There’s really no better time to be an opinionated hot head than during an Australian federal election campaign. Reason, solutions to problems and the simple practice of keeping your raging thoughts to yourself all go flying out the window in a seasonal overhaul that often sees your middle-of-the-road Facebook acquaintance suddenly become hell bent on tasting Peter Dutton’s tears.
This salty thirst for retribution over hypothetical policies and gotcha moment gaffes has arguably become the driving force behind popular political discourse in Australia. You can’t scroll a Facebook feed without seeing comments on political news stories alleging that he’s a scumbag, she’s a bogan, they’re a bunch of ****s and you’re a bloody idiot.
It seems that in the eight week frenzy leading up to the polling booths, many have fallen into the mindset that negative commentary somehow breeds positive policies.
According to French political philosopher Pierre Rosanvallon, this phenomenon is part of ‘negative sovereignty’, a concept that was given context on ABC Radio National’s The Minefield recently.
“We’re now in this era of negative sovereignty. People aren’t passive citizens they are active citizens but what they want to do isn’t to give people mandates, they want to constrain power. They want to censure their politicians instead of empower their politicians,” said Scott Stephens to Waleed Aly.
This articulates the problematic trend that people at all points of the political spectrum are fixated with; arguing against policies that piss you off instead of making a constructive case for the ones you believe in.
We see this disregard for logic bleed over into non-political life and general public opinion, too. Take for example Harambe the Gorilla, who was recently shot dead at a Cincinnati zoo after a 4-year-old visitor fell into his enclosure. The killing enraged quasi-conservationists and had insolent keyboard warriors baying for blood.
Some commentators even called for the boy’s parents to be “held accountable” (exactly how one is held accountable for the death of a gorilla serving a life sentence behind bars is not clear to me), but rarely in the social media comments did we hear about the plight of the remaining 100,000 western lowland gorillas in the wild, or the less than 300 Cross River gorillas – currently the rarest ape in the world.
At play here in the realms of both personal and public politics is the falsehood that words alone can solve society’s problems, or that words with the wrong kind of action are much better.
This is a belief fuelling a specific kind of slacktivism – what I like to refer to as being ‘passive progressive’.
The general tenets of passive progression are the same as slacktivism; lots of complaining, feeling hard done by and passionate comments, however because it’s no longer enough to simply like, share or retweet something in order to be seen as fighting for the cause, individuals are now indeed taking action – just not always action that will result in any kind of practical outcome.
Now, in the age of hyper-political correctness and the fleeting solidarity of crowd funding, we’ve wound up in a state where people think buying a bloke ten $6000 toasters or holding a candlelight vigil for a monkey is somehow going to create lasting change in our society.
Sure, the intentions are progressive, but the actions are passive because they fail to address the real and systemic issues.
What matters more than voicing disdain or dissociation, or partaking in a novel act of temporary rebellion, is engaging critically with the policies, businesses, NGOs and activists who are actively fighting to instigate pragmatic, measurable and positive change – changes that reflect your values.
In a world where outrage has become expected, sharing a level-headed, convincing and informative opinion is surely the most powerful way to fight for your morals and beliefs. Educating people instead of calling them names, thinking about the solution not the problem, and working towards positive debates is how we move forward. We need to stop being so passive progressive.
If we all do this, anything is possible. In fact politicians might even follow our lead.