In my twenties, after a relationship break-up, I told a friend that I was consoling myself with my theory that there were only fourteen people in the story of your life and all the rest were extras who didn’t matter.
“You can’t say that,” she told me.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Well, everybody has feelings?”
“How do you know? How do you know that you aren’t the only person with feelings and all the rest aren’t robots just sent to test you?”
“You’re just being silly now.”
And I was.
But I also knew that I was right. Of course, I believe that everyone else has feelings, but it’s only my own that I’m truly in touch with. It’s only me and my sense of self that’s truly real to me. I infer from this that other people are similar and that we all have some empathy for other people. More empathy for those we’re close to; less empathy for those we don’t understand.
I am me. You are the other.
However, I believe that even though you are the other, that we are alike, and that we have points in common, that we can connect and form some understandings.
Then, I’ll witness an event or read something and suddenly, it seems to me – and I imagine to you as well – that some individuals lack this basic empathy. They seem totally self-centred, or even, sociopaths. (You bastard, Peter Reith)
In this moment, as I talk to those around me, we form a group. I am no longer just “me”, and you are no longer “the other”. We are “we” and they are “the other”.
No, this deep and meaningful discussion – which may remind you of a night when, in your younger days, you’d consumed too much somethingorother or you’d just come out of a uni lecture that made you think about the whole nature of existence before someone invited you to the pub – is not because someone slipped something into my glass of wine.
I simply began to think about the whole notion of Left vs Right, and just happened to pick up a book where the notion of “self” was discussed.
Shock jocks use the notion of the other to unite their audiences. Their language includes words like “those people”, “true Aussies”, “welfare cheats”, “the lazy” and so forth. They use inclusive language for their target audience and labels to exclude their victims. Their target audiences – in the scheme of things – are usually a small demographic, like retirees or people living in Townsville.
Politicians, on the other hand, have to appeal to a large group. When they choose to go down the same path of this is “us” and “they” are “the other” they’re running a risk of alienating a significant section of the electorate. For example, I may not be gay, but there are so many gay people that I know and care about that to try and make them the outsiders is a risky strategy. Just because I’m about as middle class as you can get in one of the most conservative areas in Melbourne doesn’t mean that I’ll join in your witch hunt on that one.
And similarly, I actually know a number of women. Some of them will probably complain that I make terribly bad, sexist jokes. Others will complain that I used the phrase “witch hunt” in my previous paragraph. But let a politician just try and present women as “the other” and I’ll be out there burning my bra with the best of them. (For some reason, I feel that this comment is liable to draw criticism from Germaine Greer, but I’ll live with it!)
It’s this mentality that seems to me the thing at issue with politics in this country over the past few years. Too much “This is me and this is us; they are the other.”
Labor has been battling The Greens, rather than looking for the points of agreement.
Labor has been battling within itself. “Gillard was disloyal!” “No, Rudd’s the disloyal one!”
And while all this has been happening, we’ve had the Liberals, the Mining Companies, Rupert Murdoch et al painting so many Australians as “the other”. Abbott, Pyne and their mates thrive on doing that to people
No, no, no, I start to say it’s them. They’re “the other”. I’m me, I’m just fine.
I guess that by saying that I’m doing just what they do.
I’m starting to feel that Australia needs a politician who can say that we are all human beings. We are more united by that than we sometimes remember. Of course, there will be differences. Of course, there will be difficulties. But there are no easy answers, and we need to work together as Australians, and as people, to find solutions. We need to do this with honesty and good faith.
Three word slogans won’t do it, Tony. (Whoops, it’s so hard to stop.)