Live Not By Lies
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was a famous Russian dissident and author. His Gulag Archipelago exposed the depravity of Soviet totalitarianism and made him a global hero. The Russians finally expelled Solzhenitsyn and he took up residence in the United States. On the eve of his forced exile he published a final message to the Russian people which he titled Live Not By Lies. In this tract he argued that totalitarianism is an ideology based on lies. The system’s continued existence depends on its citizens’ fear of challenging the lies.
Solzhenitsyn declared, “Our way must be to never knowingly support lies!”
These are profound words. In Australia today the politically correct are propagating many untruths that we seem to tacitly accept despite their impact on our freedom as individuals. The “woke” brigade seems to dominate social media and the airwaves without much pushback from those with different opinions. Most of us who have perhaps more conservative opinions, are like hermit crabs that have retired back into our carapaces to protect ourselves from abuse and left the field of public opinion to be dominated by left wing virtue signallers.
Social media has played its part. Twitter and Facebook are dominated by left wing views. Unfortunately those expressing their politically correct views on these platforms hardly ever hear contrary opinions and so come to believe that their views are supported by the vast majority. What’s more, under the pretext of protecting their audiences from so-called “hate speech”, Facebook, Twitter and You Tube have begun removing material from their platforms that reflect conservative values.
Unwarranted censorship compromises free speech.
A recent, perhaps some might think a trivial example, was the withdrawal of six Dr Seuss books from sale. Most of you with children and grandchildren will know of Dr Seuss, the famed children’s book author and illustrator. He has brought delight to generations of children.
Dr Seuss Enterprises, which preserves the author’s legacy, determined that the books would no longer be published because of racially insensitive imagery. The company said:
These books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.
It said the decision was made after consulting experts and teachers.
They obviously didn’t consult many children. Nor did they consult those doyens of liberal thinking, Barack and Michelle Obama, who once declared that all the lessons you needed to learn about life could be gleaned by reading Dr Seuss.
Now, from reading Dr Seuss to children and grandchildren so frequently I almost know some of them by heart, it astonishes me that any sane adult could believe that these imaginative, and largely moral tales could adulterate the mind of a child. No the politically correct would rather take away the fun of Dr Seuss and replace it with perverse notions of sex and sexuality in our children’s curriculum.
Soon after the announcement by Dr Seuss Enterprises, both Amazon and E-Bay withdrew the offending titles from sale. The forces of “wokeness” sprang into action to save us again!
Now when the politically correct shut down opposing viewpoints without the opportunity of public debate our basic freedom of speech is thwarted and reasonable discussion is prevented,
Here are some examples where our freedoms have been so trampled.
- When people expressed perfectly reasonable concerns about the corrosive impacts of radical Islamism their opinions were immediately dismissed as being Islamophobic.
- Those who have questioned the extreme predictions of climate warming catastrophists are similarly dismissed as climate deniers.
- Those brave enough to suggest that indigenous people should take more responsibility for their own welfare are routinely labelled racists.
- If someone dares to suggest that we should restrict our migration intake to those who would accept Australian values and contribute positively to Australian society they are labelled xenophobic.
And there are many other examples where the opinions of those who don’t align with those of the politically correct are automatically dismissed from intellectual consideration.
In our misguided desire to preserve the sensitivities of others, both our customs and our laws are preventing us from saying anything which might give offence. What’s more, it seems it is the aggrieved person who has the sole right to determine whether the words are offensive or not and consequently confected offense has become the easiest way of avoiding confronting ideas that the person might require to think about to substantiate their personal beliefs. This prevents the learning that occurs when ideas compete against each other.
Philosophy is the discipline that has evolved to help us seek truth. The most famous technique for approaching truth is the so-called Socratic Method named after the Greek philosopher, Socrates. It might be said that this technique, more than any other, has underpinned the rise of Western liberalism.
Here is a brief summary of the Socratic method as outlined by the Swiss-born contemporary philosopher, Alain de Botton.
- Locate a statement confidently described as common sense.
- Imagine for a moment that, despite the confidence of the person proposing it, the statement is false. Search for situations or contexts where the statement would not be true.
- If an exception is found, the statement must be false or at least imprecise.
- The initial statement must be nuanced to take the exception into account.
- If one subsequently finds exception to the improved statements, the process should be repeated. The truth insofar as a human being is able to attain such a thing, lies in a statement which it seems impossible to disprove. It is by finding out what something is not that one comes closest to understanding what it is.
- The product of thought is superior to the product of intuition.
