There is an old joke about a rich man who propositions a beautiful lady.
"Would you sleep with me for a million dollars?" he asks.
The woman giggles coquettishly. "I might …" she says.
"How about ten dollars?" he asks.
"Ten dollars?!?" she harrumphs. "What do you think I am?!?"
"We've already established what you are," the man replies. "Now we're just haggling over the price."
The joke is not particularly funny — indeed it is extremely jarring — but that is precisely its point. Indeed, there will be the predictable kneejerk reaction about now from the usual predictable corners and as usual they will miss that point. It is not a joke about prostitution.
It is a joke about principle.
And this is the point that we need to face in the wake of yet another terrorist atrocity and the all too familiar insanity that has broken out in its wake. We need to establish what we are, because if we don't the price will be too high for any of us to pay.
So let us go back to basics. Frankly, it appears we need to.
Terrorism is a uniquely evil form of crime. Not only is it designed to cause the maximum amount of destruction and fear among its immediate victims, but it seeks to sow destruction and fear throughout their whole community, their whole society and even across the world.
The message sent by the Christchurch killer was not just to the 50 innocent souls whose lives he stole but to Muslims everywhere who now fear that they could be next, that they are no longer safe even in their places of worship.
And even more damaging is the exponentially evil effect, which legitimises and perpetuates terrorism in all forms, news.com.au reported.
The Christchurch killer clearly fancied himself as a warrior against extremist Islamists and yet he is nothing short of their greatest ally.
Probably no individual this century has done more to aid their cause and it is all but certain that every branch of ISIS still operating is already using his mindless slaughter for their next propaganda war.
He is the best recruitment weapon they could ever have dreamed of.
That is the only constant law in the chaos that terrorism seeks to fuel: Extremism begets extremism, violence begets violence, terror begets terror.
As for the rest of us caught in the middle, what do we have? Only reason, rationality and the rule of law. Sometimes it doesn't feel like much.
But the truth is it is everything. Or, more importantly, it is all that we can hope for.
Terrorism relies on thuggery and foul play; cruelty and surprise.
For all his bullshit macho posturing, the Christchurch killer was the very embodiment of cowardice. All terrorists are.
The whole point of terrorism is to attack the innocent and defenceless.
The rallying cry is typically "They kill us so we must kill them!" but they almost never kill the killers.
They kill women and children. In theatres and offices and supermarkets, on footpaths and at cafes. In the Christchurch case they killed them literally on their knees at prayer.
And what do the rest of us do? Not much. We go about our business. We go to the office or the supermarket or our church or our mosque.
And when it's time to get political we debate, we argue, we vote, we protest and sometimes we scream and shout.
But for almost all of us there is a common and silent understanding that it goes no further than that. Because if it comes to blows, if it comes to violence, then sooner or later we end up like them.
Suddenly we're no longer what we think we are and instead we're just haggling over the price.
RARE MOMENT OF BEAUTY
One of the rare moments of beauty amid the brutality of the Christchurch massacre was the universality of the response.
The chorus of condemnation across the planet was swift and sure. Every mainstream political leader and media outlet was unequivocal in branding the atrocity a clear act of terrorism by a right-wing extremist. Every decent heart broke and bled for the victims and Muslim people everywhere.
And yet it didn't take long for the wounds to be infected with the nastiness and pettiness of opportunists once more using dead bodies as political pawns.
First came the nutters and neo-Nazis on the right trying to blame the left or immigration levels or Muslims themselves for the massacre — as though it was the victims' fault for simply being there or some governmental or social fault for pushing this madman to become a murderer.
On the matter of the broader political issue, they are simply wrong — factually, rationally and demonstrably. On the matter of the specific criminal issue, they are both wrong and repugnant — utterly, utterly, utterly so.
And then came the keyboard warriors of the hard left who sought to blame it on Scott Morrison or John Howard or whoever else is in the grab-bag of conservative bogeymen they reflexively dip into.
I am usually deliberately coy about my political leanings but today I am going to break that golden rule as a reward for anyone with the temperance to read this far: I have never voted conservative in my life.
