You might recall the story of the white-as-snow Rachel Dolezal, who lied about her ethnicity and culture to assume the mask, moral privileges and kudos of an oppressed African-American activist. She was an ordinary white woman who, by appropriating the culture and physical appearance of an ethnic group with a goldmine of victimhood cachet, made herself feel very special indeed. Think here of private school kids getting tribal tattoos or Prince Harry affecting the odd glottal-stop or a bit of H-withholding, as in to ‘ow much ‘e ‘ungers for a lager with the lads. It’s the classic case of the outsiders wanting membership of a club to which, presenting as themselves, they can never belong.
Now, with an election looming it’s time to get ready for another cast of political thespians trying to be what they are not, sneaking into our lives and pockets via the belly of the Trojan horse of the Fairness Industrial Complex (FIC). For those who don’t know, the FIC is like the Qantas Club for PFS Operatives — Professional Fairness Spruikers. This is a comfy place where cake-eating clipboard carriers, meeting-minuters, shiny-suited private-school union lawyers, progressive politicians, publicly funded activists and lanyard-wearing, conference-attending, frequent-flyer-points-accruing public servants can relax and thrive in comfort, all courtesy of the proceeds of the FIC and the support it wrings out of others, mostly the taxpayers.
The FIC, unlike its cousin the Military Industrial Complex, is proud to peddle its influence and does so openly. Its foot soldiers often live together and work together, as seen at the ABC, where sharing a bed and daily breakfast with someone already on the national broadcaster’s payroll is always a recommendation on any job application. Their strength is in their numbers. For instance: alone, one member might be thought a poseur or a grievance monger; but as part of the many, an activist or a social justice warrior is more than a mere and clamorous pest. Rich, greedy and lazy, the Western world shrugs and indulges the snivels of what amounts social-issue hypochondria. Should anyone raise an eyebrow or dare to disagree with the narrative, cue a mob pile-on, maybe even a lynching. Supporters of, say, traditional marriage are howled down, interrupted ceaselessly in mid-sentence by Tony Jones, branded “homophobes” for daring to disagree, no matter how politely, with such a fashionable cause and meme.
Membership of this house of smarm and sinecure has its privileges, but there are rules. First and foremost is the possession of a compassionate ‘false self.’ Now we all have ‘false selves’ – split-off bits of our character that represent the sort of people we’d most like to be and be seen to be. Con artists knowingly cultivate such personas for the purpose of criminal enterprise, which at least blesses the then the virtue of honest self-knowledge. Fairness spruikers, by contrast, are often blissfully unaware of their impostiture; they think their false selves represent the totality of their personhood.
It goes without saying that the FIC needs powerful representatives, agents and brokers. One might expect such representatives to have something in common with those he or she seeks to represent or, as is the case with the FIC, with the issues they ‘care’ especially about. To make an impact there ought to be, or at least appear to be, a surfeit of understandable, authentic motivation. In the sincerity welter, motivations are important for pinning to one’s sleeve.
For example, few would doubt Noel Pearson’s authentic motivation for his advocacy for the wellbeing of Aboriginal Australians. But we should raise an eyebrow or two if he suddenly became a passionate advocate for, say, equal pay in women’s tennis. We would suspect he had lost the plot entirely. In contradistinction to this sits Lieutenant-General David Morrison, who would never have been made Australian of the Year if he was a passionate advocate for the defence of Australia i.e. his job. Rather, he was given the gong because of his robust defence of the Code of Conduct of the Human Resources (Or is it now ‘People, Culture and Change’?) department of the ADF. It’s a bit like Professor Ian Fraser, inventor of the cervical cancer vaccine, being made Australian of the Year because he championed flexitime and parental leave for his lab staff underlings. And nothing wrong with that either! (lest we should be guilty of underestimating the importance of the laboratory scientists, admin staff and cleaners who stand behind the great man).
Imagine the outrage, for example, if a man were to be appointed Minister for Women, and why shouldn’t one be? Men can be powerful advocates for fairness; they can share the “feminist” desire to see equality for their wives and daughters. It should be in no way controversial to argue that a father of daughters would know much more about, and be just as interested in, the equitable advancement of women than a childless career-woman or a woman whose privilege, talent and determination have meant that she faced trivial, if any, discrimination. Yet we would be right to suspect the political wisdom, not to mention the overall sanity, of a prime minister who made such an appointment.
So how do we detect the early stirrings of the pathologies of nonsense that will manifest as the need to represent people with whom the professional bleeding-heart activist of the future has no natural allegiance? How do we spot the Dolezals in their SJW blackface, in other words? Well, in the same way that excessive fault-finding in others can be borne of unacknowledged deficiencies in oneself, a passion for “helping others” — a trait often in evidence before the afflicted youngster has a genuine sense of why others might actually, or just possibly, need such help — is a prime clue. With the exception of Baby Jesus, such a child is not right in the head.
