Wolf-Whistle Politics and the Conservative ‘Case’ Against 18c

If, like me, you’ve been following those who’ve been following the latest thrilling instalment of the free speech wars in the past few weeks you’ll have noticed a certain consensus forming among the Canberra commentariat. Applying its fingers to the nation’s pulse and studying the transcripts of her many summer barbecues (the barbecue being to public sentiment what the Olympic-size swimming pool is to liquid measurement), the press gallery has decided, with some justice I think, that hardly anyone outside a small group of conservatives gives a tinker’s shit about 18c, the section of the Racial Discrimination Act that makes it an offence to … well, you know what it makes it an offence to do. Sorry James, and sorry George, but it just ain’t up there among the nation’s priorities, or, for that matter, among the priorities of most members of your own ridiculous party. Not even those of us of a left-libertarian bent feel inclined to enter into the fray, 18c having become so deeply identified with the reactionary element in Australian politics that it is almost impossible to criticise in polite company. Rather like the EU in the Brexit debate, 18c is now something to which progressives cleave partly because of the kind of people who are against it.

Fine: we can have this conversation later, and I’ll save my criticisms of liberals and progressives who think they can engineer equality and social justice through state-approved forms of expression till then; as Jacqui Lambie pointed out the other day, there are other things to get to now. But before we leave the topic of 18c, changes to the wording of which are likely to be rejected in the Senate this week, it’s worth just reflecting on the powerful light it throws on the modern Australian right and how deeply confused and mad it now is. No, 18c is not a priority. But it is an effective diagnostic. [More here.]