However to accuse conservative politicians or commentators of being complicit in mass murder — let alone a sitting prime minister who has been unwavering in his condemnation of it as an act of right-wing terrorism — is not just absurd, it is ugly.
At a time when we should be seeking common ground it is the ultimate act of narcissism to sow further division for the sake of a few retweets.
And then there is Egg Boy.
For what it's worth, I have a pretty long and public history of exposing racists, white supremacists and associated f**kwits.
Anyone who genuinely cares about such issues would probably know this.
And I have also been pretty clear and public in my condemnation of the likes of Fraser Anning, who holds the rare and soon to be short-lived position of being perhaps the first elected politician who is too right-wing for One Nation.
But I am also pretty sure that the solution to Mr Anning's particular brand of idiocy is not to smash eggs into the back of his head.
For one thing, it doesn't take much for Mr Anning's rambling nonsensical world view to fall apart, nor that of the nutbag white nationalists he is now desperately trying to court.
Both disintegrate at the first stiff breeze of a rational argument.
Indeed, the only language they can engage with is that of dumb slogans and street clashes.
They cannot and don't want to engage with mainstream political debate because they are simply not intellectually equipped to.
Instead, their whole modus operandi is twofold, each of which is contradictory to the other.
The first is to provoke a violent response from the left so they can paint themselves as good old fashioned Aussies speaking up for the silent majority but being attacked and shut down by crazy PC left-wing extremists.
The second, because they are such an infinitesimally small minority, is to get any publicity they can at all costs.
Egg Boy gave them both of those things in one hit. Literally.
I'm sure he's not a bad kid — indeed, when I was exactly his age I was out protesting neo-Nazis too, just without the ovoid ammunition.
But the idea he is a national hero is at best silly and at worst an insult to the families of 50 dead Muslims whose suffering is unlikely to be soothed by a teenager smacking a right-wing douchebag on the back of the head.
Indeed both the episode itself and the social media celebrations that followed seem a grotesquely cheerful sideshow to such a dark and dangerous tragedy.
Moreover, it will only excite far-right extremists further and fuel their perverse sense of victimhood.
Instead of being frozen out of the mainstream and consigned to impotence and irrelevancy they are now riding high on a wave of publicity thanks to this dumb stunt and re-equipped with the figleaf argument that it is they who are under attack.
It also demeans the gravity of the threat we face.
Is this really how we're going to combat terrorism and extremism? A fight between good and evil determined by which side can throw the most food at the other?
Worse, it's exactly the same type of dumb logic the terrorists and extremists use.
Of course it's at the opposite end of the spectrum but it's still the same spectrum. If egging Fraser Anning is the act of a hero then who else is fair game? Pauline Hanson? Peter Dutton? Tony Abbott? Malcolm Turnbull?
Bill Shorten criticised Egg Boy so does he deserve to be egged as a result?
Michael Daley has just been accused of making racist comment so should he be egged in the back of the head?
And what other weapons are permissible in this war? Tomatoes? Potatoes? Potato guns? BB guns?
Where do we draw the line? And who draws it? As the man in the joke said, we already know what this is. It's just a matter of degrees.
The good news is that democracy will do its job on Fraser Anning.
Even amid the crude and volatile primordial soup of politics we are now drowning in he will almost certainly be excommunicated at the next election.
Ironically, his only hope for political survival is getting the sort of publicity and sympathy the egging gave him.
But as for the rest of liberal democracy you can almost set your watch to its self-destruction.
As long as the people who suppose themselves as the saviours of humanity keep casting anyone they don't agree with as a neo-Nazi and as long as what was once the sensible centre keeps tearing itself apart then we don't have to worry about the terrorists winning — they will have already won.
Because when we are reduced to stupid acts of violence and surprise attacks, however seemingly mild they might be, we are reduced to their language. We are reduced to their playing field. We are reduced to their level.
Is that really what we are?
* Joe Hildebrand writes for The Daily Telegraph newspaper in Australia, and co-hosts the daytime television program Studio 10 with Network Ten