The Irresponsible Asshattery of the AFR

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There isn’t much one can meaningfully add to the shit storm of an argument surrounding Mark Latham’s latest opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review. But with a headline like “Why left feminists don’t like kids”, the agenda was clear: break the Internet, no matter the human cost.

Look, I could most certainly take Latham out in straight sets with logical rebuttal. I’d gain his trust by telling him I live in the suburbs rather than his purported inner-city hotbed of parental neglect. Then I’d call BS on his so-called idyllic parenting life – with its gourmet cooking (yawn) and native garden tending (ugh), it sounds like just the kind of mindless bullshit that would have me reaching for the Xanax. Luckily, unlike Mark, I’m not afflicted with the self-serving belief that how I choose to spend my days is how everyone should spend theirs. Next I’d point out that it’s pretty clear he’s never spent any time with women suffering post-natal depression. Indeed, I’m not entirely sure he even understands the dictionary definition. If he did, he may have discovered the cruel irony that post-natal depression highlights: in their pursuit to be good mothers, falling short is devastating. Then I’d go for the jugular by detailing my own personal experience in the matter; suffering depression and anxiety as a result of a miscarriage which, if anything, proves the actual opposite of Latham’s point. Far from the over-simplified accusation that depression somehow means that mothers don’t want the children they chose to have, mine came about as a result of losing a child that I wanted and had already begun to love. Further, my decision to seek help in the form of anti-depressants (which didn’t work for me, but are a perfectly viable option for others) was because of a ferocious maternal need to protect my 18 month old daughter. As her primary carer her welfare depended on me, an utterly terrifying notion while my mind faltered. Not bad for a left feminist, eh Mark?

But I won’t bother. Because Mark isn’t the problem. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a problem. But he’s not my problem, and he shouldn’t be yours. Although he was serious about his opinion piece, it wasn’t published to be taken seriously, but rather to present readers with a head-scratching rendition of What The Actual Fuck on WTF.fm. It flies so firmly in the face of common sense, and is so devoid of research that it verges on comedy. In fact, were it copied and pasted onto The Onion, no doubt we’d all be laughing about it. THAT’S how nonsensical it is. There have been many excellent and meaningful responses, but I think Em Rusciano puts it best when she says his argument is a ‘clusterfuck of asshattery’. And I’m inclined to agree, adding my clear definition of asshat to mean:

  • One who confuses their ‘opinions’ with ‘facts’ (a common complaint of those with an inflated sense of self-importance, but a underdeveloped sense of self-awareness);
  • One who is pathologically lacking in empathy;
  • One who is impervious to logical rebuttal; and
  • Will argue their point long after it has been proven moot.

So. Asshat he most certainly is. Based on the above, I’m sure you’ll find you know a few. To argue with them is pointless (see points 3 and 4). Latham will go to his grave believing the things he says are true and, this is the most important part, it should never affect any of us. Ever.

Because if you were to walk down your street and vox pop your neighbours, asking them about hot button issues like post-natal depression, feminism, refugees or the environment, you will discover that asshats exist. Ditto the Internet and most notably social media where they are commonly known as ‘Trolls’. Unlike Latham, most of them have never been in contention to govern Australia, and aren’t given a national stage on which to spurt their asshattery, but they exist. They wouldn’t go so far as to lobby for the banning of anti-depressants or for women to get back to their ironing boards. In fact, very few act upon their bizarre convictions except through meaningless vitriolic chit-chat. They vote – yes. But they can only vote for what’s presented to them. And though they exist in the world, they are flaccid and ineffectual when it comes to real action. Except when the media chooses to shine a torch on one of them for the purpose of being controversial.

Which brings me to the true villain of this entire debacle: The Australian Financial Review.

While Mark is arguing that feminists should do us all a favour and choose not to have children, and feminists are arguing that Mark should do us all a favour and choose to go to hell, one entity was faced with a very real, black and white choice: to publish an article of such offensive bile as to potentially alienate an already vulnerable group of people. Or to hand it back and say “Mark, you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid.”

No doubt when Latham’s piece crossed the many desks it crossed, it was met with the salivating mouths of media wolves, desperate to make the masses click. It was the Fairfax equivalent of an oiled Kardashian derrière and its purpose was the same: to incite a virtual riot and make some very real cash.

And so rather than do the decent thing, and toss this piece of (albeit hilarious) ignorant trash in the reject pile, they hurled Mark Latham to the lionesses. And waited. On every left-leaning or just halfway decent internet media outlet, he was cut down. Does he care? No. Will he change? Absolutely not. So who wins, and more importantly, who loses?

The Australian Financial Review wins, of course. Considering online access to the article required subscriber sign-up, I’m sure subscriptions by the curious masses surged. Clicks are currency for online advertisers and they are worth their virtual weight in real gold. The AFR then washes their hands of all responsibility by blaming Mark in a follow-up opinion piece arguing how irresponsible his column was. If it was so irresponsible, where the hell were your editors whose actual job it is to take responsibility for content? Please don’t mistake this as sympathy for Latham (God no), but it’s a classic case of the puppeteer blaming the puppet. And getting squarely away with it.

Meanwhile, Mark gets his thick head pounded by a bunch of feminists but is probably right now working on his next column filled with even more privileged ignorant trash. The feminists get worked up for a few weeks before resuming their regular scheduled programming of fighting the good fight. And the real loser in this is the vulnerable sufferers of depression, and the already under-funded, overworked mental health organisations whose mission it is to eradicate attitudes like Latham’s. We won’t ever know whether there was a true human cost in this act of media terror, but I can say with certainty that PND is a grave issue that can, at its worst, end in suicide. Sometimes murder-suicide. Hey AFR, I’m not sure I’d be intentionally firing up a game of link-bait roulette when the cost might be the loss of innocent lives. But then, I’m just a selfish leftie feminist who doesn’t like kids so what the hell do I know?

So while the AFR is off collecting its winnings and Mark Latham is enjoying the sensation of his own head up his own ass, a mother somewhere throws her hands in the air and says “enough.”

*slow clap*

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