Hate thrives as much in the open as in the dark



Australia has become increasingly lucrative ground for peddlers of far-right themes from overseas. It is apparently not enough for Muslims, Jewish, queer and Indigenous peoples to deal with homegrown hate; they must deal with imported brands, too.

Milo YiannopoulosThe latest such visitor was feted at the capital by David Leyonhjelm, Pauline Hanson, Mark Latham and their assorted hangers-on. It seemed to be all about being seen together. There was something pathetic about it, the scramble for selfies just to goad 'lefties' about their 'worst nightmare'.

Here are people's actual worst, living nightmares: being left stateless, broken and destitute for no more reason than seeking asylum by boat past a certain date. Being young, male and Indigenous in an over-policed community. Being visibly Muslim, trans or disabled in spaces dominated by those who are not. Being a parent on a ravaged planet, unable to offer a certain future.

These realities show up rightwing ideologues for what they are — performative, privileged contrarians. What else could they be, given that their version of free speech involves nothing more than telling othered people, with already fewer resources, to be even more resilient, to harden the fuck up, and most of all to play the game.

Because it is all just sport for people who can't think of anything decent to do. There is money to be had in provocation, in marketing hollow ideas as 'dangerous' and engaging in ventriloquy for the so-called silent majority. If not money, then notoriety can be a kind of power, too. It certainly gets invites to parliament.

It is exhausting for those who believe in concepts of dignity and fairness to be used like this, as a business model or career platform. It is an exercise in power, for power — taking up bandwidth that could otherwise be used to solve social problems, much less chart an actual direction for this country.

What can be done? Confronting hate-mongers lends oxygen to things better left to sputter out, but ignoring them bears risk of conflagration. That risk marks the difference between public and private hateful speech. Public speech constructs networks. Networks build political capital. Political capital, sooner or later, converts to policy or incubates certain cultures.


"It matters when hate-mongers are given a microphone. They might sound preposterous to us, and we might assume others will similarly dismiss them. But plenty enough take them seriously."


In whatever way we imagine liberal-progressive movements are shaped, there are shadow trajectories. Individuals suddenly feeling less alone about their beliefs at rallies, who then join groups online, follow credible figures and recruit friends, who organise street events, bolstered by the prospect of media attention and police arrest. The same goes for ethno-nationalists and white supremacists.

In other words, it matters when hate-mongers are given a microphone. They might sound preposterous to us, and we might assume that others will similarly dismiss them. But plenty enough take them seriously. Hate thrives as much in the open as in the dark. It is naïve to think there is a difference.

Far too many of us made that mistake last year, thinking that mere exposure would keep the most unqualified, unscrupulous, remorseless man from becoming US president. Exposure only works if a critical majority of people recoil from what is revealed.

When they instead feel validated and emboldened, then the ethical question moves quickly from who can talk to who should not be heard. The names don't even matter. The effect does. Because for those on the margins, it means having to deal with entire movements of hateful people, not just the one who made a pitstop in the halls of power.



Fatima MeashamFatima Measham is a Eureka Street consulting editor. She co-hosts the ChatterSquare podcast, tweets as @foomeister and blogs on Medium.

Topic tags: Fatima Measham, Mark Latham, Pauline Hanson, David Leyonhjelm, hate speech, Milo Yiannopoulos



submit a comment

Existing comments

Fatima are you suggesting that hate speech is the exclusive domain of the right side of politics? Trending yesterday on twitter was a tweet by SSM supporter folks "eatsh*tlyle" referring to Lyle Shelton. Neo- Marxist/ socialist type demonstrators have been extensively represented in recent demonstrations and riots. The media is dominated by vicious left leaning commentators who make no apologies for personal character assassination. I read an interesting article recently entitled "The Lost Art of Disagreement". It really summed up the problem in this present era where people simply can't accommodate another viewpoint than their own.

