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Monday, 27 October 2014

Silencing dissent and the mastery of fear

Silencing dissent and the mastery of fear


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

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

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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