World War III.

The world was thrown into chaos. Bombs tore apart entire towns and the dead bodies piled up on the streets too quickly to be taken away or buried. The stench brought more tears to the eyes of those in constant mourning, and the corpses of deceased relatives provided cover from snipers and crazed gunmen. Drones battled for airspace and fighter jets blasted through the skies with such frequency the people had stopped checking if they were friend of foe.

The constant bombardment was deafening and frightening, and broken only by the cries of orphaned children.

Food was scarce. The hungry had already looted the stores and the fields. Stomachs rumbled in tune with the tanks, and the people grew accustomed to the rancid taste of permanently blackened skies.

Most people forget who they were fighting; forgot who the enemy was, or was supposed to be. In the early days, when the mediums of communication were still functioning, they listened to their leaders identify and attack the enemy with impassioned speeches. The enemy wore a certain uniform, spoke a certain tongue. Soon the patriotism wore thin and the increasingly vehement verbal attacks fell on deaf ears. The people fought for survival, not for their nations, or their leaders.

Despite the danger and hunger. Despite the destruction and the obliteration, a greater fear loomed. The fear of the MAD Button. The button of Mutually Assured Destruction which would release the nuclear weapons counties had been stockpiling in the name of deterrence and pragmatic foreign policy.

Nothing would survive.

The people asked themselves, how did we get here?

It all started on a lunch line.

Yes, a simple lunch line preceding the buffet at an international summit for the world’s super powers. The summit had been convened to combat the latest pandemic, the impending environmental disaster and the refugee crisis. It had also promised to deliver world peace. It plunged the world into war.

The disaster began when event organisers suddenly announced a casual outdoor setting for lunch on the final day, deliberately forcing world leaders to line up for their food, assuring attendees it would,

“…pivot their personal and professional brand towards an empathetic and approachable persona, while positioning leaders as down-to-earth…”

Entourages hastily consulted brand managers, and wardrobes were adjusted accordingly. Donald ignored his minders and snapped on his famous red baseball cap, “…to protect me from the sun” he claimed. Leaders were reminded to smile and keep conversations light, and to remember that cameras could now capture them from every angle.

While the world’s most powerful people grabbed a plate and stood in line, trying desperately to hide their discomfort and impatience, a voice was heard from the back of the line.

“Scotty, let me in,” Donald called to his friend when he spotted the fried chicken piled high.

“Um,” Scotty deliberated, assessing the personal and political risk of letting his friend push in and jump the queue. His minders were snacking on granola bars back in the makeshift office, so Scotty had only a few seconds to make a decision that would have irreversible ramifications.

He’s an ally, his mind told him, but he’s probably the most hated leader in the world, even more hated than me. Well, I’m not hated, just ignored really – that’s why they all walked away from me after the joint photo and left me standing there like the kid no one plays with. Luckily I had my phone in my pocket and I could pretend to check some emails. I think I got away with it.

Should I let Donald in? Everyone’s looking, especially Vladimir and Xinping. What will Aussies think? My supporter base loves Donald, and I can’t upset them. But even people in his own country are getting sick of him, what if he doesn’t last, what if I align myself with a failure, a loser? Will I lose votes? How will it affect me? I know Peter wants my job, and Rupert created Donald before he created me.

Then there’s Xinping. He doesn’t look happy. Will this mean more tariffs, more restrictions on exports, more lost votes?

Who would buy our beef, wheat, our coal…? If my party loses farmers and miners, we’re stuffed. Gosh I wish my staff were here, they’d know what to do. They never told me I’d have to make decisions when they made me PM.

“Drink beer,” they said

“Go to the footy,” they said.

And Vladimir, he’s always looking for a fight, or a chance to take his shirt off.

