Moment foul-mouthed senator crossed the line
WHENEVER I see anyone being attacked by an angry mob my instinct is to defend them. It is as though I have been genetically programmed to make myself as unpopular as possible.
So if there's a social media pile-on or a change.org petition or a demand that someone be sacked, sued or silenced for one transgression or another, I usually end up on that person's side. Or at least on the side of them surviving.
This is not a bad instinct for a journalist to have - especially in an age where once-were-radical student newspaper editors are censoring themselves or doling out trigger warnings about staircases.
And it is also a pretty critical cornerstone of democracy. If everyone seems to agree upon something it doesn't necessarily mean that they are wrong, but it is vital that there is someone who says they are. This is known as the "tenth man rule", namely that if nine people all think the same thing, there needs to be a tenth person to challenge them.
And so when David Leyonhjelm made his indefensible remarks to Sarah Hanson-Young, I of course attempted to defend him. When the subject was raised on Studio 10 and he was universally condemned by the women on the panel I tried to offer a contrary point of view, if only for the sake of argument.
Senator Leyonhjelm had infamously told Senator Hanson-Young to "stop shagging men". He later said that this was in response to her or a Greens colleague suggesting something to the effect that all men were rapists - something Senator Hanson-Young has emphatically denied.
And so maybe it was fair enough, albeit deeply crude. If, as he claimed, she tried to ascribe the sins of a few monsters on all of mankind and hold him responsible it is not unreasonable that he might sarcastically suggest that if all men were so dangerous then all women should stay away from them.
And it is hardly unprecedented that a parliamentary chamber has been used for snide remarks or swear words, nor just by men. Who can forget the truly bizarre exchange in which a female Labor MP warned a pregnant Liberal MP that she risked giving birth to a "demon baby"? Now that was weird.
So there I was alone on the panel arguing, "Maybe he meant this …" or "Maybe he was trying to say that …"
And, all too familiar with my contrarian instincts, my beloved colleague Angela Bishop simply laughed and said: "Don't even try to defend him!" I laughed back and we both carried on.
A lot of things could have ended there but unfortunately for all concerned they did not. Having watched the segment, Senator Leyonhjelm jumped on Twitter and called my friend and workmate a "bigoted bitch" - tagging both her and myself in the process.
And in the meantime Senator Leyonhjelm went on television to say that far from facetiously suggesting that all women should stop shagging men he was in fact referring specifically to Senator Hanson-Young's personal life.
I mean, seriously.
The truth is that there is far too much humourless outrage today and that political debate is all too often dominated by idiotic undergraduate ideologies such as all men are would-be rapists or Western civilisation causes violence against women.
And for this reason it is often refreshing to hear rationalists, free speech advocates or even just good old-fashioned provocateurs questioning these assumptions, calling out hypocrisy or stirring the pot for the sake of it. That's what the "tenth man" would do.
But it is staggering that so many people, let alone an Australian senator, still confuse free speech with abuse. David Leyonhjelm even declares on his Twitter profile that he "blocks ad hom abusers" but then calls my friend and colleague a "bitch" in a post tagged specifically to address her.
You would also think that a Liberal Democrat dedicated to the freedom of the individual would believe that that individual should be able to shag or not shag whomever they want without it becoming a matter of public debate whether they are politically entitled to do so.
Indeed, I was one of the very few commentators to publicly support Barnaby Joyce's right to have sex with whomever he chooses - despite how disturbing such a mental image may be. (See Paragraph 1)
And so Senator Leyonhjelm appears to have contradicted his own beliefs while at the same time pissing off probably the only mainstream journalist originally prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt. As an act of principle it is wholly inconsistent and as an act of politics it is just plain crazy.
But more than that it is just plain nasty. One of the reasons I most despise mob justice is that it specifically targets individuals in the name of a political cause. Its whole premise is that it is worth sacrificing a human being in order to satisfy the greater ideological good. This is the sort of mindset that both cults and dictatorships are built on and it springs all too easily from both the left and the right.
The other problem with mob politics is that the mob always wins, which is all well and good until the mob turns on you. In other words, eventually everybody loses.
Leyonhjelm tried to turn the mob on Senator Hanson-Young and then my friend Angela Bishop. Now the mob has turned back on Senator Leyonhjelm and there is no one left to defend him.