• Fear, a simple response, seeks a simple thing to blame. (Flickr)
Sexism, homophobia and racism are real problems, but we don’t solve these problems by looking fearfully for a single source to blame.
By
Helen Razer

8 Jun 2016 - 3:13 PM  UPDATED 8 Jun 2016 - 5:00 PM

In news to hand, the world is almost entirely in the loo. The systems that sustain material life on earth have begun to fail. The systems we have built to sustain social life on earth have begun to fail. The systems that would once have prevented me from referring to a toilet in the first sentence of an essay on a reputable website have begun to fail. Comrades. We are clearly in the loo.

The world is finding its way into the loo and has done so headfirst. As the brain was the very first thing to drop into the pipe of history, it is now of very limited use. It can’t tell us that we’re drowning. It can’t see that The Voice is not inspiring entertainment but an actual form of torture. It won’t allow us to do much more than feel, somehow, that we’re about to fall into a pretty deep pit. The only bit of wold-brain that still works well is deep and ancient and limbic.

Our simple fear pathways alone remain meaningfully active. Which is understandable, given that history is dunking our heads in the loo. But, it’s also unfortunate. At this toilet-y time, we need our world-brain to produce reason more than ever. Fear is no friend to the future of the world.

Fear, a simple response, seeks a simple thing to blame.

But, fear, which is not our friend, has in any case become our companion. Fear, a simple response, seeks a simple thing to blame. So, we say things like “Hollywood is responsible for racism” or “A lack of compassion is responsible for world hunger” or, as several news outlets so simply and wrongly did this week, “Bill Shorten is responsible for making women second-class citizens”.

An actual journalist, in this case Lisa Wilkinson, has become so simple and fearful in her thinking that she is able to misinterpret the statement “women are second-class citizens, and this is the policy we have to address that very regrettable fact” as “women are second-class citizens”.  Then, she called Shorten a “dinosaur”. Oh, Lise. If there’s someone guilty of prehistoric thinking in this case, it’s not the leader of the ALP. It’s a breakfast TV “dinosaur” who’d better bring her brain back to the present.

Sexism is, of course, a real problem. So is racism, world hunger, world obesity, income inequality, terrible reality TV and so on. But, we don’t solve these problems by looking fearfully for a single source to blame.

The world, like all processes, has become more complex over time. Things never get simpler; marriages, children, flowers get more complex as they grow. But, our responses to complexity now so often come from the simplest part of our brains. (Apparently, it’s called the amygdala. Which is a complex word for my simple drowning brain to spell.)

There is now a very wide range of simple “solutions” we adopt to address complexity. The Paleo diet is one such simple cult that simply says “they are fooling you! We have the answers! Let’s get back to nature and demand that all food be grown by simple small-scale farmers who wear rustic overalls and scatter heirloom seeds in a picturesque plot shared with grass-fed cattle.”

Way to feed the world, Pete Evans. Good plan. There is totally enough land on the planet to return to prehistorical agriculture and feed seven billion people a diet of small non-hybridised plants and animals. You really thought that through.

We don’t solve these problems by looking fearfully for a single source to blame.

The Evans response is simple. It adopts a persecuted posture (“There Are Things They Don’t Want Us To Know!”) and blames particular institutions for the problem. And while there is, certainly, a problem with the way we produce and consume food, it is a complex one which demands complex answers.  Not a simple case of blame.

And, mother, but we blame things all the time. While we are right to fear and loathe a particular problem, we are not right, or particularly useful, in finding a person or institution to blame. But, we love to do that. We love to “Call It Out Online”. Or, “call it out” on actual news programs, as was the case with Lisa Wilkinson.

Homophobia is a real and complex problem. A fake and simple solution is not to “call it out whenever you see it”. But, folks did that en masse when the chief of a particular pasta company responded to a reporter who asked if he would ever consider using a same-sex couple to advertise his farfalle. When he said no, social and traditional media went prehistorically crazy “calling it out”.

The problem here is not just that all that quickly expended fearful limbic energy could have been used to address the matter of, say, queer homelessness—which is way more boring than calling some farfalle guy a homophobe. The problem here is not just that Signor Farfalle did not even say anything particularly homophobic. The problem here is that our heads are rammed so far down the lav, that all we really can do is behave like frightened dinosaurs.

I know it’s a great effort to breathe the oxygen of reason when you’re drowning. I know that to say “your deep emotions are not very useful” could seem insulting. But, sunshine, we need to take our heads out. And use them for something better than Calling It Out Online.

Editor’s Note: This Editor remorsefully admits of having her head in the loo on the odd occasion. We have the best intentions to be part of the solution rather than the finger-pointer. 

Image courtesy of Flickr/ Joe The Goat Farmer.

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