Quarterly Essay – Uncivil Wars

Now that’s a bold title for my unassuming little slice of the internet.

For those elsewhere, the Quarterly Essay is exactly as it sounds – the publication of an essay that hits the news stands four times a year, usually on a topical topic.

I don’t buy all four; only those that interest me. So why on earth would the title, “Uncivil Wars”, entice me in!?

It was the names of the authors. When I saw their names, written across the cover in the same font and type as the title, as important, but not more, my attention was decidedly captured. (I avoid those books where the author’s name is larger than the reason for the book’s existence.)

Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens are the voices behind The Minefield, a podcast on Radio National where they and a guest, all with amazing minds, talk about the moral dilemmas of the current era.

I could not possible pass up this edition.

The Quarterly Essay is not pre-slumber reading. It requires attention. An essay with the subtitle, “How Contempt is Corroding Democracy”, requires the type of attention that only comes with reading aloud.

Reading aloud was once the only way to read. The silent reader was considered untrustworthy. Somewhere along the way, the tables were turned and reading aloud became associated with childhood, the sick or those with limited education.

Now, reading aloud is recommended for its cognitive benefits. And I love it. Singing without music. Finding the tempo. Looking at what I’m about to say while simultaneously scanning ahead for the punctuation that describes the flow of the sentence.

This essay is a feast, both in terms of its readability and the argument it presents.

It feels wrong to attempt a summary. Or perhaps instead, it feels overwhelming. It would be like trying to describe a dish on a menu when the dish is so deliciously more than the sum of its contributing factors.

And one of those contributing factors is completely outside the influence of the authors, even the publishers. How hungry is the reader? This reader, very much so.

If you would like an explanation for the current dilemma facing the world, then this book is for you. It even contains wonderful insider knowledge such as knowing that the people who invented the Like and Retweet buttons sincerely regret doing so because the consequences went way beyond original intentions.

I don’t write book reviews. I write about my experience reading that book. I write to see if there’s any personal impact worth noting.

Have you ever thought about contempt, what it means, how it forms and what it creates?

I was a little arrogant and felt that contempt wasn’t an emotion I’ve indulged, perhaps aside from those moments of intense impatience where an emotion of some sort took hold.

In Uncivil Wars, the authors suggest that a marker of contempt towards others is avoidance. I tend to avoid people, so this idea – that I might avoid people because I view them with contempt – should prompt a good hard look at myself.

(silent thinking)

Yes, I tend to avoid people, but its not because I disagree with them so very emphatically that I think they are not worth the bother. Instead, I find the unstructured process of some engagements so utterly exhausting … and if there’s even a hint of threat or danger, my retreat is hastened.

Couple this introversion with a mindset planted/created/instilled by my mother’s oft repeated maxim, “It’s a sin to judge people”, and add, as a dash of seasoning, my fascination with how the world works, and I reach the conclusion that my first instinct was not far wrong.

Perhaps, then, contempt is not what I feel. Perhaps, instead, I’m still that outsider looking in. Perhaps it was an attitude drawn from those classic 1940s 1950s Hollywood movies I watched on the TV, countless afternoon matinees on countless Saturday and Sunday afternoons, with their storylines built around an outsider navigating the complexities when two cultures collide.

Perhaps it was years of Doctor Who on a Friday afternoon, the quintessential outsider …

OMG – I just spelt ‘quintessential’ correctly first go.

On that note, retreat while the going’s good.


Quarterly Essay, published by Black Inc. https://www.quarterlyessay.com.au/

The Minefield with Waleed Aly and Scott Stephens, https://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/theminefield


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