By Matt Hurley
In my use of social media, I try carefully not to cultivate an echo chamber environment. This is because many friends of mine with whom I share common interests and otherwise enjoy their company may have vastly differing opinions in various matters, including politics. If I were to surround myself solely with those who share my left-libertarian sensibilities then I would be denying myself an accurate barometer for social attitudes, and a cross section of opinions to consider when forming my own. Also, it would get boring pretty quickly. Occasionally though, I might come across some idea from somewhere else on the political spectrum that leaves me stumped.
It was not long ago that the government announced it would increase its intake of Syrian refugees in order to assist with the humanitarian crisis unfolding in that rather troubled part of the world. And in almost the same instant, a good deal of social media users suddenly became passionate advocates for the plights of the homeless and our veterans. This was apparent in the proliferation of memes stating that they would rather the welfare of either the homeless or veterans come before the welfare of refugees.
The true xenophobic motivation behind these bitter, malicious sentiments lacked opacity of any kind; they were the height of insincerity and spite. This was obvious to me for two reasons; firstly, those acquaintances of mine who genuinely do care deeply for the very real and dire predicament of the homeless or the equally valid difficulties facing returned servicemen campaign for their causes regardless of context. It does not take the largely irrelevant threat of approaching brown people for the genuinely altruistic to redouble their efforts. For the most part, these charitable acquaintances possess the empathy and insight to appreciate our shared humanity and sympathise also with refugees. In those who have it, empathy is not a finite resource to be portioned up. Secondly, and most tellingly, these memes were shared almost exclusively by friends who have demonstrated anti-immigration or xenophobic sentiment in the past, but never to my knowledge previously shown any interest in humanitarian matters until these memes popped up.
I wanted so badly to formulate some solid argument which I could mount against these irksome memes, however in spite of the complete transparency of their motive, a good argument would elude me. I could not argue against this notion that local humanitarian issues should be given priority over worldwide issues without coming across as patronising to the homeless / veterans, which is the last thing I want to do as their struggles are equally legitimate. And so this became a bugbear. Every time I saw “Share if you believe our homeless should come before any refugee”, or some similarly atrocious variation on the theme, I would cringe out of both disgust and frustration.
However, my sought after solution came to be.
In the same way as the Abbott led government could sell its insults to our collective intelligence with simple three word slogans, the Turnbull led government has a fondness for buzzwords. Yesterday during my smoko break I read about a buzzword infused initiative coined by foreign minister Julie Bishop called “innovationXchange”. What is “innovationXchange” you may rightly ask? As far as I can tell, apart from being a suspiciously superficial and unintelligible buzzword, it is a $140 million taxpayer funded initiative to turn the Department of Foreign Affairs into a “gorgeous little funky, hipster, Googly, Facebook-type place”, to quote Ms Bishop. Bean bags and table tennis tables, in fact. That’s what our taxes are paying for.
I thought to myself, “Surely this is something everybody could get angry about? Giving a portion of our income to distribute not on worthy causes such as health, education, or social services, but so Julie Bishop’s minions can lounge around on bean bags and play ping pong on our time?”, but then I remembered that this is Australia, and no one here seems to care about anything very much at all, let alone the fact that those who purport to be running the country are taking the piss out of us more or less all of the time. I was riled up about pigs at the trough; burgeoning, decadent government expenditure. Not just the bean bags, its the private choppers, the junkets, the whole expenses circus. Here I was at work operating earthmoving plant in the heat and the dust, where I have a hard time getting basics like drinking water provided on site let alone a bean bag couch, and suddenly, apropos of nothing, it came to me: The moment I see those same friends share a meme to the effect of “Share if you think the homeless should come before Julia Bishop’s bean bag couches” then, and only then, will I believe them to possess even a modicum of sincerity.