Time kept ticking away…

I could ignore him, Scotty thought. I could play with my phone again, or talk to the woman behind me. What’s her name again? Angie, Andrea, Annabel – I think it starts with an A and she seems to be important, she talks a lot at meetings, nagging us all to do something about electric cars – nagging about something else – women eh! Wait, she’s the one who gave me the dirty look when I mentioned clean coal – nah, I’m not talking to her.

Donald called again. His stomach was rumbling, like the war tanks he had just sold to the leader of a nation he’d never heard of, while other leaders discussed plans for world peace.

“Scotty, come on man, let me in”

Spilt seconds ticked by. Scotty felt the sweat run down his back and hoped it wasn’t showing on his face. Yes or no. I have to decide, right now.

With a smirk, he said yes.

Donald strolled triumphantly to the front of the line, beside his friend Scotty. Vladimir and Xi fumed, and declared in unison:

“This is war!”

Image: http://www.istockphotos.com

Defenders of free speech are destroying free speech.

The very people who decry the loss of free speech in modern society are destroying the ability of people to speak freely. Extremist views stifle reasoned discussions on important social issues and this prevents problems from being properly addressed or solved.

Extreme commentators at both ends of the political spectrum complain that their opinions and right to free speech are being quelled in modern society, while their own words stigmatise anyone who attempts to raise legitimate questions regarding a contentious issue.

Free speech crusaders throw around phrases such as ‘political correctness’ and ‘cancel culture’ and complain that they’re “…not allowed to say anything anymore.” They claim that the ‘thought police’ are denying them their right to express a personal opinion. In most cases, however, those opinions are blatantly racist and are often disguised as humour and casual racism which is borne of ignorance, and is deeply hurtful.

It was never right to be racist, it was just more accepted.

Immigration

Immigration is a perfect example of the death of free speech at the hands of extreme commentators. Extremists have hijacked the issue, and anyone else who attempts to publicly discuss the topic runs the risk of being branded as a racist or a bigot.

Donald Trump used racism. He famously promised to stop Muslims from entering the United States and to build a wall to stop Latinos entering the country, and these views contributed greatly to his election victory in 2016. He expressed the views that many extremists held in the United States, and he discussed immigration as a threat to the USA, to white Americans and to American values and their way of life.

Extremists have equated immigration with racism and xenophobia.

It is consequently difficult for anyone to raise the issue of immigration in the United States and other countries. Anyone who questions current immigration policies, for whatever reason, will be labelled a racist or a bigot. But mature, intelligent and measured discussions about immigration need to take place. Leaders and citizens need to ask how many people can safely live in a particular area. People need to ask if a landmass has enough resources to support a certain number of people, taking into consideration birth and death rates, existing infrastructure, employment opportunities and other factors which determine the success of immigration policies. These discussions are made difficult or impossible due to the hijacking of the issue by ignorant extremists.

Donald Trump is also famous for shutting down discussions with people who opposed his views. There is no better example of killing free speech.

LGBTQI+

The LGBTQI+ community also bear the brunt of intolerance and hateful speech. Issues such as gender fluidity, trans culture and same-sex marriage draw endless commentary from free speech crusaders, and prevent issues from being discussed.

Same-sex marriage is a contentious issue. Every country which has raised the prospect of legalising same-sex marriage, including those which succeeded, endured a divisive debate on the issue, and the defenders of free speech once again destroyed free speech.

Two prominent Australians weighed into the debate in Australia. Tennis legend Margaret Court and footballer Israel Folau exercised their right to free speech but consequently tarnished the debate. Court and Folau opposed same-sex marriage, and declared this publicly. This in itself was not a problem. However, they supported their views with statements claiming that all gay people will go to hell, that same-sex attraction is the work of the devil and that same-sex marriage is a dangerous threat to the social fabric and the family unit.

Anyone else who expressed opposition to same-sex marriage was accused of sharing the views of Court and Folau. Anyone should be allowed to express an opposition to same-sex marriage, but that is difficult to do when the likes of Court and Folau dominate the topic.

