Growing up as I did in the Riverina in the Forties and Fifties, we had a large Aboriginal population and a huge influx of settlers after both world wars, mostly from Europe but mixed with smaller numbers of Asians from many countries. We were unaware of racism or division on ethnic lines so manifest today. Everyone was striving to build a better life and I warmly remember a great sense of unity of purpose.
We were building a better homeland after defending our freedom in two horrific conflicts. New arrivals were fleeing countries shattered and divided by war and most were prepared to start again, work hard, build better lives side by side with Aussies doing the same thing.
Our goals were similar because we were united by the vast land we shared and the opportunities offered by it. We went to school together, we played sport together, we helped one another at harvest time and worked with our dads most weekends. We fished the ‘Bidgee and shot rabbits in the hills. We trusted our ABC as the purveyor of our local, national and overseas news and never doubted its accounts of events far and wide, let alone the invaluable market reports and weather forecasts. We sat around the radio and listened to the ABC relay the Test cricket and Davis Cup. We trusted our national broadcaster and knew its local reporters as neighbours and friends. Respect cemented all those relationships, which flourished without regard to skin colour or ethnic origin.
Multiculturalism and diversity were words we never used and probably wouldn’t have understood had they been invented in those days. By the time we left school and went to work we all considered ourselves Australians and patriotic Australians to boot. We knew and understood that “the land of a fair go” meant equal opportunities for all. As to outcomes, we accepted that hard work and, yes, luck shaped them and our fortunes. We appreciated that this was our larrikin way of endorsing the same philosophy grandiosely expressed in the American Declaration of Independence – “that all men are created equal and are thus endowed with the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
We knew this because, back then, we were taught both Australian and American history as the basis of who we were. More than that, we understood that our communities were built on the bedrock of Judeo-Christian morality, also (and no less enshrined) in the laws that nurtured Western civilisation. We were taught this and we believed it because we could see it worked and knew it to be the truth.
Warm memories of those enjoyably formative and character-building years only deepen my sadness today, when I consider the stark contrast with the circumstances and influences casting their shadow over the latest generations of Australians . The fracturing and divisions I see within our previously cohesive nation leaves me in some despair for my grandchildren. Where will hope and enthusiasm for life come from when the emphasis is on redefining as negatives the good, the effort and the essential decency that made the old Australia, my Australia, what is was?
If our past is deplorable, as we are so often told, on what do we build a future?
Seeking a plausible answer to why our “land of the fair go” has become the land of “my go” has taken up many hours of contemplation, a rereading of history and a good deal of quiet contemplation over several bottles of red. Still the question remains as to why we have become such an insular collection of tribes, each demanding more and expecting someone else foot the bill. I have concluded — one man’s opinion, true, but I believe warranted by the facts — that the basis of our problems is a lack of honesty in public discourse. Failure to demand truth in everything we do is fracking Western civilisation and it is certainly letting off copious amounts of disingenuous hot air here in my Australia.
Consider anthropogenic climate change, alleged to exist and further alleged to be humankind’s fault. It was never the “greatest moral challenge of our time”, as claimed by Kevin Rudd. Rather, it was dishonest sensationalism, a false alarm raised to terrify the innocent and ignorant and, by so doing, line the pockets of the lobbyists, the “green energy” spruikers, the power-hungry, the scolds and those who deem themselves our intellectual and moral betters. Establishing truth requires reasoning and effort, but when we lazily allow ourselves to be cajoled into accepting that which is false and rejecting that which is true we become group-thinking dupes incapable of maintaining, much less progressing, the greatest civilisation ever established.
Western civilisation did not begin when Emperor Constantine embraced Christianity in 320 AD, nor did it initially flow from Judaism. It took Magna Carta in the twelfth century and the law reforms which followed separating church and state but yet enshrining in law the moral constraints and human decency demanded by Christianity. It was those factors that set Western man free to be his best. He could produce and excel while mindful of being a good neighbour, as demanded by law. It was the moral decency and tolerance enshrined in those Judeo-Christian laws that were the catalysts for the growth and success of Western civilisation.
In stark contrast no such morality exists in atheism. There is no morality in whatever the latest “ism” implicitly extolling in its efforts to remake our society the thoughts of Karl Marx. There is no tolerance in Islam and certainly no respect for the individual except as part of the obedient ummah. Nor was there any semblance of Western morality we might recognise as such in Aboriginal cultures witnessed by European settlers. Yet today we find most of our institutions of learning promoting these ideologies while demeaning the long proven Judeo-Christian base of our civilisation. The recent decisions by ANU and Sydney University to reject a generous bequest to establish the Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation is a powerful example of the failure — nay, worse than that, the rejection — of even our universities to uphold the truth of what makes us great. When our highest institutions of learning sponsor mediocrity and the supremacy of relativism, what the West has built faces a dire threat. As Emeritus Professor at the ANU Barry Ninham recently lamented in these pages:
“The lights are going out in universities across Australia, with the triumph of a grim political correctness and the death of history. The old Australian larrikin dipped his “lid” to no man. He is gone. The Enlightenment has gone and with it Science itself.”
