Every day during the pandemic, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has updated us on the state of play with the Corona Virus. Case numbers, deaths, numbers tested, mystery cases, clusters and hotspots.
It’s not a soapbox occasion by any means. He’s not trying to win anyone over to any political agenda. He mostly pleads with people to follow the rules, thanks those who are doing so already and expresses gratitude and empathy for the struggles everyone is going through during the stage four lockdown. And then he thanks them again. And again. And he repeats that he is immensely grateful to those people doing the right thing.
But if you look at the comments as they whiz by during the live broadcast, you’d think he was threatening to kill babies or lock people up for life for walking to the shops. You’d think his agenda was to control people’s movements now and forever.
It’s a constant stream of vitriol and abuse, the likes of which has become all too common on social media everywhere.
The world is awash with anger and rage.
Anyone who pops their head above the parapet to do anything in public view these days should be ready to cop earfuls from every which way as well as death threats and if you’re a woman, rape threats and general insults about your appearance.
This is the new normal and no one seems capable of stopping it or even curtailing it.
What is it about this anger? What is it telling us? Where does it stem from? Have we always been walking around with a pleasant public face and the spawn of the devil raging inside us?
Online that fury inside has an outlet that it has never had before. And it’s not pretty. But it seems to be the only response currently available to people.
It’s a quick response in an online world increasingly demanding immediate responses instead of considered deliberation. Select a red hot angry face emoji or hit that like button. It’s easy and satisfying.
Anger is an expression of impotence and frustration, no doubt. And anyone who expresses it either attracts more in reaction or vigorous applause for saying ‘what we’re all thinking’. To wit Trump, Hanson et al. They act in this way, mainly out of self-interest. And they have a cheer squad mirroring them in the media for the same reason, to garner attention. Think Bolt, Alan Jones, Rowan Dean. They offer a vector for the clamour in people’s heads. It’s not a new strategy. The Age has always run right-wing columnists only to attract letters to the editor from their left-leaning readers. Being angry is a motivating factor. It inspires creative writing. Bad reviews are often more enjoyable to read than good ones (unless it’s of your own work).
And as a journalist, who wrote headlines for many years, I know that in the four decks of a page lead, if you can get words like clash, spat, row, uproar, outrage, outcry, rift or split to fit, then you’re cooking with gas. Hard news, traditionally, has been almost defined by conflict, disagreement, dispute and anger. Rage has always been validated just like shock and disgust. Calm reason has never been popular. Agreement is not the stuff of news pages. Never mind complexity and nuance.
So when Andrews asks people to stay the course, explaining his reasoning patiently, and even re-assesses some edicts that may be too harsh, you shouldn’t wonder why people are angry, branding him a dictator. He’s left a vacuum that can be filled by nothing else. Calm reason cannot win. Never mind that in a game of popularity, enforcing unpopular measures is usually not going to boost your political brand. In other words, why would he deliberately make people’s lives difficult if he didn’t think it was necessary when it’s clearly not helping his own cause?
Wouldn’t it be easier for him to just do what people want regardless of the medical advice and any dire consequences? And then, like America, make like the virus is going away as the deaths and infections mount up.
Instead, he’s risking his electoral stakes in order to get the response to work.
Also, dictators tend not to spend each day consulting and signalling their intentions, no matter if there’s a crisis or not. They just do what the hell they want.
But in this pandemic crisis reason has walked out and slammed the door behind it, fed up with this mild-mannered man and his even tone.
