No-confidence votes in non-violence

When I went from year 10 to year 11 at high school, I also moved cities and schools. I moved from a private boys school – Haileybury College in Keysborough (Vic) – to a co-ed High School in Canberra – Campbell High. I remember arriving at Campbell and spending lunchtime during the first three weeks across the road at the War Memorial so fearful was I of this peer group I had yet to crack. I was asked what music I liked so I said ‘Deep Purple’ and ‘Led-Zeppelin’. Naturally. I didn’t want them thinking I was a poof. I believed that I liked those bands, but I was also telling one of those lies you convince yourself of when you’re an adolescent. The Campbell kids said they liked Elton John. So much for that. I learned to admit that I liked Elton John more than Deep Purple.

In the first week of my second year a fight broke out between two kids. Their friends immediately pulled them apart and that was that. I had a strange sense that day. A sense for which there could be a telling word or expression in some other language. A word like schadenfreude in German or an expression like deja vu in French. Actually the concept is a kind of obverse of deja vu – the feeling that something new has turned up that you’re yet to put your finger on.

Then I realised that at Haileybury there was a fight about once a week and when one broke out all the boys got in a circle, screamed ‘fight, fight, fight’ and booed if and when a teacher or prefect came and broke it up. There were epic struggles running most of recess and then on and off through lunch. I remember one between two friends of mine – and friends of each other (Hi Michael Dow and Neil Ward in the highly unlikely event that you ever run across this.)

It was then that I realised what a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. You know when something makes you realise how unhappy you were – because you no longer are? Well that’s how I felt. I think the air of violence was an important part of how unhappy we all were (this was confirmed in a reunion a few years back which turned – most unexpectedly – into a kind of encounter session in which we all confessed what a horrible time we’d had. (Capped off by someone who said the school had wrecked him saying that he was sending his own son there – there’s no accounting for tastes. But I digress). Who knows what was responsible for the difference in atmosphere in the two schools. The difference between the cities, between a bit of oestrogen being allowed to circulate with the testosterone, between the middle years of high school and the business end. Perhaps a bit of all of those things made the difference.

I thought of all this when I read Tim Blair on the fracas that Glenn Milne created by trying to pick a physical fight with Stephen Mayne. Here was an act of physical violence and, Blair thought it was funny that Mayne would jump off the stage. He was running away from a (physical) fight. Well who knows if this was physical cowardice. It was certainly socially appropriate to go to some lengths to avoid a physical fight. I don’t think that’s what the audience had come for.

For what it’s worth I think that Mayne handled himself well, and showed that he was not to be cowed. He asserted the power of words over acts of (petty) physical aggression as he returned to the lectern, even if he didn’t rise to the heights of Gore Vidal when physically assaulted by Norman Mailer. Instead of putting up his dukes in response to a physical assault from Mailer he famously had the last word “Once again, words failed him”.

In any event, I find it hard to express how poorly I think of the adolescent smirking going on about what is supposed to be Stephen Mayne’s physical cowardice. I mean just for a start how stupid is this? Mayne might be stronger or weaker in a fight than Milne. He’s taller and younger but he’s skinnier. Who knows? So what is the fist fight supposed to prove? If Milne had pushed a cripple out of his wheelchair should the cripple hightail it out of there or put up his dukes. If Milne had pushed some Olympian weightlifter to the floor, what would it demonstrate for him to flatten Milne?

Under the heading “Award for best TV biff”, Sydney Confidential in The Daily Telegraph said, after reporting the event and Glenn Milne’s saying that “there was no excuse for my behaviour”

Mayne accepted the apology but yesterday whinged about a sore ankle, sustained when he ran from the much smaller and intoxicated Milne, jumping off the stage as the Canberra press veteran was escorted from the venue. “It is quite outrageous that I was attacked on national television,” he said.

“He (Milne) wanted to flatten me.”

Don’t expect stringbean Stephen to launch his boxing career anytime soon.

Tim Blair’s coverage was the first I saw. “That leap of fright was priceless.” (And going back to it to get the link, I realise I’d forgotten or never really noticed the headline Blair put on it. “Fight, Fight, Fight”. It really takes me back. What a funny fellow.)

