at the crossroads

Australian newspapers this weekend had but one issue in their ‘Commentary’ section(s) – Paris. For once I read everyone’s opinions.

By the time I post this, at least nineteen people have died in Mali. For once, media coverage was all over the hostage crisis, and our hearts go out to the families of those that died, as well as to those injured in the attack.

This past week has brought it home to me how truly lucky I am. I live in one of the safest countries on earth – Australia. We have never had a war on our shores, although we have lost many young lives contributing to them. We are one of the most reliable supporters of liberal western democracy and its ongoing place in the world. It could be said we ‘punch above our weight.’

Yet the very freedoms we take for granted are not supported in our Constitution. It does not protect our right to freedom of speech. However, Section 18(c) of our Racial Discrimination Act specifically says;

It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people.

To many of you reading this you may think this is reasonable, some may think it necessary. However, in a country such as mine which values the very freedoms we are not explicitly given, it serves to pare back from the classically liberal philosophy upon which nations such as mine were established.

Classical liberalism is a philosophy that assisted the Founding Fathers when they were writing the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson being a scholar. It espouses that individual members of society will have the right to go about their daily lives, conducting themselves in accordance with the rule of law, insofar as they will be able to speak, write, live, freely, so long as they cause no harm to others in the process. This leads to the primacy of individual thought, and government playing the role of protector of individuals against each other.

However, countries such as Great Britain, Australia and, to a lesser extent, the United States, have shied away from espousing the importance of classical liberalism as the basic tenet upon which free society was founded, erring in favor of a social construct that has led to government playing a far greater role in the lives of the individual than John Locke or Thomas Jefferson ever imagined.

This has moved individual thought from a sense of the need for self-reliance to a sense of the need for government regulation, a move from enlightenment to entitlement weakening the very framework of western civilization.

The further we shy away from classical liberalism, the weaker our free societies will become. The weaker we are the less the ability to effectively fight those that believe in anything but freedom. And if they believe in freedom at all, they believe in the freedom to think how they think, the freedom to believe what they believe, the freedom to do as they do, the freedom to say what they say.

In the West, the trend towards the espousal of political correctness as a basic paradigm can be seen as one example of our trend toward government reliance and a regulatory societal shift. The Learner’s (Merriam-Webster) Dictionary defines ‘politically correct’ as;

agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people.

This can be seen to be an attack on individual rights to freedom of expression. Taken to its logical conclusion, the politically correct can shut down discussion and/or argument in free society about issues of import and opinion on those issues that does not comply with the politically corrects point-of-view.

This is one reason why the West has been at pains not to mention the word ‘Islam’ in public speech relating to terrorist activity by terror groups such as ISIL and Boko Haram.

Political correctness has now graduated to the stage where it can be seen to be the ‘macro’ definition of what’s right and wrong. There’s a new word in town – ‘micro-aggression.’

Frank Furedi explained this very well in his excellent article of 21st November in The Weekend Australian, entitled ‘Whatever you say is highly offensive.’ Let me give you an example. I’m in a lift and say to the person across the way; “Hi, how are you? Where are you from?” That is a form of micro-aggression, for if they are from, say, the Sudan, and I’m from Australia, my comment could affect their sense of self-worth, for what I’m (apparently) really telling them is:

You’re a lesser person than me because you’re from Africa and you’re black.

The fact is, I just like having a chat to ‘break the ice’ in what’s almost always an awkward situation.

Go to http://www.microaggressions.com and you’ll see what I mean.

In essence, I welcome open conversation, disagreement, argument on issues of importance to us all in our day-to-day lives. The extreme left are trying to de-value those discussions by telling the rest of us there is only one way to think, one way to act, one way to speak.

These ‘trends’ in liberal, western, democratic society weaken our ability to fight for what most of us truly hold dear – the very freedoms upon which philosophers like John Locke and statesman like Thomas Jefferson built reputations and declarations.

Classical liberalism was the basic tenet upon which free society was created. It will be the basic tenet upon which free society will succeed. Let’s not put in doubt the freedoms our forefathers fought so hard to provide by over-riding those freedoms with regulatory restraints designed to reign in the free expression we hold so very dear.

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