Those of us who value our freedom have had a real roller-coaster ride in recent times.
(I suspect that we all value freedom. But it is like the air we breathe – many of us take it for granted until it is taken away from us. Any drowning person will immediately recognise the importance of air.)
It was not that long ago that we were concerned about radical Islam and how it might impact us. More recently many have been alarmed by Chinese expansionism and the threat that that might pose.
Sensibly in response to these threats we upgraded our internal security and now are expanding our defence capability. We have taken measured reasonable responses to counter these threats to our freedom.
Yet to my mind the more insidious threat comes not from these external sources, but internally. Unfortunately, we have taken few steps to ward off this threat.
In the second half of the twentieth century we saw democracy flourish and capitalism raise the living standards of many in the world. After World War II, democratic capitalism regrouped and began improving our lot. We saw off the threat of the Cold War dismissing the claims of communism and totalitarianism.
We in the West now live in the best circumstances Mankind has ever experienced. These fortunate circumstances didn’t arise by accident. They arose because of centuries of philosophical development, scientific discovery and political and economic struggle. We are the fortunate beneficiaries of this history. Our freedom is threatened because many no longer respect that history.
And indeed if we read the works of Stephen Pinker, it is hard to deny that most of the world is progressively improving in terms of its material welfare, improved health, reducing incidence of violence and human longevity.
Thus, it seems to me that there is much to be grateful for, including a history, although sometimes misguided and in current terms injust, that inexorably drove our Western societies to better outcomes. Although, we didn’t choose such a history, we are all largely beneficiaries of it.
But now we have a wrong-headed movement that wants us to feel culpable for the more unfortunate parts of that history. And what’s more this social movement seeks to judge our ancestors not by the standards that existed in their times but by the more enlightened standards of our time, notwithstanding the fact that the social progress that we have made in achieving such standards is built upon the growing enlightenment that our ancestors set in train.
It has been a long historic march to create a society where slavery is no longer practised, where women have the same opportunities as men and there is little discrimination based on race or religion. It didn’t just occur overnight and it didn’t occur because through some miracle today’s citizens are somehow more enlightened than our forefathers. This is the culmination of a learning process over many centuries built on the growing principals of enlightenment and rationality that slowly embedded itself in Western culture. You can rest assured that if today’s proponents of virtue signalling had been born a couple of centuries earlier they probably would not have been so vociferous in pursuing their many doubtful causes. Moreover the strident voice they now have would not have been tolerated in such times.
It seems more than strange to me that we should judge our forefathers for not meeting the social strictures of modern society but we don’t blame them for not understanding gravity, evolutionary theory or atomic physics. We allow that they needed time, rational debate and inspired scientific discovery to come to grips with the laws of physics but we expect our ancestors not to be influenced by the social mores of their times but to conform to those of our times.
As a result of all this there are many now who devalue our history and the traditional institutions of Western society. This has led to a situation where opinions of those who despise our history are coming to dominate our society or at least some of the more significant debates about our social progress. And what’s more, the proponents of anti-Western history seem determined to close down debate when it challenges their lopsided norms.
Many of us are now afraid to offer up in the public debate what we really think because the politically correct who seem to be the gatekeepers of public opinion won’t tolerate opinions counter to their own.
For example, if you speak about climate change and don’t adopt the catastrophist stance, you get shouted down.
If you want to talk about racism and don’t buy the line that Australians aren’t particularly racist or, as the statistics conclusively show, the police don’t unduly pick on indigenous people or that indigenous people don’t die disproportionately in custody, you are vilified as racist. In the unthinking aftermath of this ridiculous over-reaction, I am surprised that the illogical response of those fragile victims of racism haven’t suggested we should all throw out our pianos because they have more white keys than black keys! ( It is worth reminding ourselves of she sage words of indigenous leader Jacinta Price for example that the only black lives that seem to matter to the Black Lives Matter movement are the black lives taken by white people. Far more black lives are taken by black people but black-on-black deaths don’t seem to matter to the BLM zealots.)
Sociologist and author, Frank Furedi, in a recent article wrote about children being vilified by their peers for not being voluble enough in support of the Black Lives Matter cause.
The opinion gatekeepers maintain that if you point to the history of the Western world as an overall positive story of progress, you are merely reflecting your white privilege.
