Avoiding the Debate

I have often told you, my good friend and mentor, the good Dr Phil, taught me many years ago that the path to psychological maturity comprised three steps, viz:

  1. Know yourself.
  2. Accept yourself.
  3. Forget yourself.

Unfortunately I am still getting to know myself and what I am learning I am finding difficult to accept! Perhaps I have been self-delusional.

I could give you many examples of this phenomenon but let me just provide one which is illustrative of how it seems to work.

As I have declared many times. I intend to vote “No” in the voice referendum. Now some of the proponents for the voice suggest that I must be racist in doing so. Now I have never considered myself racist nor have any of those close to me, or those who know me best, ever suggested I was racist. So this has come something of a surprise to me.

Moreover, the venerable Noel Pearson, who in the past I have often admired, in a recent interview suggested that holding such an aberrant point of view might even render me immoral!

Now it seems I have been dismissed from this particular debate, not by reasoned argument about my point of view, but because my adversaries apparently have found some character flaws that render me ineligible for consideration.

This is just one of the examples of how intellectual laziness and/or intellectual cowardice has inflicted modern society.

Those who choose to challenge any of the conventional tenets of political correctness are confronted with a wall of resistance which seeks to silence them. They are shouted down in a cacophony of moral intimidation. This challenge to free speech is odious enough but it is even more perverted when it happens in our universities which traditionally sought to expose students to contesting points of view and encouraged lateral thinking and reasoned debate. Now, as conservative commentators have frequently commented, particularly on social and political issues, students are no longer being taught how to think, but more often what to think.

In the book Cancel Culture, which is in essence a compendium of essays edited by educationalist, Kevin Donnelly, contributors outline how the left have overtaken our public institutions, particularly our universities. This has been an effective tactic in converting our young people from traditional values and viewpoints to aligning themselves with post-modern ideals and discarding the beliefs of those who have cogently argued that the foundations of our modern liberal society owe their existence to the historical achievements of the West.

Criticising what is taught in our schools and universities conservative political commentator, Peta Credlin, wrote:

 By ordaining that all subjects on the national school curriculum be taught from an indigenous, Asian and sustainability perspective, officialdom has exposed its anti-Australian perspective. Far from being proud of a country that attracts migrants from across the globe, is amongst the freest and fairest societies on Earth, and has achieved a fine balance between humans and nature, there’s a dominant left establishment view that Australia is essentially racist, exploitative, unfair and founded on an act of fundamental injustice.

A great deal of the efforts of the ‘cancel culture’ seems directed at preventing dissent from this postmodernist, anti-Western ideology.

Professor of Sociology at La Trobe University, John Carroll, writes about the emasculation of humanities courses in Australian universities. He despairs at the removal of the study of great Western literature and philosophy from the curriculum. He writes:

The syllabus steadily becomes politicised with a strand of low grade Marxism spreading from sociology across political science, history, media and English, and spawning new pseudo disciplines such as cultural and gender studies.

In essence, whereas once we could turn to our universities to interrogate and discuss conflicting ideas, our universities are now captured by influences that seek to restrict debate about meaningful but contentious issues.

A recent example that springs to mind is the case of Melbourne University Associate Professor, Holly Lawford-Smith. In her course at the university she dared to suggest that pandering to the transgender lobby was having a deleterious effect on women’s rights. This resulted in violent protests at her lecture by transgender activists and resulted in the university having to provide her with security support in order that she might safely conduct her lectures. The protestors didn’t seem keen to articulate their grievances – they simply wanted to deplatform her.

Now another common subterfuge used to avoid meaningful debate on contentious issues is the simple strategy of invoking the pejorative of “hate speech”. It is a popular argument used by universities, government agencies and others to assert that particular political speech, texts, books, art and other means of social discourse are so offensive as to be discarded from general discussion. In universities and other forums for the discussion of ideas for example, the assumption is that students and other likely participants in debate about such issues are “snowflakes”, too vulnerable to hear contrary arguments that they might find “hateful” or “demeaning” or “marginalising” or “hurtful”. In doing this we allow conventional wisdom to prevail and discourage people from having to confront and contend with more controversial points of view. Surely this is undemocratic and designed to ensure that the prevailing viewpoints can never be challenged. If a stated opinion is demonised by the unfortunate epithet of “hate speech” it is then discarded from the normal forums of debate.

This cowardly subterfuge is in error on two fronts.

Firstly, if such opinions are summarily dismissed from reasoned discussion, there is little likelihood that we can come to a well-considered view on the subject matter under consideration.

Secondly, and probably more importantly, if we allow such a subterfuge to curtail debate, we undermine the resilience of many who should be prepared to participate in such a debate. Where does it end when we only express an opinion in favour of those we agree with but don’t have the courage to debate against those whose opinions we disagree with?