Kate | 08 December 2017  


Irf | 08 December 2017  

“thinking that mere exposure would keep the most unqualified, unscrupulous, remorseless man from becoming US president. Exposure only works if a critical majority of people recoil from what is revealed.” Sometimes, the ‘unqualified’ learn on the job what the qualified don’t, that Gordian knots are meant to be cut and that embassies are meant to be located in real capitals. And an unscrupulous, remorseless sex pest did become president, after learning how to do so by an apprenticeship as the governor of a small southern state. Perhaps a critical majority did recoil from giving him the opportunity to despoil the White House again.

Roy Chen Yee | 09 December 2017  

Kate, I agree thank you. Fatima, I think you would be doing the general community a greater favour by being non-partisan. Everything in your article is equally true of the far-Left - our intelligentsia who speak a lot of respect and dignity. This makes your article, when read in isolation, extremely misleading - though beautiful to the eyes of many. We all know (don't we?) that there is very little real discussion happening between people with opposing views. Eureka Street could be a place where this happens. Partisan articles are a step in the wrong direction.

Gavan O'Farrell | 09 December 2017  

Strongly, and resoundingly argued, Fatima. Speech is such a creative outlet for those who do not have a voice. There is such a thing as creative hate. How very sad.

Pam | 09 December 2017  

Milo might be provocative, but he’s just giving the Left back a fraction of their own hate-mongering. For decades, anyone disagreeing with the Leftist agenda has been routinely labelled a “hater” or “Fascist”. Hillary Clinton smeared millions as “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, and Islamophobic”. Stalinists labelled nonconformists as “kulak henchman”, a term they applied to millions. The Left’s claim that it champions the underprivileged and those on the margins, is a carefully-constructed fiction. That’s why a person like black neurosurgeon, Ben Carson, is so hated by the Left. Carson is a self-made member of an “oppressed group” who rose to prominence with a message of small government, self-reliance and Christian faith—totally at odds with the Left’s grievance mongering and victim mentality they force on minorities. Carson applauds safety net programs but deplores government dependency programs that have destroyed black families and locked them into poverty. So the same people who claim to champion minorities want to prevent Carson from succeeding. Because a successful black man who dares to leave the Left’s Welfare Plantation might encourage others to do likewise. And that is a threat to their voting bloc from whence comes their political power.

Ross Howard | 09 December 2017  

There's a scene in TV's the Simpsons where Bart, having taken up mexican wrestling, is practising preening to the crowd and Homer instructs him to "Make them hate you. You feed on their hatred and you are so so hungry," or words to that effect. This is essentially Milo's modus operandi. He make outrageous and openly bigoted statements to generate outrage on the left and intrigue on the right. He provokes calls for his own de-platforming and occasional small outbreaks of violence then uses both these to claim victimhood in that his free speech is under attack and to attack his enemies by portraying them as rioters. I've dealt with school yard bullies who operate exactly like that - say and do things that are mean to provoke a response from the victim that lands them in trouble. And while the focus and criticism ends up being on the quote unquote "left trying to silence him" two aspects of his acts go unexamined. Firstly, the fact that he actually does cruel, immoral and potentially dangerous things, like his doxxing of a trans student or his threats to do the same to undocumented students, both actions putting those students as risks.

Julia | 09 December 2017  

The second aspect of Milo's "performance" that goes uncriticised is that it's generally at best vacuous and at worst spreads misinformation - for instance spreading misinformation about trans women on Bill Maher's show. It's not even clear that he believe most of his nonsense himself. His whole aim is to troll. There's a great article from Vox.com explaining how it works: https://www.vox.com/2016/4/4/11355876/milo-yiannopoulos Perhaps the worst part of all of this is that despite being exposed as not only having effectively endorsed child abuse and being exposed by buzzfeed as being matey with white supremacists, a portion of Australia's elected representatives still were happy to have him speak in Parliament house. Disagreement with genuine points of view is one thing. Platforming someone whose not giving anything of either substance and is just there to bash his audience's political opponents. If conservatives or anyone else is interested in the "lost art of disagreement" they should at a minimum adhere to a few rules to preserve the function of discourse. Former WA Liberal Premier Colin Barnett was prepared to call out Geert Wilders for his Islamophobic views: http://www.abc.net.au/pm/content/2015/s4328798.htm

