Church environs provide a captive audience for the power of clerical persuasion, preaching to the converted who never consider the veracity of their religious perspective. An analogy could be made about media pundits too; penning their words to the usual suspects that embrace their ideology without opining anything different; certainly not challenging or confronting this ideology with any missive that may contradict the ‘given’ words. These scenarios seem to reign almost sacrosanct in our society, where too many people seek solace and reassurance in the comfort of a common ethic without questioning that ethic in the first place. Similarly, most people have friends of like mind, too, not daring to step out of their familiar zones of security to countenance different opinions and points of view; too often dismissing these as hostile, hurtful or hateful. Of course, there are some people who walk a tightrope, trying to balance the differences of opinions with their own while simultaneously arguing for a new headspace of thought. The media, as The Forth Estate, is integral to creating this new headspace, but every newspaper and magazine (and they’re dwindling fast and furiously) as well as TV networks and radio stations can be preaching to the converted just as much as from the pulpit in a church; their ‘flock’ assuming in advance the ‘philosophy’ of the pundits. Few media outlets encourage a real diversity of opinion; we know if we read a particular newspaper or watch a particular TV channel or listen to a particular radio station we will read, watch or hear what we mostly want to read, watch or hear; different opinions published or broadcast elsewhere. I’ve written a previous blog about media manipulation etc but I’m now thinking about the media and its power or lack of power to affect change and influence public opinion in a way that governments listen to and think about; particularly in regard to unjust laws that need repealing or to engender the enactment of laws that could enrich the electorate. And wherein lies the power of dissent; is it simply dissolving in the same way as the media is dying in terms of its effectiveness and efficacy? How genuinely does our society value freedom of expression and speech other than as an MO to ‘let off steam’ rather than as an important and moral wisdom to ensure the people are ‘listened’ to at times other than on election days. I read sadly and horrifying about increased encroachments on democracy (however relative that is, too) in so many countries around the world that regard themselves as democratic; including Australia, where laws are enacted despite disclaim and disagreement. It is a fact of history that countries such as China have ‘legally’ destroyed dissenting voices against its regime by ‘locking’ up journalists et al as a way of inhibiting recalcitrant opinions. I’ve just read that Egypt now is second to China in ‘locking up’ large numbers of journalists. Poland too is clamping down on media freedom, while Russia doesn’t even bother ‘locking’ them up; they are just murdered. I have no idea how many journalists are in prison for the crime of dissent around the world, but in Australia, we don’t ‘usually’ lock them up or shoot them; instead we just keep them unemployed and unpublished; voicing opinions that might just threaten the enshrined Establishment. Of course, spin about freedom of speech and expression reverberates from the pulpit of Parliament, despite new laws making it increasingly more difficult for journalists who are employed to do their job, threatening their work with two years jail if they don’t want to reveal their sources. Equally, the power of the media pontiffs who do try to preach against the pulpit tenets seems sadly diminished over the decades.
Newspapers and some talk back programs certainly propound populist discord; but it fails to influence not just our government, but the Opposition and other minor political parties. More disturbing is that when a minor party, albeit one growing in public support such as The Greens, does continually express its ‘outrage’ and ‘horror’ at Australia’s asylum seeker policies, the two major political parties remain ‘unconverted’ to its evangelical gospel. Moreover this party has remained silent about other laws encroaching on our essential and basic human rights such as the freedom for journalists to do their job. The Commissioner for Human Rights has also been pilloried for her damning report on the detention centres and while stories and letters fill the newspapers about the vindictive nature of her treatment by government officialdom still nothing changes. This is just one example when public dissent is rendered totally insignificant (and/or maybe it’s just not LOUD enough); and given Australia has a two party political system, the reality for thousands of asylum seekers (they are of course ‘dark’ and mostly Muslim, too) is that off shore processing and resettlement anywhere but in Australia is not likely to change on election day this year whoever wins. A highly respected columnist today wrote in our only national newspaper about what he called a ‘dumbocracy’; societies at large that seem to ‘reward machinations over merit, fail to distinguish sincerity from cynicism, and then have the audacity to complain.’
Moreover, Islamophobia whips people into a pathological almost psychopathic (certainly sociopathic!) angst about all Muslims in our midst; headlines ‘beat’ up the Muslims in a way that if it was The Jews, there would be vociferous condemnation of ‘Nazism’ rearing its ugly head again. The real truth is that it seems the pen is no longer mightier than the sword; unless the scribes are postulating popular wisdom and a conservative consensus. There have been a couple of examples where political and public opposition to the previous Abbott government’s planned legislation about increasing the Medicare levy and changes to 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to more easily allow people to engage in ‘insulting and hateful’ speech or expression were abandoned; at least temporarily. But so much of what governments enact remains unchanged despite criticism and inhumane provisions. Most people acquiesce by their silence.