And now it’s swirling around in a whirlpool of both warranted and unwarranted fear and confusion. Yes, hotel quarantine was botched. Yes, paedophile rings exist and are hateful and have been enabled by those in power like George Pell. Yes, people have been used and abused and endangered and killed for profit, by big tobacco, big oil and big pharma and much more. All in the name of money, an easy motive to identify, but one often overlooked of late. After decades, the concerns that smoking caused cancer and asbestos killed workers, have been justified. But that didn’t happen because people got angry. It happened because of clear-eyed and focussed investigation by those who pursued the truth through structures that we have now been almost completely eroded. Trade Unions for one, investigative journalism another. The death of these structures has been a victory for corporate greed, now able to deflect their corrupt activities or just carry on confident that no one is scrutinising them to any significant degree. People are too distracted. Distracted and disempowered, and also, don’t forget, bloody angry. Almost blinded by this white-hot fury. Trying to connect dots that aren’t there instead of following trails of money methodically.
And instead of harnessing that anger and acting together to attend to the worst of things, all bad things in the world and some innocuous things have been lumped in together by disparate groups and individuals seeking a platform. They’ve grabbed clips and articles from here there and everywhere to connect things that are not connected in order to build a case for anger and outrage in its own right, that has no pathway to anything except to object and shout and argue and bicker with other similarly powerless people. These same powerless angry people are often belittled for believing ridiculous conspiracy theories- and yes, many do. Yet history tells us all that evil has been allowed to flourish, and yes, conspire when people didn’t pay attention. There is a great desire behind the anger for some kind of justice.
Justice might once have been the objective of unions, journalists and lawyers who would investigate and uncover some undeniable facts, not because they were angry, but because it was their job, important roles in a democracy. Police corruption in Queensland, and negligence by miners of asbestos, and wilful disregard for human life by tobacco companies. But those professions have shrunk and become the object of anger and hatred themselves. Professions with ethical standards and codes of conduct, in which actors are rarely motivated by money, have become the first victims in this ugly game while corporate crimes and misdemeanours have gone unpunished and even rewarded. Might be a conspiracy operating there too. And it wouldn’t be too hard to detect motives and culprits. Murdoch’s war with the print unions 20-odd years ago might offer a clue as to who has benefited most from this change.
Trade unions in particular once offered people a voice, so they were, at least within the workplace, not rendered utterly mute. Unions looked out for employees’ conditions and their pay rates and made sure they were treated fairly. If not, then the workers were able to act as one, stand together and withdraw their labour, which would make the powerful sit up and listen. A strike might also offer an anger outlet as well, a rowdy picket line a catharsis as much as it is a lever. Unions also had the structures by which protests, successful protests with an agenda, were organised. Protests against war and the destruction of the inner city could not have occurred without union involvement.
And now many people feel they need to ‘rise up’ in some way but have no idea how to do that anymore. Clicking ‘like’ or an angry face emoji on a social media page is not the same as following through on a campaign with an agenda, a list of demands, and finding some kind of bargaining position. This is/was the stock in trade of the unions. That’s why it’s called ‘organised labour’. Corporate interests have succeeded in dividing and conquering by convincing people they could do better negotiating on their own than with the help of union ‘thugs’. And maybe some did better but others clearly did not. But in the process, not only did collective bargaining diminish, but the idea of anything collective at all, anything that unified people in pursuit of the greater good also went down the sinkhole with only anger left behind like gritty sediment.
Now that fragmented workforce is instead left with stagnant wage growth, insecure work, wage theft and health and safety shortcuts, as we stumble into a recession with high unemployment and uncertainty as well as new health risks. And truckloads of anger. And it has nothing to latch onto except the parade of possible enemies whether it be 5G, Bill Gates, George Soros, paedophiles, vaccines, scientists, governments of all colours, the mainstream media, fact-checkers, epidemiologists, state medical officers or feminism and political correctness.
The irony is that Andrews is asking people to observe restrictions for the sake of the collective good and it’s now, of all times, that people want to ‘unite’ and ‘rise up’ against these restrictions as if it’s the greatest of all oppressions to consider others more vulnerable for the sake of us all. But no one has done much by way of united political activism over the past 20 years as they’ve been encouraged to look after number one. And so the sad reality is that the means by which they might be able to unite and rise up no longer exists anyway.
It’s enough to make you furious.