But how can we reliably test our truths if those holding contested ideas will not admit the possibility, even for the purpose of debate, of contrary ideas? We are cut off from even reaching the second stage of the process.
As de Botton writes:
The validity of an idea or an action is determined not by whether it is widely believed or widely reviled but by whether it obeys the rules of logic. It is not because an argument is denounced by a majority that it is wrong nor, for those drawn to heroic defiance, that it is right.
In many areas of what should be contested belief we are prevented from having a reasoned debate because most of the proponents will not admit the possibility of a contrary point of view! Now the shutting down of inconvenient opposing ideas is a gross invasion of our freedom of speech. But it seems we are also being assailed by more subtle and nuanced restrictions.
I was somewhat alarmed to learn some years ago of the existence of “trigger warnings” and wrote an essay about the insidious culture of victimhood (see Educating for Victimhood posted August 22 2015). My alarm has been intensified by reading an article by Frank Furedi in The Australian who explained the phenomenon of “micro-aggression”.
To help me understand what Furedi was talking about I found the following definition:
Micro-aggressions are the everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership (from Diversity in the Classroom, UCLA Diversity & Faculty Development, 2014).
The document helpfully provided guidelines and examples of the offensive speech that should be avoided and Furedi instanced some of these in his opinion piece.
One such example was that it was deemed inappropriate to ask of someone, “Where are you from?” The rationale for this prohibition was that such a question intimated that you are obviously not one of us and that somehow would be offensive!
Alternatively if you should proclaim, “There is only one race, the human race!” that was deemed inappropriate too because you were denying the significance of the person’s racial experience and history.
Consequentially, taking offence seems to have no logic, but even if it had, the discussion is off-limits because someone’s real or confected offence seems to be enough justification to shut down the debate.
The performance of outrage is a central feature of the moral crusade against micro-aggression. There is a mushrooming of micro-aggression websites where like-minded victims are encouraged to air their grievances and broadcast their concerns to raise the awareness of those who are blind to the pandemic of micro-aggression enveloping the world.
Further, and even more insidious, as Kenan Malik has written:
The predicament runs far deeper, however, than formal regulations or prohibitions. The real problem is that we have internalized those prohibitions. We have come to accept censorship not just because of external proscriptions, but also because of internal ones, because of a moral horror at the thought of offending others.
All of this is to me intolerable. The good Dr Phil has frequently counselled me that there are no bad people only people with bad ideas. Therefore it is incumbent on us to properly examine and debate all ideas of consequence. It is not good enough that someone can legitimately curtail debate by effectively saying I am offended by your questioning of my ideas. And of course we have in recent years seen even in our universities where ideas are meant to be exposed to intellectual scrutiny speakers whose ideas challenge the conventional wisdom being denied the opportunity to expound their controversial thoughts. In contradiction to what real learning institutions advocate, students are unwilling to have their conventional wisdom challenged.
So what really is happening here? It seems to me that too many in our society have such a poor understanding of who they actually are that their sense of self is unduly tied up in the beliefs they have acquired, often in trying to accommodate contemporary norms and popular opinion. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that it is important for us to develop values and belief systems to guide our lives. But importantly we need to come to those rationally. Far too many of us merely assume the beliefs of our peers, our families, our cultures without any great consideration of the alternatives. If my sense of self is inexorably tied to such beliefs then it is indeed a psychological threat to have those beliefs questioned. And because I have largely acquired such beliefs mindlessly they are very hard to defend.
The pathetic defence mechanisms that have evolved to prevent such questioning (eg trigger warnings, micro-aggressions, platform cancelling etc.) reflect a fundamental insecurity emanating from an uncertain sense of self. It is in fact a basic indicator of psychological immaturity.
The ferocity of the attack launched by the politically correct has meant that many of those who hold counter opinions have withdrawn themselves from participation in the public debate. And if we are not “to live by lies” it is time for the counter voices to be heard and considered.
You will note from my previous essays that I have “borrowed” the title of this essay from a book similarly titled by Rod Dreher which purported to be a manual for Christian dissidents to help them deal with Eastern European totalitarian regimes. He created the term of “soft totalitarianism” to describe how our freedoms are gradually eroded by the state without obtaining democratic approval to do so. My plea in this essay is for people to resist the creeping totalitarianism that is inveigling itself into our way of life without protest. We need to ensure that all voices are heard. But this will not occur until we have the courage to speak out. It is time for the hermit crabs to crawl out of their carapaces before it is too late,