About this conversation

Six degrees of engagement

(Or why I started this conversation…….)

At the 2013 Australian federal election, a guy in Brisbane set up a site called dontbeafuckingidiot.com, which the author described as being a ‘sweary, angry, yet accurate comparison of policy’.  He received nearly half a million hits.  Old news now – but it’s relevance today is the letter he wrote following the election. Here’s some of what he said:

The strength of our democracy depends on our ability and will to engage with each other’s ideas. A culture of political disengagement, and tacit contempt for political ideas, actively inhibits progress and understanding. We roundly ignore politics and then wonder why political messaging becomes a tabloid circus of desperately simplistic soundbites and sensationalism. Well, it’s our own damned fault.

Politicians necessarily have to respond to the attitudes and beliefs of their constituency. What drives the vast majority of people into political life, on both sides, is a genuine belief in their ideals; and most of them despise having to compromise their idealism and passion for the sake of what will win the votes of people who are politically disengaged.

So, we need to be brave. We need to ignore the social convention that it is taboo to challenge other people’s ideas, or that questioning things is adversarial and rude. We need to be vulnerable enough to put our thoughts out there and engage with people honestly. We need to call out things we believe to be wrong. We need to stand up for what we believe to be right.

You can read the full letter here.

Some 18 months later…..

I was inspired by what this guy wrote – OK, some 18 months later, but you don’t want to rush these things – because I believe that we are at an important time in our planet’s history.  A time when, more than ever, the problems that we are facing, and the decisions that are made by our governments about those problems, not only impact us today, but have the power to materially, and potentially  detrimentally, impact the future of those who come after us if we don’t all actively get involved.

I don’t know what the answers are to these problems.  But I do know that they aren’t found in trite three word slogans, overplayed political sound-bites and misinformation – that abounds on both sides of the political spectrum.    And I’m pretty sure they aren’t found in the childish name-calling and question dodging that goes on during question time in the House of Representatives or in staged multi-flagged press conferences.

Six degrees of having your say…..

It’s easy to think that  all these things are somebody else’s responsibility and that there is nothing we can do about them.  That each of us, as individuals, has no power to change any of this – but we do.  We may only have a vote once every three years, but you have the right to free speech – the right to have a conversation about key issues every moment of every day – to share what you think with others every day. And that’s just as much a part of democracy as the democracy sausage we get at the polling booths once every three years.

And here’s the thing. Every single conversation you have about issues that matters has the power to influence public opinion. Because public opinion is not something that is apart from you.  You, I, and each of us is an – albeit fairly small – but integral part of how it forms.  And if Kevin Bacon was right – and according to Microsoft, he is – we are all only separated by six connections. We’ve all seen things ‘go viral’, and that happens when each of us cares enough about an issue to talk to our friends, share what we think and they talk to other people and so on.

Whether we are aware of it are not – our voices are an incredibly powerful part of what happens in our democracy.

In the words of Abraham Lincoln:

“Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail. Without it, nothing can succeed.”

Public opinion – if strong enough – can change the way our politicians vote. Not always immediately – but in the end, if a majority of us agree – the pollies eventually catch up.

The buck stops with me.  And you.  And all of us.

At the end of the day, being an adult in our democracy means that we all need to take responsibility for what our government is doing. We each get to vote, think, have an opinion, connect with others – and this means that the buck stops with me, you and every other Australian.

When the government goes to bat for two Australians on death row in Indonesia, that’s you, me and the whole country going to bat. But when they allow asylum seekers to be tortured, and kids in detention camps to be sexually abused and our planet to be put in jeopardy because of ineffective action on climate change – that’s you, me and the whole country allowing that to happen as well.

And this is why I set up this site as a place for what will hopefully be fact-based and reasoned discussion about issues in our democracy.  Which brings me to….

I’d love to hear what you think!

If you’re reading this, and you want to comment or share information that you have on a topic on this site – including this one – then great!!  Just remember – this isn’t the House of Representatives. No name calling.  No three word slogans. (OK – that’s somewhat ironic after the previous sentence – but you get the gist.)  If you want to express an opinion, please back it up with facts and sources or at least a logical argument.

And please don’t say that the other party is just as bad or worse, no matter how true it is. Using that argument holds us to a “Dumb or Dumber” standard on issues.  And quite frankly, we are better than that.

Cards on the table – as if there was any doubt – when I’m walking to the polling booths, I have a decidedly leftward lean in my step.  But I have many intelligent right-leaning friends, and I would truly love to hear your reasoning on any issues that we don’t see eye to eye on, as it provides a different perspective.  To me, democracy shouldn’t be about what the right or the left think.  We should be able to talk about each issue on its own merits, regardless of what the political party we favor thinks on the point. Political parties aren’t football teams.  Supporting either party blindly, without question, arguably weakens our democracy.

It’s fine, and actually good to disagree on value issues.  Some stuff is factual – like the number of politicians in the House of Reps who speak respectfully to one another – that would be zero.  And where facts are concerned – opinions are irrelevant. Facts just are – they aren’t up for debate.

That said – how we respond to those facts is So if your opinion is different to mine, or anyone else commenting on the site, then all the better.  A topic is best viewed from all sides after all. That’s what a discussion should ideally be all about.


Kate M (@ComissionerKate)

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