Human rights

Silencing dissent and the mastery of fear

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The power elite are using well-worn, time honoured methods of silencing reputable sources of dissent to keep ordinary Australians in a docile, compliant state of perpetual fear, writes Kellie Tranter.

FROM THE review of the National School Curriculum to the relentless claims of bias by both our public broadcaster and in our academic institutions, there is a concerted campaign playing out in this country to implement a model of thinking that occupies the entire intellectual and cultural space.

Whether or not you call it social engineering, its purpose is to aggressively block unwanted progress, to maintain tribalism and to insulate the power elite. The mechanism is fear, and the main vehicles are media of all kinds and government policies.

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.

As Marilynne Robinson, American novelist and essayist, pointed out in a recent interview with the New York Times:

“Fear has, in this moment, a respectability I’ve never seen in my life.”

In July 1962, Martin Luther King Jnr 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…’

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 ‒ suggested 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 non-violent resistance — including anti-protest laws, the expansion of National Security laws, Preventative Detention Orders, ASIO and AFP spying on environmentalists, proposed bills disallowing political activists from disrupting companies and the gagging and punishment of public servants and whistleblowers. Riot police are even called in to university campuses as a ‘precautionary’ measure.

The list is more extensive than most of us probably realise.

Of special relevance in understanding what’s happening today is a 1971 memorandum from Lewis F. Powell Jnr 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’.

The tactics and recommendations he put forward to block any assault on the economic system still reflect the mindsets of those in power and the beneficiaries of that power.

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.’

The lesson is that 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 target of their foes 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.

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’.

Conservative think tanks yield a constant stream of critics of progressive ideas, who are given disconcertingly regular and disproportionate airtime. The Australian newspaper regularly disparages intelligent critical commentators and their opinions.

But the attacks aren’t limited to publishing opposing views on television or in print.

A perfect illustration is social media sensation Father Rod 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.

Kenny litters the interview with false premises and unjustified assumptions, as Father Bower attempts to point out.

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.

Speaking out almost always attracts some sort of criticism, but different viewpoints and rational criticisms are 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.

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

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist.  You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter.

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