Saturday, June 25, 2016

Preachy offence-takers, the wowsers of our time

By Chris Kenny 

"THE AUSTRALIAN"
 June 25, 2016

This was copied into Dallas Beaufort's page in Facebook. I have copied it here because it needs a wider audience, and in a better vehicle than Facebook.

(Copyright News Limited and Chris Kenny, 2016)


Have we ever had so many people telling us what we shouldn’t be saying? We certainly have never had so many avenues available for expressing our opinions.
But the intrusions and lecturing over what views are considered appropriate are stultifying.
Soon, it seems, public figures will need to subedit every joke, workshop every criticism and run a focus group to test every piece of analysis.
Paradoxically, at the same time, in the menagerie of social media, millions of anonymous and not-so-anonymous accounts hurl a limitless and unrestrained array of foul abuse, threats and derision.
Welcome to the best of times and worst of times in the communications age.
This is an era when the rarest commodity is a person who says what they think and thinks about what they say. There is a sense that we are being deafened by a ­cacophony of multimedia noise at the same time we are being crushed into conformity. And it is helping to turn our politics into bland mush.
This week we have heard Labor politicians, ABC presenters and activists argue that the nation shouldn’t hold a plebiscite on same-sex marriage because the debate will be filled with hatred, bigotry and even violence. They are arguing we urgently need a social reform but that we can’t be trusted to debate it. It is self-imposed authoritarianism — auto-totalitarianism.
Politicians and community and ­security leaders have been avoiding mention of the threat of Islamist extremism because they fear offending people in Muslim communities.
The head of our national football competition warned that “words and jokes have incredible power” as he admonished club presidents over a misplaced gibe, and appointed a manager of “inclusion and social policy”.
Activists who have screamed for media access to Nauru studiously ignored a Nine Network report from the Pacific nation because they didn’t concur with its take on the situation — information, information everywhere, but not a point to make.
The election campaign is being covered by an unprecedented array of media organisations and platforms yet the leaders are doing fewer media interviews than they’ve done in the past. There are more pictures, jokes, insults, outrages, memes and angles than ever, but less substance.
The campaign is Facebook wide and Twitter deep.
Strangely, as access to media and information sources in­creases, we are seeing a retreat from plurality. Media is becoming Balkanised. There is less of an appetite for divergent views in public debate — and less tolerance.
Chillingly, just four years ago under a Labor-Greens government — a progressive-left administration — an attempt was made to impose de facto regulation on print media content. The ABC and the journalists union hardly raised a whimper.
The progressive Left still urges preservation of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, even though it saw a commentator sanctioned over published articles and the columns banned from republication. Some activists argue people who express dissenting views on climate change should be sanctioned.
Maverick politicians the world over — from Donald Trump to Pauline Hanson — are winning support for stridently addressing issues that the political/media class finds too difficult to discuss sensibly. We hear much about so-called slacktivism and we have become used to regular bouts of online outrage.
Yet there is something more worrying at play: a powerful attempt, particularly by the green Left, to control public discussion and silence dissent.
These are not new pressures, we know. It was George Orwell who imagined Newspeak as he warned of such sinister authoritarian tendencies in the novel Nineteen Eight-Four.
Thought crimes and doublespeak became part of our lexicon, mainly as alarming markers — things to avoid as we defended freedom during the Cold War. After the wall came down and we saw our liberal democratic model triumph in social, economic and strategic terms, it seemed that liberalism and tolerance would prosper unchallenged. But no — even without authoritarian regimes, the citizens of Western liberal democracies now invite new conformist approaches to public debate upon themselves.
Much of it is driven by political fashion. Some of us seem to want all of us to share the same views. The political fashionistas use politics, public broadcasters, social media and public institutions to further their cause.
You can witness their overbearing hectoring in the sanctimony of progressive politicians, preachiness of the national broadcaster or vile abuse of social media. If you are unlucky enough you’ll find them marching to your door, as happened to me recently after a complaint to the Australian Press Council.
Despite her public megaphone in parliament and limitless platforms though largely unquestioning media appearances, Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young sought to undermine my reporting from Nauru last October by lodging a complaint.
Hanson-Young, despite numerous requests over many years, has refused to grant me an interview to discuss border protection issues.
Rather than answer my questions — or ask them of me — she used the APC as a vehicle to try to discredit my efforts at sharing facts and providing transparency on Nauru. Bizarrely, the council decided to investigate the complaint despite chairman David Weisbrot saying: “We are not at all, in this, contesting the accuracy, fairness or balance of the articles — we completely accept those.”
Instead, the council looked into the issue of privacy and found in my favour on that count, too. But consider how the press council allowed itself to be used in a game that is antipathetic to its aims of fostering free and open media.
Hanson-Young, instead of speaking to me, criticising me or debating me, hides from scrutiny and lodges a third-party complaint. It is aimed at silencing me and deterring others. It is weak, to be sure. But it is also insidious.
Two of my colleagues are enduring similarly ridiculous press council inquiries for daring to poke fun at the moral posturing and fashionable causes of the progressive political class. The green Left, which ostensibly would lay claim to supporting free and open debate, is constantly trying to shut it down.
They badger, deny and obfuscate rather than address hard facts and engage in direct debate. Just as Orwell outlined so pointedly in Politics and the English Language, they corrupt language with their thought and could corrupt public thinking with their language. Their language on issues that should be clear-cut is often characterised, as Orwell sum­marised, by “euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness”.
Hence, instead of recognising the horrible intent and deadly challenge of Islamist extremism, ABC presenter Waleed Aly gave us an indirect and subversive ­response to the Orlando gay nightclub massacre.
“I feel like what we’re witnessing is the tangible pointy expression of all of the fault lines and contradictions that run through modernity,” he said on Radio ­National. “Our world is now one that is an increasingly polarised and polarising contest between new frontiers of cosmopolitanism on the one hand and quite responsive and symbiotically related frontiers of atavism on the other, and within that lie all of the political narratives that have sustained us through the 20th century that simply don’t work any more, narratives like freedom, right, which you know expresses its own contradictions in America every time there is a mass shooting, when you see what freedom and a certain conception of freedom ends up looking like.”
The only possible interpretation of this verbiage is that he was saying — ever so obliquely — that America had it coming. This was a vile case of blame-shifting away from the culprit and his Islamist extremist ideology. Let’s talk about that.

ABC presenter and The Project co-host Waleed Aly.

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