Fright Makes Right

A few days ago, I read an article on the Guardian about asylum seekers. Admittedly, and in the interest of disclosure, I do not have strong feelings about this issue but I have been influenced a lot by many friends past and present who were boat people, books like Anh Do’s book (The Happiest Refugee), and the opinions of various friends and influences who do have strong feelings on the matter. Suffice to say, as a result I gravitate towards the idea that both major Australian political parties’ attitudes towards asylum seekers is horribly awry.

But back to that article: it was more than a little jarring to learn from the comments section that there are a significant number of people who believe the government has an obligation to restrict immigration and prevent asylum seekers from entering the country and claim that, as a democracy, the government must oblige “the will of the people”.

I find this extremely disturbing, but I cannot fault their logic. It is true that “we the people” (as the Americans would say) wield the power to eject governments that do not reflect their interests – as we will certainly see in the upcoming election (a Rudd comeback notwithstanding). However, my problem is that it is also a case of “might makes right“, where any idea supported by sufficient numbers can triumph regardless of whether it is ill-informed (as is likely the case, as I’ll get to shortly), or outright wrong.

The Australian mainstream media (MSM) cannot claim with a clear conscience that they had no part to play in this. Every issue is sensationalised, and the hysterical reporting inevitably wrings the topic to within an inch of its life for whatever potential it has to harass the Government (and sometimes even the Opposition) for no better reason than to generate column inches and sell newspapers. It goes far beyond what is strictly necessary in the interests of journalism and reporting – here is an example borrowed from an article on The Hoopla:

Christopher Pyne held a media conference Monday morning as well and had a crack at talking about the Liberal Partyís education policy. The first question he was asked when he finished? What did he think about Kevin Ruddís leadership chances.

The second question he was asked was what happened to the rat that bit him during a charity sleep-out on the weekend. He quipped it died of bubonic plague. The third question to Christopher Pyne was from an excited journalist, thinking he had the scoop of the week, seriously asking if Pyne now had bubonic plague as well. Pyne had to point out it was a joke.

Oh yes, and questions on the education policy Pyne had spoken about? Zero.

So essentially, what really gets me is the possibility that people are agitating for change based on misinformation fed to them by lazy journalists and power-mongering media moguls. Of course, there’s always just plain old stupidity.

No doubt some will claim that the problem is a lack of leadership in this country. I don’t buy it. There was a profound quote in a letter to the editor of the Australian Financial Review: “Leadership in a democracy is by the consent of the led.” Sadly, its author, Greg Angelo, mentioned it in the context of criticising Julia Gillard, but I took a completely different meaning from it. The comments in the Guardian article show that a significant number of Australians do not consent to being led at all – they simply want a token figurehead to express their bigoted tendencies into law.

That does not bode well for either Kevin Rudd or Tony Abbott after the election, although Abbott has the clear advantage in that he possesses some of those bigoted tendencies.