George W Bush
Former US President George Bush. (Image: AP)

Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” When we heard these these words 15 years ago this week, we thought them ill. Since then, the sickness has spread. What seemed, in 2001, like the dumbest sort of moral dualism is now a disease afflicting most professional Western commentators.

George W. Bush was patient zero, and now his mutant type of the Manichean virus has claimed millions, possibly more. These are the symptoms: you’re either with us, or in a basket of deplorables. You’re either compassionate, or empty of all human essence. You’re either for democracy, or you’re effing Hitler. Once, Bush the proto-idiot was someone we could laugh at. Now, his illness provides a serious model for much logic in social and traditional forums.

For reasons only an epidemiologist could guess at, we’re in the middle of a serious either/or outbreak. Big Stories preferred by local and Western media this week have been rendered in none of the colours of the rainbow.

What follows, accordingly, is a public service in a time of high-contrast distress. This short tool for self-diagnosis of the Manichean virus (GW strain) will offer three major news stories from the past week. It will then give brief account of the primary, black-and-white responses to these. And then — here’s the terrible part — it will offer a grey analysis! If you can’t see the grey, get your eyes checked and update your last testament.

1. Lionel Shriver defends her right to make shit up

Media Black and White: Over at Spiked, we have the dependable case for “freedom”. At The Guardian, we have the case for “rights” and sensitivity. The former makes the case for middle-brow novelists to keep on doing what they’ve always done: presume a position of neutral identity and describe others as others. The latter says that this is a form of cultural imperialism.

Crikey Grey: Writers festivals are not a revolutionary battleground from which to report. While commentators see these leisure events as continuous with the broader society, Dr Grey says they are attended by a bunch of people deluded in their conviction that the culture is also the territory of the real. As occasionally grey eminence Germaine Greer pointed out at the same festival in 2012, Queensland, long home to the rural poor, is not exactly full of people who can read. The state that produces some of the nation’s harshest racism has failed to produce a functionally literate population. So, you can say all you want that what happens in books, films and telly “matters” in terms of either diversity or freedom for the broader population, and both Shriver and her critics were very much saying this. But it don’t matter none if no bastard can read, write or afford premium cable channels. Arguing for equal representation in an exclusive field — women on boards, people of colour on sitcoms — makes about as much sense as asking for a nice coat of paint on the walls of the prison.

2. Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech

Media Black and White: Echoing Madam Nominee’s use of the social media phrase “calling out”– this means that saying something is of primary importance and is, in itself, a vital act — Greens leader Richard Di Natale referred to the walk-out by his party during whatserface’s maiden speech. Meanwhile, Andrew Bolt called our Parliament’s soggiest roman candle “explosive”.

Crikey Grey: “Calling out bigotry wherever you see it” is probably good practice in everyday life, and certainly, my local branch of the CWA, of which I was a member until the blackberry incident, did try, albeit very politely, to tick rude ladies off. Racism is bad, inter alia, for recruitment. But, Jeez, Richard. You’re busier than I and the girls in the conserve sub-committee and, frankly, it’s a bad look if you just keep “calling out” bigotry, because it makes me suspect you’re not spending any time developing policy that might actually stop it at its origin, and no I am not talking about 18C. Also. It’s not the moral responsibility of individuals to end a society-wide ill. It’s your gig. Quite implying that it’s “our” responsibility to end a very big thing with very small acts of kindness and get your arse to the Parliamentary Budget Office in time for the next election.

Just as RDN elevates the idiocy of Hanson to political dynamite, so does Blot. A Bichon Frise of a “thinker” on whom I will expend few grey words. Has anyone thought about ignoring what was basically a Crtl-X Ctrl-V load of shitty shit in which she removed the words “Asian” and “strong herbal cooking smells” and replaced them with “Muslim” and “creeping sharia”? Yes, this person doesn’t deserve a platform. Stop providing her with one and relieve yourself of the burden of having an opinion about her at all.

3. Same-sex marriage plebiscite

Media Black and White: it is, again, the elegant summary provided by Blot to which we shall turn for diagnostic purposes. Apparently, there is a mandate for a plebiscite on same-sex marriage, despite the issue of same-sex marriage never registering as a top priority for voters. And then, there’s nearly everyone else, including John Birmingham, who says the plebiscite is pointless, and possibly harmful.

Crikey Grey: Let’s leave aside, for the purposes of testing, the fuzzy unconcern for our democratic machinery — are all plebiscites pointless? Can every little election promise, even the ones we don’t really care about, be understood as a mandate? — and try to keep it one shade of grey. And let’s ask if this entire thing is that big of a deal.

Bolt thinks it is, and so do progressive commentators. But is it, really?

The pro-marriage logic that proceeds, “I don’t want others judging my relationship” simultaneously and explicitly asks for the state to endorse its relationship. And this means something in the US, where married couples have very different rights from married ones. But in Australia, the rights, and responsibilities, of all unmarried couples, both same and opposite sex, are indistinguishable from those of married couples. They have been since 2008. (Incidentally. Thanks for that, Kevin Rudd.)

If you have taken this test and feel only an urgent sense of Manichean commitment to black or to white, you’re not well. I am sorry about this. There is, at this time, no cure for the illness of dualism, but there are therapies available. These include reminding yourself that many views can exist in one publication, one scion of politics and even one mind. And, perhaps a daily affirmation in the mirror that you don’t have to feel strongly first, and think later.