The modern sport is shooting the messenger….

We appear to be living, increasingly, in an age of censorship and a tendency to reject angrily, that which runs counter to our current beliefs.

I have read more than once in recent times of people being abused for speaking out, whether it is to reject Israel’s behaviour in Palestine; the wearing of burqas and their ilk, both for and against; current separatist policy in regard to Aborigines, or a plethora of topics which have fallen, for whatever reason into the controversial ‘box.’

Some have faced physical violence and threats because of their views and all have faced verbal abuse to lesser and greater degrees.

Why so much anger? Why the need to label people as left or right; as racist or anti-this or that religion, race or culture? Why demonise those who voice another opinion to your own?

I have been called a bleeding heart, tree-hugging leftie on some issues and a red-neck, right-wing racist on others. I find it humorous. The one consistent factor is that I am always defending human rights, rule of law, democracy, justice and common human decency which means I can be at either end of the polarity or in the middle.

I believe it is called being human with an open mind, a capacity to reason, a belief in research and the application of huge amounts of common sense.

We are lucky in Australia because no Government is ever that bad. All get some things right and some things wrong. And I don’t like anything about our current Government although I do agree on some points. But I also feel that demonising them is counter-productive and potentially destructive.

This need to categorise people is sourced I believe, in fear, and it is destructive. We also seem to have moved into an area when political correctness has seemingly educated and intelligent people defending a blatant human rights abuse like Islamic cultural dress codes, and refusing to accept that justice, freedom and human rights for Australia’s indigenous people may well rest in new policies of assimilation and integration as opposed to elective separation, not to mention supporting the evil of Israel’s occupation, colonisation and apartheid when the clear abuse of Palestinian human rights and freedom cannot be denied.

And why does the PC movement have such power? Because of vested agendas and interests which prevent, as self-censorship, intelligent people from making their own informed decisions and speaking out.

We now have PC ‘police’ within academia, government and various groups and organisations, aided and abetted by all forms of media, most of which opt to take one position or another, which villify if not demonise, those with differeing opinions to what is considered a norm.

For instance, a group like Amnesty International which purportedly supports human rights will defend much of Israel’s behaviour because, no doubt, there is donor pressure. Ditto for their support, or rather, lack of criticism on another ‘hot potato,’ the plight of some indigenous Australians living so-called traditional lives. The latter is the ‘baby’ of academia where so many careers are now invested in the ‘religion’ and industry of Aboriginality, not to mention egos and prestige, that there is only one view.

An academic who rejects the ‘black armband theory’ of indigenous history must think long and hard about saying so and most opt for silence and self-censorship. Ditto for a scientist or doctor who rejects the prevailing theories on vaccination or something like chemotherapy, despite having vast data to support their position. The vaccination issue in particular seems to reduce many to frothing at the mouth hysterical rage, which reflects more than anything, the morphing of medicine into a new religion where any challenging of theology or dogma is ‘seen’ to be the work of ‘the devil.’

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose …..or, the more things change, the more they stay the same!

Likewise for the doctor who comes to understand the value of non-allopathic medical methodologies like Homeopathy and Acupuncture. Or the scientist who questions the common beliefs regarding global warming and climate change.

Woe betide the anthropologist who dares to suggest that Aborigines killed or drove out an earlier race….woe betide in fact anyone who does not go along with the herd mentality and beliefs, which so many agendas and systems now seek to impose.

And because people are increasingly frightened to think for themselves because they fear loss of power, profit, prestige or peer approval, they can support things like the burqa and its ilk, against all reason, common sense and justice.

Those who speak out against the prevailing views risk being burned ‘at the stake’ as happened in centuries past when the ‘religion’ of the day was challenged. Fortunately the ‘stake’ today is metaphorical, but don’t be under any illusions that ‘being burned at a metaphorical stake’ in this day and age cannot do great physical harm in terms of destroying career, profession, reputation and relationships, both professional and personal.

Social media is a ‘mirror’ in many ways of the society and it has become common to de-friend or even block those who express an opposing view. It is ironic given that we live in an age where we believe in freedom of speech and have freedom of speech to degrees never before known in recorded human history.

As a psychologist friend said many years ago: Where there is outrage there is inrage. And that means, when a view is rejected by others with high levels of rage and visceral passion, there is behind it fear. And as in days of old, from whence the term originates, what happens all too frequently now is that the reaction is to, ‘shoot the messenger.’