Julia | 09 December 2017  

I have to agree with Kate. We've lost the skill of hearing differing viewpoints and addressing the points of difference. When did we let go of the idea that freedom of opinion and freedom of speech were essential elements of a working democracy? David Leyonhjelm's strange little man would have attracted no interest whatsoever without the excitement (and incitement) of the media. The right wing lunatics would have stayed away in droves without the prospect of a stoush with left wing lunatics. ("We'll decide who speaks here and in what circumstances, and we'll decide even though we weren't elected to do so"). Meanwhile, we're encouraging otherwise normal people to believe they are incredibly fragile victims who need society to renounce its freedoms to protect their victimhood. It just ain't so. So far.

Joan Seymour | 09 December 2017  

I agree with you, Kate. I think that partisan articles like this are a further step in the wrong direction for the reasons you give. It must be possible for someone to write an article that admits the obvious - that there are people on both sides of these debates who hate enthusiastically - and takes the topic from there. Pretending that one side is simply right and the other simply wrong doesn't get us anywhere because it's never true.

Gavan O'Farrell | 09 December 2017  

Thanks for a thoughtful piece. You are right: the nightmares are happening and the privileged are relying on their wealth to give them security. But we know that we thrive as a community only when we are inclusive and consider others. Hate speech is on the rise: we need to counter it, but not by arguing - there is no logic, only division. Instead by offering an alternative narrative of the benefits of being a united community of people.

Liz | 11 December 2017  

Well said Kate. The left do not respect a different point of view. The “yes” campaign from the ABC down were constantly ridiculing the “no” campaigners, classifying them as bigots, destroying signs, and trying to shut the debate down, While I am no fan of Milo, he is deliberately provocative, he has the right to speak - and a number of lefties tried to deny him the right to speak, so much so that there was violence and police had to provided protection. Fatima, if you open your eyes you will see that a lot of disrespect for an opposing point of view is coming from the “left” - and those proposing a Christian point of view are rightly feeling worried.

David | 11 December 2017  

Despite Milo's often babbling, twisted logic and irreverence, I do find his refusal to fall into the trap of leftie emotional manipulation refreshing - and this forces me to reassess and think deeper about why I hold the beliefs I do, and to polish my argument and avoid ideology.

AURELIUS | 11 December 2017  

I feel strong agreement with Fatima's essay above, and with the two comments by Julia. In her opening comment Kate said "The media is dominated by vicious left leaning commentators who make no apologies for personal character assassination." If Kate is interested in balancing the ledger and recovering the 'The Lost Art of Disagreement' perhaps she could cite the personalities that she has in mind. Is she talking about traditional main stream media? What voices have served there as a counter weight to Milo Yiannopoulos? The broadside blast that she delivers seems to me to be simply emulating Milo, and is certainly not calculated to resolve argument and engender discussion.

John McKeon | 11 December 2017  

Wittingly or not, Fatima has provoked the presentation of reality, that life is not just either/or; it is rather both/and; the dialectic has always been there. As energy dissipates, some is captured for good; in human terms energy dissipates in ever increasing invincible ignorance, but here and there the truth will out. We should be giving attention to the phenomenon of that widespread invincible ignorance which means that people, of the right and left extremes, are often its victims. We need to avoid being the culprits, as far as possible, by realising that there are costs, deficits, in having the universe we have. As one author puts it, we are obliged to limit our complicity in the controlling of entropy (read controlling 'others') that rules the world, that is we can stir here and there but not to the point of total negativity. Didn't Jesus stir his enemies, even though he is on the record as saying that we should love our enemies? He did not go to the extreme of using all his energy negatively, though; there was enough for the final commitment to the way of the universe: change and die, in the hope of the positive.

