“The Debate is Over”

“The Debate is Over”

Selfish Collectives think debate is all about them
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University politics and student debate in general is becoming an incomprehensible, irrelevant mess.

A lot of young people detest free speech. It’s because they think they’re right about everything, you see, and it’s jolly annoying.

The arrogance of youth is one of the universe’s constants, but the intolerance of youth is a fairly new phenomenon. Gay marriage, women’s issues, climate change; the intolerance of the young on these matters is overwhelming. Forty years ago, youth demanded to be heard. Now, they demand others shut up.

University politics and student debate in general is becoming an incomprehensible, irrelevant mess. At Sydney University, it is being driven by identity politics, where people of a particular race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality or social background form exclusive alliances, and use their status to gain advantage in debates.

USyd is a breeding ground for ‘autonomous collective’ groups. There’s Autonomous Collective Against Racism (ACAR), Queer Action Collective, the Wom*n’s Collective and even an Environment Collective. Last semester, the Wom*n of Colour Officer’s Report (another collective), said in the student newspaper, Honi Soit, ‘…anyone that identifies as Indigenous or marginalised by White Supremacy is invited to join,’ as if describing an open, liberal democratic society as suffering from ‘White Supremacy’ was entirely palusible. When the Wom*n’s Collective ran an issue of Honi Soit last semester, they used their platform to say quite proudly ‘no cis boys allowed’ and helpfully told us in the editorial that ‘…you should never expect to be educated on the experiences of those who are more oppressed than you.’ Well, cheers.

The very people who profess to worship equality do the most to separate themselves from the mainstream. The problem isn’t so much having these collectives; it’s that collectives often embrace victimhood. Their campaigns and ideas are forbidden to be questioned by anyone not in their collective, because they ignore the capacity of fellow students to understand them. They attempt to right historical wrongs, using a status of victimhood to give their voice more weight.
The amount of thought that has gone into analysing victimhood is staggering. When the Autonomous Collective Against Racism had their turn to run an issue of Honi Soit, they took the opportunity to explain to students another part of identity politics called ‘intersectionality’, which ‘shows how intersecting identities of oppression lead to worsening oppression.’ In the student newspaper, they asked their ‘white-identifying’ readers to ‘set aside sensitivities, internalise our voices and consider ways to challenge and deconstruct the oppressive structures you happen to uphold.’ What a patronising and offensive request to make.

Although eager to have power, collectives are far less eager to have debates.

These collectives are on the rise, and their appetite for power is growing. Most parties in student elections supported funding collectives for ‘safe spaces’, (read: exclusive places where members can isolate themselves from the real world). Autonomous groups have been able to edit the student newspaper Honi Soit. But it goes further than that. New legislation being disucssed will ensure that positions on SRC, such as Environment Officer and Ethinic Affairs Officer will only be filled by members of the Environmnet Collective and ACAR respectively. Collectives hide under a blanket of victim hood, but underneath that they are expertly seizing control of our political process.

ACAR edition of Honi: obsessed with intersectionality

ACAR edition of Honi: obsessed with intersectionality

The obsession with identity politics and the types of oppression from which we suffer is very worrying. It leads to young people being obsessed with their identity, instead of ideas. They focus on their separateness rather than a universal debate. Their personal identity is so tied up in their political agendas that they have trouble entering the contest of ideas without crying ‘I’m offended!’

Although eager to have power, collectives are far less eager to have debates. In his article titled ‘The Marginalised Majority’, Nick Cater criticised the Wom*n’s Collective for the ideas expressed in their newspaper, saying that ‘victimhood in today’s universities is a position replete with privilege and status.’ The angry, sarcastic response of the Wom*n’s Collective did little to intellectually rebut his criticism. Instead, their letter published in Honi Soit attacked the person of Cater, positioning him as someone of power: ‘Mr Cater…it must be difficult to live in a world where no one will listen…with only the readership of one of Australia’s top selling papers to hear your voice,’ and they suggested that ‘maybe you should…go educate yourself?’

The intolerance of debate was on even greater display in the next letter, written by a member of the Queer Action Collective to a traditional marriage supporter. The letter was titled ‘The Debate is Over.’ The fact that such a thing is now said in a student newspaper is mind boggling, but there we are. Only a third of the letter addressed the respectfully put arguments in favour of traditional marriage. The rest of it was a complete character assassination, a total explosion, expelling any right of the traditional marriage supporter to have an opinion. ‘You are haughty but far worse you are homophobic…Whether you mean to or not, you make lives of same-sex attracted people worse…You don’t get credit for not meaning to, you get an obligation to fix your mistakes.’ The writer couldn’t detach criticism of the intellectual argument against gay marriage from personal attacks on gay people. The writer also said ‘I am outraged because it’s you and your ilk that make people feel bad.’


The letter that told us 'free speech doesn't mean what we think it means.'

The letter that told us ‘free speech doesn’t mean what we think it means.’

Margaret Thatcher said that one of the greatest problems of our age is that people care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas. For today’s young people, whose perspectives on the world converge to the iPhone screen, who obsess over their identity and their oppression, this is very true. This is the selfie generation and we think it’s all about us, but actually, politics, culture and debate is about ideas. Currently, we are missing the great challenges of our time. Instead of the tampon tax campaign, young women should discuss the tough choices working women will face when they want to have children. How will we find jobs for the future in a digitalised age? Is university education the path to employment? How can the world best accommodate refugees? How can we produce enough food to tackle poverty? Can irrigation make Australia drought resistant? There are countless ideas to confront if you don’t get wrapped up in all the ways the world is trying to oppress you.

The Honi Soit Issue where the debate was declared 'over'

The Honi Soit Issue where the debate was declared ‘over’

Ideas are a contest. It’s a battlefield and it can get dirty out there. Young people can’t pack up their toys and go home, just because they don’t like the way it’s played. At present, the behaviour of student-run collectives intolerant and robotic. Their desire to control student news and politics is conflicting with their inability to debate and engage with different views. They are obsessed with who is making the case, rather than the case itself. Unless there is change, this friction will fan into a fire, scorching USyd’s student debate and politics.

Let’s hope they can sort things out.

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