Even those who should know better will now resort to ad hominem attacks, as if, in killing the ‘messenger’ the message itself can be rendered silent. It may have worked centuries ago when death could be applied as a literal solution, but it hardly works today.

I have long believed that ‘truth does out,’ and that robust and open debate is the way to find truths and where there is censorship – social, system or self-imposed – there is a denial of truth and a diminished capacity to reason.

After all, if those reacting with such rage are right, surely, through open, frank, informed discussion they will be proven so. Perhaps, as with orthodox religion in times past, the rage is because they fear they are, or might be wrong and their seemingly strong citadel is built of no more than fantasy.

The ‘monkey mentality’ of See no Evil, Hear no Evil, Speak no Evil actually translates, I believe, into becoming blind, deaf and dumb on certain issues and that is in no-one interests – individual or society.

Human nature is such that we find it harder to let go of our ‘dreams’ and fantasies than we do any reality, no matter how painful the outcome might be. And no doubt, when careers, egos, profits, power and professions are riding on it…then it becomes even harder.

But, as maxims come and go, depending upon the age and the stage of human development there is one which remains constant:

‘the truth will set you free.’

I cite this beyond any religious connection and do so because, that which denies, represses or seeks to destroy access to truth, imprisons us all.

Freedom of speech is probably the most important freedom and right, which human society has achieved to date and we betray it at our peril.

In times past, and still in some societies, censorship came from above, from the government or the leaders, civil and theological, but now, in the Western world, the world where people have the most freedom in general and the greatest capacity to speak freely, we are seeing censorship imposed from within, by the society at large and by individual to individual.

Self-censorship and social censorship have capacities to harm societies far more than anything which might be imposed from above. Any form of censorship limits freedom and nothing limits freedom more than a denial of one’s right to speak whatever it is, one believes, as long as those beliefs do not denigrate and demonise others.

There are ways of saying what one wants to say which neither denigrate nor demonise and no argument or position is ever substantiated by ad hominem, attacks on individuals in a personal sense.

Perhaps the greatest irony is that in this age of political correctness when people are so aware of and sensitive to, that which is called ‘hate speech,’ as it relates to culture, religion, race or group, we now have hate speech, often vicious and irrational, aimed at those who do no more than express an opinion which runs counter to a current prevailing view.

A civilized society does not just respect as far as possible, if human rights are not contravened, cultural and racial differences, but it also respects to the same degree, the right of each and every one of us to form our own opinions on any matter which we may consider to be important. Or not as the case may be.

Which brings me to another often forgotten and important maxim, whose origin is contentious but which stands on its own solid ground and here I paraphrase:

‘I may not like what you say but I defend to the death (mine not anyone else’s) your right to say it.’

We may not like what someone else says, but we do, I believe, need to respect and defend their right to say it, no matter how unpalatable it might be. And of course there is a qualifier in there in regard to anything which might accurately be defined as ‘hate speech,’ within a realm where much that is called hate speech is not, but is merely an opinion which is different and perhaps shocking, or unsettling, or troubling, or other than a prevailing view.

So, anyone who finds themselves outraged, disgusted, offended, appalled – pick any word which indicates a powerful emotional reaction – with the views expressed by others, would be wise to take stock and look within for the source of such a reaction, and find a place beyond the visceral where a measured, considered and reasoned response can be found.

There is something which many of us learned in childhood which is perhaps well-remembered:

‘Sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me.’

Words are used to convey ideas, beliefs, thoughts, opinions and while you might not like the message that they carry, they cannot hurt you.

Yes, ideas can be dangerous and perhaps that is something we all know unconsciously, but a society without a broad and varied spectrum of ideas is a society in decay and decline. The greatest human advances have come from questions, even questions where there are no answers for years, centuries, or even as yet.

The societies which fall are those which stop asking questions or demand others stop asking questions and which censor what can be discussed, how something can be discussed, what questions can be asked and, even worse, what answers may be found.

In the age of information, while recognising that there can be too much information, too much discussion, too much talking at times, we need to remember that there can never be too many questions, or too many differing views, if we are to continue to evolve and grow.

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About rosross

Editor, writer, poet.
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