a rage stroke and needed a lie down before covering the thorough rogering given to welfare, the poor, the aged, the ill, people with disability, indigenous or anyone without the good sense to have been born white, healthy and preferably with a dick.
Australia has long been told rage is useful. Rage gives us pluck, it carries us through those long valleys of desperation. Maintain the rage, we’re told, the bluster that will give us energy through the trek.
Rage is the white cell rush from alienation and disagreement. It’s an alienation that Australians know well, having moved from perpetual colonial underdog to pedigree equivalent that insists it’s still the same trampled canine.
Right now, rage isn’t working for us. Tens of thousands can vent their spleens on the streets but it won’t stop Scott Morrison or Tony Abbott behaving like Voldemorts who haven’t yet spitefully cut off their noses. No amount of retweeting will bring Bill Shorten out of the Witness Protection Program. No memeifying a Janet Albrechtsen quote will dissolve both the houses, restore funding to the ABC and make QandA good again.
Our rage performance is much like the public grieving, a contagion of unrestrained emotion that does little but make noise for those happy to play deaf. Our cacophony won’t break down systems of oppression, it won’t bring back a missing 3 year old from a Minister’s sea of “operational matters” or give the media the space they need to place politicians under the unstinting examination they deserve.
Rage lacks the energy to fuel long-term change, it’s a short burst that momentarily inflames and expands the lungs. But ultimately, the energy that fires us extinguishes, only fast-cooling embers left behind, wisps of smoke curling toward the sky and dissipating.
Because our fury is much relief as it is a defence against fully comprehending the abuses of power conducted in our name.
To fully arrest and thwart the arrogant cruelty currently on display in Australia, our commitment to change must last beyond social media. It must go further than wintry afternoon’s instagramming witty protest banners and high-profile mischief.
Though fun, this release and entertainment isn’t a complete cycle for change. It’s like the prewash setting – over in a minute and doesn’t seem to do much. When rage is used properly, it can be a release to purge the head before the real work for change begins, a cleansing fire to burn off the emotions.
As philosopher Dr Damon Young recently told me “rage is a kind of medicinal outburst, which lances the wound but doesn't stop the basic disease”.
But while we rage (perhaps the trained response to the sound of a dog whistle), we change nothing. We hurl our bodies against the ramparts of that which we rage against, bruising and damaging ourselves while those we wish to change look down on us in amusement, if they bother to look at all.
“Rage is almost always weak - that's why we rage. Compare with the calm brutality of the government”, says Dr Young. “No raging there.”