And now, courtesy of Crikey we see Jack Marx chiming in.

The most memorable moment of the second was the sight of Mayne scampering from the ring like a rabbit pursued by a hound, leaping from the stage when it looked like Milne was coming back from his corner, only emerging to claim ‘victory’ once he’d allowed a stagehand to do his fighting for him. Unless this was some kind of advanced “rope-a-dope” strategy, I think it’s fair to say that Stephen Mayne turned up to a fight and broke the record for sprinting.

The aftermath has seen a humble and embarrassed Milne pursued (finally) by a smug, war-crying Mayne. What the f**k? Where I come from (and that’s here), the day you bolt like a ninny from a public fight is the beginning of a prolonged period where you best zip it and keep out of sight. Frankly, I’m surprised Mayne hasn’t shot himself from shame (anyone considering suicide should call Lifeline on 13 11 14) and, if I were him, I’d be spending less time making high-horsed demands for apology and more time down at the gym.

Well, at least I admired the writing in Marx’s story of the moral confusion of his sick relationship with Russell Crowe (which won him a well deserved Walkley) but now we know where the moral confusion comes from.
Both Blair’s and Marx’s comments are supposed to be humorous – which makes them a slippery target. Perhaps I’m being humourless. Certainly I don’t expect everyone to immediately jump up and say politically correct things like ‘violence is unacceptable’ – though it is and there’s no harm in some people saying that. (Our friend Whyisitso did make things fairly simple when he asked on Blair’s blog “Milne should have been charged with assault. What’s happening to law enforcement in Victoria?”

But I really am quite upset that it is so mainstream to laugh at a man who walks away from violence – extra-ordinarily socially inappropriate violence at that.

I could go on. The way in which Milne accused Mayne of getting his facts wrong (getting his own facts wrong in the process). The way in which, when challenged on the subject, Milne pressed on with his allegation that Mayne was responsible for a link on Crikey to a defamatory website when the same website had been viciously defaming Mayne.

Milne: “About two months ago he put up a link to a blog site which suggested that I was a sexual predator.”

Cassidy: “Now I don’t think he did, I think you’re confusing that. Crikey, the website, may have done that, but not Stephen Mayne. And in fact Stephen Mayne hasn’t been a part of Crikey, other than as a contributor, for 18 months.”

Milne: “Well, what I’d say to you is that Stephen Mayne founded Crikey, Stephen Mayne writes for Crikey, Stephen Mayne is the public face of Crikey, and I think we all around here know how he deals with the truth.

Talk about a hide! It all reminds me of the totalitarianism of adolescence too. Of the way in which the ‘in’ peer group gets to define social reality, however untruthful, however perverse.

And I recall a particularly chilling chapter in a book by Sebastian Haffner called Defying Hitler a contemporaneous account of life for a decent non-Jewish German in Germany in the late 1930s where the psychopathology of what was going on was laid bare in the stories it told. One story was about a murderous Brownshirt assault on the house of a Jewish person of some standing in the community. The Brownshirts turned up at the house and grab its Jewish inhabitants. The victims offer no resistance against overwhelming odds – (From memory the brownshirts were armed with pistols). Whereupon the talk in the office that day was on how the story illustrated how cowardly Jews were.

Of course had they offered resistance it would have been about how funny it was that they were fighting against guns with sticks, and how it showed that they were enemies of Germany as they’d been accused of all along. You’re either in or out in that world, and it’s got nothing to do with what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s true and what’s false. It is all made up as you go along by the people whose violence rules. And fear festers.

Good on you Stephen Mayne. You’ve shown us plenty of courage so far in your life – though not, fortunately with your fists. In this case you showed us presence of mind in a difficult situation. So we can be grateful for whatever complex mix of emotions that led to your choice not to escalate an outrageous physical attack on you.

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Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
15 years ago

You know I’ve never seen more words wasted to such little effect as I have on eminently forgettable non-event. Mayne hasn’t stopped babbling about it since it happened – even his mother wrote a letter to the Oz – and Crikey has devoted more column inches to it than the coup in Fiji.

