PIP Newcastle: Speaking out

~The enemy is fear. We think it is hate; but, it is fear.~ Gandhi

I’d like to thank the PIP Newcastle organisers and Jodi Hughes for their kind invitation to be here tonight. I have a deep respect for the work of Father Bower so the privilege is really all mine.

The topic tonight is ‘Speaking Out’. It occurred to me that one day my child may ask what I think about ‘speaking out’.  What will be most pleasing to me is the fact that just raising the topic involves a personal realisation of a need to do so but perhaps with fear of the consequences. Fear, of course, can be an acronym for ‘false evidence appearing real’ or ‘forget everything and run’.

Fear really is a product of our imagination, it is the fear of what might happen or of what may never exist now or in the future.  Nonetheless fears are real because it exists in the brain as a key to our survival in dangerous situations.

What’s important to understand is that no one can make progress or speak out until they master their fear; until they isolate which fears are worth listening to and how that fear is engendered in them; and until they understand how the political class and the power elite manipulate those fears in order to maintain discipline and control of the population.

All great leaders and activists have triumphed over their fears.

In her 1990 ‘Freedom from fear speech’, Aung Sang Suu Kyi stated that ‘Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation, fear of failure. .. It is not easy for a people conditioned by fear under the iron rule of the principle that might is right to free themselves from the enervating miasma of fear. Yet even under the most crushing state machinery courage rises up again and again, for fear is not the natural state of civilised man.

In July 1962, Martin Luther King Junior wrote the sermon ‘The Mastery of Fear or Antidotes for Fear’. His words are still prescient over 50 years later:

‘Today it is almost a truism to call our time an “age of fear”. In these days of terrifying change , bitter international tension and chaotic social disruption  who has not experienced the paralysis of crippling fear? Everywhere there are people depressed and bewildered, irritable and nervous all because of the monster of fear.  Like a nagging hound of hell, fear follows our every footstep, leaving us tormented by day and tortured by night……Fear is the elemental alarm system of the human organism which warns us of approaching dangers..Normal fear protects us, abnormal fear paralyses us. Normal fear is a friend that motivates us to improve our individual and collective welfare, abnormal fear is an enemy that constantly poisons and distorts our inner lives. So our problem is not to get rid of fear but to harness and master it.’

While Martin Luther King Jnr prescribed the cure for fear as facing them without flinching, through love and through faith because of the consciousness of deficient resources and of consequent inadequacy for life, Howard Zinn, American historian, author, playwright, and social activist, suggests that collectivity reduces fear. Community reduces fear. Doing something with other people reduces fear because being part of a movement you believe in and being associated with other people who believe in the same thing, helps to overcome fear.

Perhaps it is fear of a critically thinking population who have mastered their fears and who join together to challenge the existing political and economic system that scares the power elite the most. Particularly if, as some experts suggest, the goal of state terror is to isolate and separate social movements.

In Australia we have witnessed the gradual introduction of a range of laws which affect collective non-violent resistance including anti-protest laws, the expansion of National Security laws, Preventative Detention Orders, Control Orders, ASIO and AFP spying on environmentalists and most likely all of us, and proposed bills disallowing political activists from disrupting companies. Riot police are even called in to university campuses as a ‘precautionary’ measure. The list is more extensive than most of us probably realise.

But recognising and understanding the strategies deployed time and time again against those who speak out should help to minimise our fears of doing so.

Of special  relevance today is a 1971 memorandum from Lewis F. Powell, Jr. to the Chair of the Education Committee of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.  Titled  ‘Attack On American Free Enterprise System’, the memo outlined ways in which business should defend and counter attack against a ‘broad attack’ from ‘disquieting voices’.  I urge you to read it because the tactics and recommendations put forward by him to block any assault on the economic system still reflect the mindsets of those in power and the beneficiaries of that power.

The most interesting aspect of the memo was the revelation that power gets concerned when people like Father Rod Power speak out.  Powell writes,  ‘The most disquieting voices joining the chorus of criticism, come from perfectly respectable elements of society from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences and from politicians. Yet these often are the most articulate, the most vocal, the most prolific in their writing and speaking.’

It seems that the ‘hostility of respectable liberals and social reformers’ is what the elite fear the most because, according to Powell, ‘it is the sum total of their views and influence which could indeed fatally weaken or destroy the system’ because they ‘exert enormous influence far out of proportion to their numbers’.

In essence, people protesting, including the left, need to recruit and encourage conservatives to raise their voices about issues of concern because, as Susan George describes in her satirical book ‘How to win the class war’, the aim of their foes is to implement a model that ‘occupies the entire intellectual and cultural space at a given time in a given society’. Their target is and always has been institutions, groups, organisations, or centres of power ‘where ideas are developed, discussed and disseminated’ and which may ultimately shape the thinking, attitudes and emotions of the population.

From the review of the National School Curriculum to the relentless claims of bias by both our public broadcaster and in our academic institutions, Powell’s tactics to maintain the status quo and block change can be clearly seen throughout Australia today:  concerted attempts to try and silence critical comments from ‘respectable elements of society’.  The Australian newspaper regularly disparages intelligent critical commentators and their opinions. But the attacks aren’t limited to print.

A perfect illustration is Father Bower’s interview with Chris Kenny on Sky News in August this year during which he was accused of directing his church signage to the Green/Left end of the political spectrum, for not being able to separate religion from politics, for favouring the former government instead of the current government and for criticising the current policies of the government.

Whether its trouncing the views of Cate Blanchett for participating in a climate change advertisement, litigation against Professor Jake Lynch for his refusal to sponsor an application for a fellowship in Australia by an Israeli academic because of Lynch’s support of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel, or continued complaints that conservatives are not employed in prominent positions, all are tactics raised in the Powell rule book.

When you understand the tactical rationale of this institutional criticism, and its methods, it becomes an object of contempt and something that can be dealt with rather than a source of fear. The same applies to publications online and in social media which always attract similar disparaging comments from pseudonymous trolls – and there’s an army of them out there.

When I was first published online I was buoyed by comments in support but felt hurt by the stream of personal criticism. That quickly dissipated when I realised that the onslaught was mostly orchestrated and came with everything I published. Now it amuses more than concerns me.  But it’s still important because it shows that the enemy is still at the gates and is going to stay there.

Truly independent criticism does come from people who hold different opinions, and apart from personal slagging and irrationality from them, I respect their right to hold them.

Speaking out almost always attracts some sort of criticism, but that’s a fair price to pay for being able to say what you need to say. Living your life without ever speaking out, suppressing your need to be heard in support of things you regard as socially good and your need to express your questioning of or opposition to things that are socially bad, is no way to live at all.

Personally, I think we all have an obligation, both to ourselves and to society, to speak out and to act when we see unfairness, injustice and orchestrated manipulation of true discussion of issues that affect us all.

As much as it warms the heart to see young men in Newcastle coming to the aid of two Muslim women being attacked in a bigoted tirade in Newcastle what is more disconcerting is the fact that this makes the news because it has become the exception rather than the rule. Speaking out is not just for special matters, we should all speak out whenever an issue warrants our support or warrants our criticism.

Thank you

Copyright Kellie Tranter 2014

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