If you suggest, as Jordan Peterson and others have, that fewer women choose to take up mathematics and science because of inherent biological factors, then you are undoubtedly sexist.
Hollywood classic, Gone With The Wind has been banned from some platforms because of its depiction of American slavery. Politically incorrect material in the John Cleese television comedy series, Fawlty Towers resulted in calls for it to be removed as well. And of course the children’s story of Little Black Sambo will be trashed, and the beloved golliwogs of yesteryear will be binned. And who knows even the Gingerbread Man might have to be retired because of his skin colour. The American Football Team, The Washington Redskins are said to be changing their name because native Americans have taken offence. (My wife, sarcastically, has suggested they should be called “The Washington Thinskins”!) And I suspect there is also a case for the erasure of The Ugly Duckling.
Why is it that people can be so fragile? It is largely because their self-concept has such a flimsy basis.
When we fall for the subterfuge that who we essentially are is determined by our race, our gender, our sexual preferences, our religion, our ideology or whatever, we have been misled by a growing dogma that precludes the consideration of the more fundamental bases of human psychology. Identity politics wrongly encourages us to exaggerate our differences rather than seeking out our similarities.
I remember reading a comedy sketch forty or more years ago by an American comedian (I can’t recall who after all this time). Essentially the story went something like this,
Scientists had uncovered an ancient frozen body of a man and were somehow able to thaw it and restore it to life. (Inexplicably the restored man spoke English!) Professors interested in our prehistory interviewed the man anxious to find what life was like millennia ago. They found that the man had come from a very competitive environment where all inhabitants seemed to need to struggle and dominate to survive and prosper.
“Where did you live?” asked one of his interrogators.
“Well in a cave of course. My whole tribe lived there. In fact we were so close and interdependent you might for all intent and purposes call us a nation.” (Indigenous peoples seem prone to want to call tribal groupings “Nations”.)
“How did you differentiate yourselves as ‘Nations’?”
“Well we numbered all the caves and identified ourselves by the cave we occupied.”
“And can you remember what was the cave number of your ‘Nation’?”
The ancient man seemed to take offence at this. “Of course,” he replied. “Nobody forgets their nationality. We were the proud occupiers of cave number 96.”
The interviewer pressed further. ”And if you were a member of a ‘Nation’, did you have a national anthem?”
The ancient man snorted. “Of course we had a national anthem.”
“Can you remember the words of your national anthem?”
The old man looked scornfully at his interrogator. “Nobody forgets the words of their national anthem.”
“What were the words of yours?”
“They were very inspirational. They said, ‘You can all go to hell except for those in cave 96!’”
This old story reminded me of identity politics and its reluctance to consider people from other “tribes”.
But in essence our freedom is being challenged by those among us who want to silence ideas in conflict with their own. You often hear the argument, “Well yes we are in favour of free speech – but there has to be a limit. We shouldn’t have to tolerate ‘hate speech’”. But ‘hate speech’ in their eyes is merely speech that they hate because it challenges their ideas.
It is time for us to speak out. In a free society the most important freedom is freedom of speech. Too many of us have been silenced. It is disappointing that our primary institutions, such as our governments, our universities and our schools have been complicit in this deterioration of our basic freedom. And it is an even greater tragedy that good people are now afraid to speak their minds because of political correctness.
The media are also complicit in the conspiracy to silence us. Many media outlets have been captured by identity politics, virtue signalling and climate change extremism. They are reluctant to publish anything outside the left-wing orthodoxy.
Worryingly also our universities have abrogated their responsibility foster competing viewpoints. Unfortunately for those attending universities, particularly those studying the Humanities, they are no longer taught how to think, they are taught what to think.
So I would conclude by suggesting to you that we have no reason to be ashamed of our history. No doubt there were unfortunate and injust elements to the story of Western development. But we were not the perpetrators of those injustices. Even admitting the errors of our forefathers, we cannot deny that the inexorable march of the Enlightenment and the eventual benefits that we have received as a result.
Even more importantly, if we are to retain our hard won freedom, we need to strenuously guard our right to free speech. Every time we allow ourselves to be silenced by identity politics and political correctness some of that freedom is eroded. So I would urge you all not to be suppressed by those who would silence us because they don’t have the courage to engage in the contest of conflicting ideas.