The Federal Government, unfortunately, is planning on further curtailing our free speech via its proposed bill, the Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting  Misinformation and Disinformation) Act 2023. This Bill proposes to grant the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) enormous power to compel social media companies to take down material that they deem is misinformation or disinformation. Under this arrangement ACMA becomes the final arbiter of the truth. In essence the government will determine what we can put on social media.

Our most recent experience of having governments  intervene in such a way occurred during the Covid pandemic where governments sought to have social media companies take down posted information that they deemed was counter to their pandemic health interventions. Many of the posts so removed, whilst contrary to the propaganda governments were promulgating, have since proved to be true. Such issues as the origin of the Covid virus and the efficacy of government interventions such as the lockdowns and the wearing of face masks were largely correct but removed because they didn’t suit the government narrative.

And therein lies the real danger. This Bill will allow material to be discarded under the guise of misinformation or disinformation merely because it is at odds with what the government would have us believe. That is very dangerous indeed. And of course the government is proposing to not allow itself to be covered by the provisions of the Bill. Thus the government can’t be the source of misinformation or disinformation. (There are echoes here of Orwell’s Ministry of Truth!)

Of course the other phenomenon that concerns me is that we have celebrities, sports stars and woke corporations telling us what to think about many of our current social issues. Such people are prone to virtue signalling without any particular credentials to give credence to their own particular points of view beyond the fact that they have a public profile.

Some have indeed gone to extremes in trying to impose on the public their politically correct viewpoints. Fortunately there are now many instances of the public fighting back by withdrawing their support for organisations that indulge in excessive virtue signalling.

We recently saw a very disturbing incident along these lines. Controversial Brexit Leader, Nigel Farage had his bank account cancelled when the bank said it disagreed with his social and political views. How, might I ask, in a democracy can we allow a bank to refuse the custom of an individual based on his political view?. This is surely an extreme case of cancel culture that should not be tolerated. Instead of engaging in a debate on the issues the bank has resorted to commercial coercion to enforce its “woke” viewpoint.

And don’t be misled that this couldn’t happen in Australia. Our four major banks, for example, have come out in support of the Voice. It doesn’t take much imagination to construe a situation where in an attempt at extreme virtue signalling some bank executives might decide that they could make a major political statement by cancelling the accounts of outspoken opponents of the Voice,

As I have argued free speech is being attacked on many fronts (far more than I have outlined in this short essay). The chief techniques employed seem to be:

  • Denigrating those we disagree with to avoid having to counter their ideas in debate:
  • Preventing those we disagree with having platforms to share their ideas:
  • Labelling discourse which is counter to our own ideas as “hate speech” so as to avoid providing a reasoned response”:
  • Censoring material available to the public [as per the Communications Legislation Amendment (Combatting Misinformation and Disinformation) Act 2023] to avoid dissemination of ideas that might counter the government narrative.

So for the benefit of our democracy let’s have more free debate, less cancelling, less denigration and less censorship. I don’t want the government (or anyone else for that matter) deciding what is true and what is disinformation or misinformation. I don’t want to be hectored by celebrities and woke organisations. In a democracy we should be exposed to the largest possible array of information and left to form our own opinions without coercion or virtue signalling.

10 Replies to “Avoiding the Debate”

  1. Another thought-provoking commentary Ted; thank you.

    As you have highlighted, it is very concerning that major business, and national sporting bodies all appear to think their behaviour is acceptable. despite alienating likely at least half of their customers/members.

  2. Totalitarian states (communism, authoritarian, or nationalism) always do four things:
    1. Indoctrinate the children.
    2. Separate the children from their parents.
    3. Remove individual freedom.
    4. Shut down dissenting views and opinions.

    I’d argue these factors are currently in play in ‘western democracies’.

    While Australia is currently far from a totalitarian state, the challenge I see is how hard we fight back against the above list and support our true democratic freedom.

    1. History suggests you are right, Mark. Good to hear that today the opposition has come out against the proposed bill tocensor social media content at the discretion of ACMA.

  3. Ted it looks like Australia is moving along the spectrum from democracy to Autocracy. I was appalled on reading that nearly 25% of respondents to a recent survey indicated that they were likely to leave Australia if we were attacked, than stay and defend our democracy. Extrapolating from the Victorian experience with “Dictator Dan” I get the feeling that most younger people would prefer autocracy /dictatorship to democracy.

    1. There have been other surveys where a majority of young people don’t support democracy as the preferred form of government. What can you expect when most of them get their information from social media and allow so-called “influencers” determine how they think!

  4. Thanks Ted, An excellent commentary on the current cancel culture we have allowed to occur with very little pushback. I am hopeful of an “adjustment” when the pendulum swings to far . It is reports like yours that hopefully summarise information for discussion “around the BBQ” to foster public opinion pushback. Like you , I am disappointed with Noel Pearson’s current position on indigenous issues and wondering he has been drinking from the trough😀

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