Noel McMaster | 11 December 2017  

While I share Fatima's distaste for Australian politicians lionising Milo's hateful commentary, I do agree with the general thrust of Kate's comment that we have lost the art of disagreement. This is partly because of the way commentary is presented in most media today, as a point of contention between polar opposite points of view. Rarely is an argument presented, seeking to find a middle ground around which social consensus can be developed ... editors and headline writers are probably correct in their assessment that such a presentation will not attract many readers. The filters which channel social media according to each reader's prior uptake of commentary aggravates this narrowing to further entrench already firmly held ideas on most social and political questions. Avoidance of the by now anachronistic terms 'left' and 'right' is one way to resist commentary being thus categorised, even if we are left with 'progressive' and 'conservative'. While we all, as individuals, owe it to ourselves to ensure we read a broad spread of opinion to avoid narrowing our perspectives, is it really too much to ask that we all couch our commentary in cordial language, disdaining to use hate speech as demeaning to self as well as inherently dangerous to society?

Ian Fraser | 11 December 2017  

Well said Fatima. I am left wondering after reading the comments. Why do those who disagree with you claim that disagreeing is not encouraged by an article like yours? Why is there, seemingly an orchestrated, attack on what these commentators refer to as the 'left'? What is it about the 'right' that currently has most governments and media in Australia in their pockets, worrying so much about the 'left' who, it seems to me' has crumbs thrown from government and the Murdoch empire to rely on? Why should the giant be so worried about Jack trying to climb his beanstalk? If you believe that the 'right' is being hard done by in Australia at present there is nothing, I fear, offered by the thoughtful analysis and insight of Fatima capable of impinging on your take on our world. Why are we still arguing as the climate crisis continues to threaten all of us. Maybe, ultimately the peddlers of far-right themes from overseas and here distract us from the real issues.

Tom K | 11 December 2017  

It was a liberal party member of our local Legislative Assembly who published her support of Milo and then deleted it the post!

Sheelah Egan | 11 December 2017  

The commercial media in Australia is owned by very rich people and used for their purposes - mostly quite conservative/right-wing, except that Fairfax is 'culturally' progressive. The ABC has been gone over and over by conservative governments, appointing conservative Chairmen etc. and is independently assessed as middle of the road. The worry is that now that the churches have well and truly crashed and burned, and the universities commercialised, where is the lead for intelligent, fair, principled discussion coming to come from? Not from Twitter, I fear. As it's Christmas and we need cheer, have a look at this: https://www.ted.com/talks/caitlin_quattromani_and_lauran_arledge_how_our_friendship_survives_our_opposing_politics#t-852848

Russell | 11 December 2017  

‘Hate’ is a hardy perennial. Like the poor, it will always be with us. The better it can be seen, the better it can be pruned.

Roy Chen Yee | 14 December 2017  

Roy, "the poor" will always be with us because they are blessed and hold a place of privilege in God's kingdom... very unlike "hate" which thrives in the darkness and leads to death. As John quoted his mate Jesus as saying.....“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you."

AURELIUS | 15 December 2017  

Similar Articles

Actively bending the moral arc of time

  • Fatima Measham
  • 19 December 2017

What we know from resistance to social justice is that the conception of time as a single direction, like an arrow, is favoured by those in power. It does not pierce the realities of those who are historically oppressed. Where the linear past demands reparation, it is something to leave behind, but the powerful revert to it in haste at the prospect of change, saying the line is what it is.


Passport privilege entrenches inequality

  • Sonia Nair
  • 12 December 2017

The world is often characterised as porous and easy to manoeuvre in this age of unparalleled technology and a globalised economy. But it's only ever been this way to people who have a combination of a particular passport and cultural heritage, particularly in settler colonial nations such as Australia.



Subscribe for more stories like this.

Free sign-up