To illustrate this difficulty, let me recall my encounters some years ago when serving as a member of a panel charged with interviewing medical school applicants. I found it cringe-worthy when, one after another and almost without exception, the aspiring young doctors trotted out well-rehearsed answers to our predictable questions. Many told us, for example, that they wanted to work with Aboriginals and other disadvantaged groups in rural and remote settings. But most of all, and above all else, they sought to “help people”. Why, I wondered? Did they know any Aborigines? Did their gilt-edged private schools perhaps have an outdoor education annexes located beside some long-grass encampment of Indigenes? My professional cynicism was eventually soothed by the grateful realisation that the parade of aspiring Albert Schweitzers had the decency not to risk offending us with their honest or properly thought-out motivations for wanting to be doctors, which in fairness to their age they were almost certainly incapable of knowing.
Much later in life, the strain of sustaining the compassionate ‘false self’ manifests in other ways. The conspicuous tilting of the head, eccentrically weighed down by existential suffering, is something we mock while, at an instinctive level, understanding it to be creepy and unworthy of trust. So too, the altering of the timbre and cadence of the voice is another sign that the mask for the carer is on display. Like North Korean haircuts, there are only a few permissible voice stylings. There are the long nasal vowels of Bill Shorten’s schoolyard whine – “It’s not faaiiiir” — the breathy “I don’t want to startle the frightened child” urgings of the prime-time social worker and Radio National quote spigots, plus the clipped and schoolmarmish “It’s simply inappropriate” scolding version (usually accompanied by some side-to-side head-wagging).
Sometimes even the dear leaders of the FIC unintentionally let the masks of kindness slip. Who can forget the fabulously rich Kevin Rudd’s ghastly “fair suck of the sauce bottle” moment, replete with a cack-handed invocation of a “typical” Aussie BBQ of the type an entirely un-typical man such as himself could not possibly have attended. Or consider ex-law-firm-partner and then-PM Julia Gillard’s ineptly choreographed walk through the public bar of the Rooty Hill RSL Club, straight to the private dining room populated entirely by her BYO fan club of fawning middle-class mummy bloggers from much nicer suburbs.
In the empathy-equivalent of ponchos, sombreros and fake moustaches, these heroes of the FIC battalions would have us believe they are genuine Mexicans. In reality, they’re off to fool the natives, which is always a high-risk game. An inadvisedly sucked sauce bottle or plate of sautée gésiers du couchon et coulis de panais can do real damage to a pretender’s image when the truth is exposed. Remember how Craig Thomson, former national secretary of the Health Services Union, was flushed from Parliament when, after years of denial, his habit of standing up for workingmen by spending their union dues on lying down with working girls was finally confirmed?
This is, of course, not to say that patronage of causes is always bad.It isn’t. Bill Gates is extraordinarily generous – and none of his causes has to do with making Microsoft any richer. But Gates doesn’t pretend to be a malaria-infected Sudanese man in order to fund antimalarial drug development. Now does he seek political influence in the sub-Saharan malarial zone.
A look through the maiden speeches of our leftist political class provides a whole bunch of other clues to the dissembling of the upper strata of the FIC. A maiden speech is, first, a job application written after you’ve landed the job, an admission that you need to say some nice things about those to whom you are beholding for calling in favours to get you there. It is also the speech for trumpeting your credentials for as an authentic representative and, as of the close of voting, a conspicuously well-paid member of the FIC. The formula goes something like this:
1) Cite a family member (a parent is preferable, but grandparents will do at a pinch) that listeners will accept as dusted with gritty, working-class glamour. Hint that, somewhere in the mists of time, there was a dirt floor or, better yet, daily journeys to school in bare feet. Chances are no one will check, so lay it on thick.
2) Point out that you were the first person in your family to go to university.
3) Don’t mention that you went to a private school.
4) If you do mention that you went to a private school, pretend that your parents went without food to pay the fees. Or, better yet, that someone sold a kidney to pay for your school lunch of bread and dripping.
5) If you are a woman, it is very important to find a female relative (mummy would be best) who worked in an ordinary job, was possessed of a quotidian intelligence, work ethic and morals but whom you can pretend was more like a combination of Florence Nightingale and Rosie the Riveter and is your inspiration and role model. It would be embarrassing to have her in the parliamentary gallery because that would imply good health and the ability to afford the bus fare.
6) Invent or embroider a tedious tale of harassment or discrimination in which you or an ancestor was harassed, boycotted, ripped-off or otherwise victimised. This will demonstrate your empathy and affinity with the MAD mob, the “marginalised And disadvantaged”.
Maiden speech done, a future career’s supply of cliches assembled and ready for instant deployment, it’s off to the dinner meetings, celebrity panels, lit-fest whine-a-thons, marquee sports events and, best of all, overseas conferences that see you turn left upon entering your plane. That’s where the expensive seats are found and where the Fairness Industrial Complex does its best work.
Just don’t get caught, like Rachel Dolezal, with a bottle of spray-on tan and you will never go hungry, especially for attention, ever again.
Murray Walters is a Brisbane psychiatrist