There are two kinds of left wing people; those who smiled when Maggie Thatcher died, and those who did not. Those who did not smile likely acknowledged with a Kantian stiff upper lip that they disagreed strongly with the policies of The Baroness Thatcher but believed it to be disrespectful and unproductive to speak ill of the dead. These stoic rationalists value reason over all else. They, along with much of traditional western philosophy since Plato, believe that emotion stands at odds with rational thought. They believe that it is unreasonable to raise University fees, but they also believe that it is unreasonable to protest these fee increases by disrupting the Minister for Education’s appearance on Q and A. They believe that it is irrational to scrap the carbon tax, but they also believe that it is irrational – and horribly improper – to wear a Fuck Tony Abbott T shirt at March in March. Because God forbid we might offend some Tory!
As a result, these uber-rationalists never end up truly challenging the system. They think we should abide by commonly held standards – take turns at speaking, don’t yell, don’t swear, don’t speak ill of the dead, don’t get too worked up or overly emotional, don’t use personal attacks, always respect those in positions of power, etc. – in order to maintain our credibility. What the left wing rationalists fail to understand is that these ‘rules of decency’ are created by the privileged, for the privileged. When everyone politely takes turn at speaking and is given equal time, the educated elite – those that have been a member of a debating society and read Aristotle’s Rhetoric – win out. When everyone must respect the dead, the people who want to canonise Thatcher (and Thatcherism in the process) win out. To the extent that the rules favour the elite, they are unfair rules. If you insist on playing by the rules, even when they are unfair, then you, in part, help maintain the status quo. Indeed, an obsession with reason is bourgeois. Reason (when it is contrasted with emotion) helps keep people in their place. If you’re not allowed to cry and yell even when you are losing your unemployment benefits, then it will be much easier for people to ignore you. And the policy change will be much easier for the government to implement.
These rationalists (that, to use another example, condemn student protestors for aggressively screaming in Julie Bishops face) may be left wing in their heads, but they don’t appear to be left wing in their hearts. They lack the righteous indignation that inspires social movements and social change. They wipe their hands clean of the nasty system every 3 years at the ballot box and then return to their comfortable lives within that system, made ever so comfortable by their acceptance of the social rules that prop up that system.
Anger can be a powerful tool. Hatred of Thatcherism (including Abbott’s version of it) is far more likely to get you out of bed to protest than a simple recognition of the unreasonableness of Thatcherism. There is nothing wrong with a bit of anger at all. In fact anger and hatred towards the elite who are doing everything they can to crush you is not only understandable, it should be expected. To tell a poor sick person who will have to spend more money on their prescription drugs to stop crying and yelling is frankly condescending and offensive. It’s like asking a victim to stop crying because the tears are making their attacker feel uncomfortable and guilty. And it is important to note that such emotion is not contrary to reason. It IS entirely rational to prioritise an expression of your desperation over and above the desire of a Tory politician to feel comfortable and respected. From 1975 onwards, hard line Labor supporters made sure that Sir John Kerr’s dismissal of the Whitlam government haunted him for the rest of his life providing a disincentive for future Governor Generals to act in the same way by hurling abuse at him wherever he went. From all accounts, John Kerr died a miserable man. In the same way, if we can genuinely make these Tories, with their Victorian era sensibilities, feel uncomfortable and upset everywhere they go, we might actually provide a disincentive to be so nasty and vicious. An assuredly rational tactic. So if you’re not already, get angry, channel that anger, don’t worry too much about social conventions, and do all you can to fight and change the government.
Elliot Brice is a high school teacher with an Honours degree in Philosophy from the University of Melbourne.