“Up himself, big noting Journo gets pissed and embarrasses himself by confronting up himself, big noting media self-promoter in public.”

Where exactly is the story here let alone the rationale for several hundred words of moral justification? Get over it. Move on.

Jason Soon
15 years ago

There is nothing to admire, Nick.

It made perfect sense for Mayne not to get drawn into a biff up. But what made Mayne look like a prat in the eyes of Marz and Blair and me too is towards the end, where, as Marx said he was:
‘only emerging to claim ‘victory’ once he’d allowed a stagehand to do his fighting for him.’

What was with that? You want to do what’s sensible, no one’s going to hold it against you. But he goes out there with his hands up in the air doing a sort of victory dance when in fact a stage bouncer is holding a drunk man back. There is something prissy about that, I’m sorry. *If* you want to do something like that, then earn it by duking it up. That’s what the average man would think.

saint
15 years ago

I am afraid, the only person I admire in this non-event was the stagehand (floor manager?) who reacted quickly and handled it superbly, even with a smile on his face. Mayne and Milne are both pratts.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

Geoff says: “Where exactly is the story here let alone the rationale for several hundred words of moral justification?”

It was an interesting moment which, whether you like it or not, people feel compelled to unpack a little. So much of public life is a charade and we forget how close the urbane sophisticate is to his simeon ancestor. I was fascinated and was somehow reminded of the scene in 2001 where the chimps are attacking each other beneath the monolith.

Regarding Vidal and Mailer, I am not sure that I would admire Vidal for his superior wit. If someone of superior intellect is publicly and maliciously humiliating you and your work and you see no other form of retribution, I for one think a belt in the kisser is OK. Of course it is illegal and it should be illegal. But i see nothing so terrible about it ethically.

Anyway, I thought Mayne was bloody brilliant. And I don’t know where he gets the “up himself, big noting media self-promoter” label. Perhaps some people are peeved that he made a fortune out of internet journalism. When you’ve stood up in an AGM and made Rupert publically accountable you get some bragging rights.

[deleted in the interest of civility KAP]

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

I agree with Jason. Why would Mayne claim victory after running away and getting a bouncer to step in? If he had just gone on with what he was doing without the grandstanding then no problem.

[ retaliatory comment also deleted in the interst of civility – KAP]

Ken Parish
Admin
Ken Parish(@ken-parish)
15 years ago

NB Yobbo – See Darlene Taylor’s post extracted in Wednesday’s Missing Link. You get a mention.

Stewart Kelly
15 years ago

Mayne did the right thing in avoiding the fight. If he’d clocked Milne one and laid him out there’d be a different bunch of people calling him gutless for smacking a drunk older guy. Can’t really win in that situation. Those bemoaning Maynes victory dance… it was an awkward moment,he had to say something and could have done much worse. Picking on him for ‘claiming victory’ kind of misses the point. He shouldn’t have been in the situation where he’s getting attacked anyway.

Rex Ringschott
Rex Ringschott(@rex-ringschott)
15 years ago

You know I’ve never seen more words wasted to such little effect as I have on eminently forgettable non-event.

Give me an example where words are not wasted to little effect, in today’s blogospherical mediaverse Geoff.

Geoff Honnor
Geoff Honnor
15 years ago

“Give me an example where words are not wasted to little effect, in today’s blogospherical mediaverse Geoff’

Always with the hard questions, Rex.

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

I’ll save Geoff the trouble with an easy example you silly sour lefty.

phil
15 years ago

Good post Nicholas, maybe fewer knee-jerk responses and more engagement with your broader point might be helpful. Isn’t resorting to violence meant to the last resort in supposedly ‘civilised’ societies? Don’t we point and laugh when parliamentarians in ‘less civilised’ countries go the biff on the floor of parliament? What do we think when a couple of sheilas get into what I understand is known as a ‘scrag-fight’? Doesn’t rising above all this require self-restraint?

Can you imagine what the reaction would have been if Mayne had hung one on a drunked, shorter, older bloke on national TV? Maybe he’s been too full of self-justification post the event, but to me that just reflects the history of the MSM vs Crikey since the latter’s inception.

