Who we are

9 September 2021 | Posted In: #140 Spring 2021,

As long as we accept the myriad of injustices perpetrated by the Morrison government, claiming “this is not we are” is disingenuous at best, writes Jennifer Wilson.

Whenever a fresh injustice is perpetrated by the federal government under the leadership of prime minister Scott Morrison, cries of “we are not this” and “this is not who we are” and “this is not us” and even, “it’s un-Australian” erupt in the public space.

These eruptions of disgust and denial are understandable. We find ourselves increasingly bereft of language adequate to describe the anger and fear we feel when we are once again forced to confront our powerlessness, manifested in the form of legislated abuse and profound harm — either of ourselves or others we care about, personally, or collectively.

The examples are many: robodebt; mandatory detention of asylum seekers and refugees, including children; efforts to deny access to the NDIS for those who need it; the suite of punishments visited upon the unemployed; and the ongoing, racist brutality towards Indigenous citizens.

The common denominator shared by those abused by our elected representatives is that they are viewed as in some way lesser, or lacking, and so can be mistreated with impunity. It might be skin colour. It might be poverty. It might be disability. It might be gender. Whatever is regarded by the current hegemony as a weakness to be despised, is fair game for persecution by the state. The prime minister has considerable form across a spectrum of perceived difference brought about by disadvantage, misfortune, and victimisation — difference despised by the powerful and their enablers and framed by them as parasitic and undeserving.

A psychological interpretation of these attitudes might be that many of us fear vulnerability, in all its forms. Those who unwittingly demonstrate vulnerability of any kind confront us with its reality and the possibility that our own good fortune might at any time desert us or be taken away. These confrontations are uncomfortable, frightening and all too often, enraging. Many of us living comfortable lives don’t want to be reminded that the continuation of our comfort is always uncertain and conditional. Far easier to blame those who are living differently for their differences and grant ourselves an illusionary sense of individual self-determination and control.

Morrison is also a member of a Pentecostal religious cult that believes material disadvantage is the deserved consequence of lack of belief in God. Indeed, Morrison is the leading representative of the confluence of neoliberalism, neo-fascism, and Christo-fascism in Australia, as well as in the global Pentecostal community. He is, regrettably, the man for our times. In Morrison, we see the opportunity for the coming together of secular contempt for those perceived as lesser than, and the religious delusion that disadvantage of any kind is a concrete manifestation of a disapproving and dissatisfied deity. It is a marriage made in hell.

While individually many of us might protest that “this is not who we are”, collectively we cannot, because obviously, it is “who we are”. Brutality has been central to our white way of life since colonisation — brutality has always been part of “who we are”.

If we are to see ourselves as a society we have to own all aspects of that society, we can’t cherry-pick. Just as individually a fully realised person accepts their capacity for destructive and cruel behaviour, so must a society. The denial of our capacity for darkness and the projection of it onto others is self-defeating.

This is who we are and, until we can acknowledge this as a society, change for the better will continue to elude us.