Our most impressionable and receptive minds are being cajoled, enticed and flat-out ordered to accept that which is false. Islam is ‘the religion of peace’; Australia was invaded by conquerors intent on destroying the native population. The empirical evidence responds with a firm ‘no’ to each of those hollow assertions and, in the process of dishonesty becoming widespread and accepted, we lose much more than truth. The protective wall of former morality, the belief that truth is paramount, is eroded and undermined. The rewriting of our history and the condemnation of our forebears’ achievements by Left revisionists in both academia and the media sow division and smite our communities. Fracturing pride in who we are divorces us from our land, our faith, our hopes and from each other. When we fail to seek and demand truth in public discourse, we soon come to accept mediocrity in achievement and vulgarity in our dealings with each other. When the wall of morality is breeched, respect and the decency that requires soon escapes.
When prime ministers feel empowered to use the most vulgar and demeaning language in berating staff and colleagues, as has been reported of both Rudd and Turnbull, that wall is torn asunder. When our supposedly balanced public broadcaster uses gross obscenity to ridicule conservative politicians, that wall is again breached. When media figures attack and denigrate as “deniers” those who rationally question the authenticity of anthropogenic global warming, we have surrendered both decency and reason.
It was Edmund Burke who, in 1787 and having defined the Realm as being made up of Three Estates (Church, Parliament and People) went on to add, “In the reporters’ gallery yonder there sits a Fourth Estate more important far than they all.” Burke was astute enough to recognise that without fiercely independent commentators and their robust questioning, reporters always seeking not just the truth but the whole truth, our democracy would soon be imperilled by cronyism and corruption.
Burke was right and for a little over two hundred years mastheads of the media established themselves based on their independent reporting of the truth. They forced governments to fall and reforms to be implemented. Honesty in public life was sacrosanct to those sticklers for the truth and, as a result, they gained the respect of the people and the ability to influence public opinion. While proprietors recognised this power and certainly played favourites, they used it cautiously and for the most part responsibly. But with the advent of editorial independence granted to journalists, associated with less managerial oversight of their work, we have witnessed a loss of trust and respect for our Fourth Estate. Previously respected bastions of truth have degenerated into scorn mongers. Many examples will spring to mind, but one episode sums it up. It happened on Q&A when Malcolm Roberts questioned the warming myth and was answered not by reasoned argument but a sheaf of papers flung across the studio. The compere did nothing other than endorse by his silence the new code of conduct which decrees that those who differ deserve only contempt. They know what is best for us and they hold to that faith in their moral and intellectual superiority even as it does them down. Look to the death of the once-sane but now irredeemably debased Fairfax papers to observe the real world consequences of such arrogant insularity. They went broke in all but name and were floogged off as a job lot consisting of a little gold and very much dross.
With the advent of instant transmission of copy around the world and the capacity of anyone connected to the internet to be part of the “news revolution,” truth is being further distorted, abused and often knowingly discarded. The most sweeping and unsubstantiated statements by volume of repetition become accepted truth. Following are just a few examples to add to the ones above but there are many more. We hear them on a near-daily basis
- Renewable energy sources are reliable and economically viable.
- Ninety-seven percent of scientists agree that humans are causing climate change.
- Bringing over 200,000 extra people into our country every year when we have 2 million people with no or insufficient work is good for growth.
- That using 120 units of power pumping water 600 metres uphill to generate 100 units of power on the way down will overcome our power shortage.
I feel confident that the journalists of Edmund Burke’s Fourth Estate would have exposed such utterances for the lies they are, but sadly no such commitment to rational review seems to exist in our present mainstream press corps. As a result, the media loses relevance and the trust of its former consumers. Rather than truth being the acknowledged foundation stone for either side of any argument, we get Twitter with its endemic abuse of all who disagree. Our democracy and our freedoms are in danger of being lost as a direct consequence of truth itself being discounted.
Rational exposure of truth tied to moral decency has been the most powerful force for good ever devised by man, so I ask why we are undermining that which is proven to work — that which is morally right and honest?
Perhaps my thoughts are those of a nostalgic old bushy yearning for the Riverina of my youth, but I suspect many others share my grave concern for the Australia our grandchildren will inherit. Will they even know what has been lost, having been “educated” to accept not the supremacy of history, logic, fact and argument but the doctrines favoured by their “educators”?
In such a world, the one we as a society have already entered, will we even retain the right to question those who tell us not only what to think but how to think?