Tony Harris
Tony Harris(@tony-harris)
15 years ago

On the topic of clever remarks under pressure, when William Henley threw Oscar Wilde out of his house after an argument, Wilde is supposed to have said “Debating with Mr Henley is both an intellectual and a physical recreation”.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

Isn’t resorting to violence meant to the last resort in supposedly ‘civilised’ societies?

No. Governments resort to violence every day without fail. There’s nothing wrong with violence when it is warranted. Some people don’t understand anything else. Not everyone is capable of reasoned debate. Some of them need it beaten into them to learn a lesson.

Bannerman
15 years ago

Hear! Hear! Nicholas. Amazing isn’t it, how the moronic element in the ‘sphere still rise to the bait when it’s offered.

Ken Lovell
15 years ago

There was a similar reaction a year or two back when a tired and emotional NSW National Party MP threatened to assault Roads Minister Joe Tripodi during question time and Tripodi backed off. Lots of tut-tutting about the Nat guy but most of the nasty comments were directed at Tripodi for being a coward. As you suggest, they presumably thought he should have started rolling round on the floor gouging and biting.

On that occasion the venom came mainly from conservatives. I suspect that privately they still adhere to a ‘Tom Brown’s Schooldays’ culture, where boys settle their differences in a manly way and never ever snitch to grown-ups. It would account for their horror at the ‘barbaric’ acts of terrorists and their disdain for the prefects who work for the UN, whereas once you put your nation’s uniform on and use ‘proper’ weapons you can kill as many people as you like.

Patrick
Patrick
15 years ago

Wow, count me all figured out, Ken. And it must have taken you so long to work out how I could be horrified by the ‘barbaric’ (in quotation marks??) acts of terrorists, ‘cos weely der int no gud spl’nation why dat’d rile any norm’l hum’n been, i dere?

Lucky Alphonse
Lucky Alphonse
15 years ago

You really should check the meaning of schadenfreude before using it again in your writing.

Chris Lloyd
Chris Lloyd
15 years ago

I think schadenfreude has something to do with enjoyment at the expense of others so it is relevant to the paragraph where Nick uses it. But you are right Alphonse that it is certainly not a synonym for deja-vu.

Ken Lovell
15 years ago

Ummm guys you’re missing the point … Nicholas is referring to a feeling that there ought to be a word to describe his emotion, maybe in another language because English doesn’t have one. He uses ‘schadenfreude’ and ‘deja vu’ as examples to illustrate what he’s talking about, not to describe the emotion he experienced.

Tom N.
Tom N.
15 years ago

Another great post Nick – thanks.

In my schooldays, I was quite weedy, somewhat intellectual, not popular, and was frequently physically threatenned, and occasionally beaten up, by other boys. (Interestingly, at my school, it was girls as well as the boys who did the chearing during a fight.)

I have subsequently done a far bit of work on my body – weights, long distance running, cycled accross the Nullarbor, and even done a bit of boxing – and am confident that I could hold my own in fights with most males. However, my main form of self-defence remains my verbal dexterity coupled with my willingness to make tactical withdrawals.

I think Stephen Mayne did everything right, even in claiming victory after the Milne was removed from the stage. The point that Jason and Yobbo etc appear not to have realised is that Mayne DID win a victory – by eschewing physical altercation and withdrawing from the scene temporarily, thereby allowing Milne’s pathetic attack on his own foot to lead to its inevitable and embarressing outcome.

Of course, that may sound all too politically correct for the likes of Yobbo, but surely there comes a time when even a yobbo needs to grow up.

Jonno
Jonno
15 years ago

Re Haileybury – a colleague who did a teaching round there in the 80s said she had never seen so many chewed fingernails on schoolboys as at school assembly there.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

Everyone gets beat up at least a few times at school. The kids who continue to get beat up are the easy targets who never fight back.

You can argue with a bully all you like, it will just annoy him. If you beat the crap out of him, he won’t risk being made look like a fool again and will leave you alone.