Recently, a middle aged male friend of mine explained that he did not want to be a witness to a ‘bashing’ assault so pretended he saw nothing by being invisible in his office. He added that even if I was ‘murdered’ in front of him, albeit by an ‘underworld’ gangland, drug related killing, he would not want to be a ‘witness’. His own life could be at stake, arguing that police ‘witness protection’ was useless to protect him from being murdered too. I could appreciate his thinking, but I did tell him later that by his ‘silence’ he would have made a ‘good’ Nazi, to which he replied ‘maybe’. He is entitled to remain silent, but the conversation then made me question how far I would go to ‘stand up’ for not just freedom (right?) of dissent, but would I risk my life for another and on what basis? I told this guy that I have always chosen to die on my feet rather than live on my knees, and that is true; albeit paying a huge price for that stance at times in my life; including nearly being killed; both psychologically and physically. The disturbing fact about what this guy said is that he is not ‘dumb’; it’s not a ‘dumbocracy’ that’s the basis for the world’s ills, but an insular and indifferent perspective that at times is apathetic and uninterested in anything other than one’s own self-interest. Yet, if I’m dead too, I can’t do anything either. Alive, what can I do anyway?
Certainly, I wanted to be a journalist in my teens believing that people would think about what they read; it was one avenue I believed in that could help change our society for the better; improve people’s quality of life and make our world a more peaceful and equitable place, but I realised umpteen decades ago the media had limitations that have only increased as the years have passed. I suggested to my guy that he did not have to become a Nazi; he could have left the country instead, to which he replied “I’m not leaving Melbourne’, alluding to the creeping fascism about the ‘fear’ of Muslims that now plays havoc with public common sense. I thought about that too, but the truth is where else could you go in this world to enjoy genuine freedom of speech and expression without it being tainted by fear, hatred and racist, sexist, ageist, etc phobias? I just haven’t got a clue except that maybe if I was rich, I could live on The Riviera, lie on a beach, go shopping, sip lattes and vinos all day and night, but I’d actually feel ashamed of myself for remaining ‘oblivious’ to our world. I still write this blog as some way of trying to ‘do’ something; I still write letters and I try to talk to people who may want to listen to my opinions and appreciate my intelligence, my experience and my knowledge though I’m only too well aware of how limited that can be, too. Maybe it’s just personal self-indulgence to appease my conscience that I am doing ‘something’; not a silent witness but a loud and vehement one at that; albeit angry at times too, expressed in my writing as I try to foster some thoughts other than listening to my own all the time. I don’t get much feedback; at least rational and logical, thoughtful conversations about what I write. Mostly, I don’t get to hear anything and many of my letters as I’ve penned before, remain unpublished. Suffice to say I keep on writing despite the apparent dismissals and/or rejections I’ve experienced. I’m not sure exactly why I persist sometimes except I appreciate that I do have something to say that’s important, intelligent, thoughtful and reasonable and want as many people as possible to read what I write; think about it and consider it without instant denial of my worth.
After a lifetime of decrying fame as a meaningless and shallow sham (as it sadly often is), I changed my attitude a few months ago as some ‘famous’ people are listened to and written about for others to read and hear. I constantly read what more credible and titled people of status and prestige are saying and thinking now and years ago too; ideas and thoughts I’ve been writing about most of my life; only to be ignored and belittled and rejected. I’m at least glad that these ideas etc are being ‘publicised’, though too often also ‘dismissed’ by the parliamentary law-makers in this country. Returning to my original point, what power do their thoughts and ideas have to affect real change? I’m reading newspapers written for an intelligentsia that is not about being dumb; but so much hasn’t changed about so many things; indeed, the ‘totalitarianism’ beneath our democratic surface reveals itself more and more as the years go by. Letters from so many people have ‘used’ that word, yet, this new political order entrenches itself even more in this country. Nearly forty years ago, I wrote in one of my novels that ‘if we printed a paper full of ads would anyone notice the difference?’ Reality is that newspapers, TV and radio are full of advertising; not for products per se, but for the marketing of ideas, thoughts and beliefs. So too are books, art, science and even sport. We’re all marketing something; and as Marshall McLuhan wrote in the 60s, the Medium is the Message; just sometimes you have to be ‘subliminal’ to get the point across. Sledgehammer spin can be effective; so too subtlety.
In today’s newspaper, the headline announced ‘the world’s a better place than we tell you’ referring to a reality where ‘the truth is that in Melbourne and most other cities and regions across the world today, most people got up in safe, secure places and were kind to others and to themselves, were functional and interested and engaged. The truth is that while we are all a mix of good and bad, of strengths and faults, of fears and hopes, most people are decent most of the time’. My perspective on this is that for people who DO choose to live insular, ignorant and indifferent lives, this is probably true. They seek comfort and/or live in comfort oblivious to the ills that are perpetuated in this country and so many others; they do not ‘care’ about others entrapped by injustice, unemployment, poverty, homelessness and so many other socio-economic human betrayals such as war that they can indeed be decent; they live in their suburban wonderlands without time or desire to not just think, but to ‘DO’ or at least ‘TRY’ to do something even ‘more’ decent for too many others. I know because I’ve experienced their apathy and indifference. Certainly, some (albeit very few) people have helped me financially over the past couple of years, but I’ve also understood NO ONE has cared or was interested in what was DONE to me in prison; let alone realise the horrifying truth (as told by ‘assuming’ others) of why I was there at all.
Maybe we need a Pope, sans religion, pontificating with a new rhetoric to the unconverted about the perils in our world that reaches out to the masses not with a dictatorial fear or conspiracy of control but with inspiration to simply engage with people and to think for themselves with a new pulpit power that registers in our populace beyond jargon and jokes.
Indeed, maybe we all need to be our own popes, leading ourselves into new realms of thoughts and ideas to hopefully engender a better world for us all!