Bannerman
15 years ago

Clearly, Yobbo seems to have been ‘beat up’ more often than not at school. He’s still bitter about not having fought back. Yes, all yobbos do have to grow up at some stage in life. Some just take longer than others, it seems.

Parkos
Parkos
15 years ago

At Melbourne High (academically the best boys school in Australia) there would be about one fight a year. It would generally be a good match and have an audience of up to 500. JC would spit on them as they grappled and scream “bash the IQ capitalist!”

However, the army cadet training and psychological pressure at the school managed to produce mass murderer Julian Knight and countless famous surgeons. I had a beer with Julian and I must admit he did not seem like the type to blow all those civilians away. If he had just waited for the Gulf War he could have been home and hosed with a medal and could attend the catallaxy hansonite piss up.

Some of Mayne’s political views are valid and he did propose more representation for prostitutes and the needs of special children and their families. Milne is just a piss and windbag and should be in jail for assault (and bigamy!)

Joshua Gans
Joshua Gans(@joshua-gans)
15 years ago

Just caught up with this. Good writing, Nicholas.

Yobbo’s comments reflect a popular conception of school bullying whereby the bullies are basically misfits and cowards. But at my high school, at least, they were most likely to be members of the in crowd, and their behaviour was sanctioned by the student culture generally. As for fighting back, even if you are capable, it’s the last thing you feel inclined to do when it’s exactly what the bully’s admiring offsiders are goading you to do. ‘Go on! Fight back! Hook ‘im! Ha ha!’ Refusing to play the game is itself an act of defiance.

Bannerman
15 years ago

Indeed…..however it’s extremely doubtful that Yobbo, et al, would understand that rationale.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

Whether they are part of the ‘in-crowd’ or not, the worst thing that can happen to a bully is to be beaten at his own game from someone he and his crowd have deemed to be beneath them.

Refusing to play the game only aggravates them more, and bullying nowadays can degenerate into worse things than dead-arms and chinese burns.

The best way to deal with a bully is to beat the shit out of them. It always has been and always will be.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

Schoolyard bullying is a hell of a lot different to the Mayne incident.

In the case of schoolyard bullying the person being bullied will always be weaker. Bullies don’t pick on people physically stronger than them.

My advice is to either learn to fight properly (i.e. at a boxing gym) or use a weapon.

The only thing that stops bullying is making them look like a loser in front of their friends.

Since schoolchildren aren’t typically impressed by reasoned argument or a quick wit, the only way to do that is by physically beating them into submission.

My advice to my kids would be to learn to fight and to do so if required.

Ignoring the bully or “refusing to play his game” as you put it is not going to stop the bullying. At best, it will cause the bully to choose a more interesting target. Usually, it will just increase the intensity of the bullying until the kid being bullied can no longer ignore it for fear of his physical or mental health.

Best not to let it get to that stage by never presenting yourself as an easy target, and fighting back the first time it happens. Otherwise known as “sticking up for yourself”.

Obviously teachers and school psychologists can’t practically dispense this advice (even though it works) because if someone is hurt then they are liable in loco parentis. So instead, they tell lies like “ignore them and they’ll go away” and hope the problem does indeed go away.

It doesn’t though. I’ve seen kids hospitalised by bullies (I was on both ends of it at school myself) and I’ve seen kids I went to school with attempt suicide because they couldn’t handle bullying.

Anyone to tells a kid to “ignore” bullies should be held liable when it doesn’t work.

JC
JC
15 years ago

yobs

Dude, do you know lot’s of your stuff is about fighting these days. Nothing wrong with that. I loved a good brawl when I was a kid and my line of work always had a bit of heavy going in a gaint room full of guys with money attached to a carrot stick.

Keep it up though it’s fun to read and could actually teach a few around here how not to get scared of shaddows.

By the way, The Smashing Machine is on SBS on Thursday night??. It’s about ultimate fighting in Japan. I great, great show for all devotees of the man business of fighting and pulverizing an opponent with fists and not just words.

I had it on video. It was great on a projector and big screen.

Yobbo
Yobbo
15 years ago

JC: This post is about fighting.