Trans athletes also provoke strong debate. Should people who are born male be allowed to play sport with and against females – if they identify as female, or if they have physically transitioned to female? This is a complex debate including issues of fairness and safety, and any decision must be made after a mature, evidence-based and open discussion. This discussion is impossible to conduct when some people label trans people as the devil’s work, an abomination, a disgrace and subhuman. When such hateful views are expressed freely, reasonable people cannot express their views on the topic, for fear of being associated with the bigots.

Gender-neutral language also divides the population. Gender fluid people prefer to use the words ‘they’ instead of ‘he’ or ‘she’ and ‘them’ instead ‘him’ and ‘her’. A problem arises because they and them are plural pronouns, but they’re being used in a singular context – to refer to one person.

Linguists will point out that this is grammatically incorrect and confusing, while bigots will claim that is is outrageous, unnecessary…and worse. As a result, can anyone oppose the use of ‘they’ and ‘them’ to refer to individuals, without being labelled homophobic or transphobic?

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the threat to free speech at the hands of those who claim to defend it. Anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists abound online and express views contrary to expert medical advice. Extreme bloggers and social media influencers, celebrities and even elected politicians are expressing wild and unfounded theories about the pandemic, while defending their views as free speech. In reality, they are putting human lives at risk.

Free speech is a foundation of democracy and an open society. It must be defended. It must also be conducted with evidence, acceptance of opposing views and reason.

Image: Christian Bruehner

Donald Trump is A False to be Reckoned With.

US President Donald Trump is a proven liar but is still a formidable force in US and international politics.

Trump started fabricating the truth as soon as he arrived in the oval office. He lied about the number of people who attended his inauguration and has lied ever since. No matter how much he lies, people still support him and vote for him.

Fake News

The most cunning trick Trump pulled was adopting the phrase Fake News. His uneducated, semi-literate and ignorant supporter base latched onto a catchy and easily-digested slogan which is designed to discredit any criticism of Trump or his actions.

Every time a rational commentator or journalist proved without doubt that one of Trump’s statements was a blatant lie – he retorted with the phrase Fake News. No matter how ridiculous Trump’s statements or claims, no matter how much undeniable evidence was presented to the public, he could deny the evidence with this phrase.

The slogan also allowed his supporters to avoid investigating or analysing news stories or issues in detail. It allowed them to shoot down or dismiss anyone who wanted to engage them in an intelligent discussion on an issue. It allowed Trump to therefore to rally his supporters through emotion and patriotism. It allowed his to run the country via Twitter.

Trump supporters were led to believe that fake news came from ‘them’, not from ‘us’.

If Trump called climate change fake news, the people accepted it as fake news. The slogan served as a rallying cry for his supporters. If Trump said the dangers of COVID-19 were fake news, his supporters accepted it as fake news, despite the country having the highest number of deaths in the world.

Outsiders and open minded Americans often find it hard to believe that so many people believe the president. But it is important to remember that it is impossible to develop critical literacy without possessing basic literacy. Across the United States, as in other developing countries such as Australia, literacy rates are falling. People don’t read and don’t value education, and lack the literacy skills necessary to discern between truth, bias and false claims. Conservative governments understand this and deliberately underfund public educational institutions in order to maintain poor literacy. An uneducated population is easier to control.

To be Reckoned With…

Trump is still powerful. His use of phrases such as Fake News and Make America Great Again have earned him enormous support. He will call upon his marketing prowess to run a convincing election campaign targeted cleverly at his demographic. Reports have emerged that mail boxes are being removed throughout the country to prevent people from casting postal votes in the lead up to the election, and who knows what he is doing behind the scenes.

It is dangerous to underestimate Trump. Hilary Clinton did it at the last election and paid the price. The world saw Trump as a joke and his candidacy as a side show, but he won the election. Satirists and comedians drew enormous value from his presence in the White House until they realised that he was creating the problems which plague the country today. Satirists also realised that Trump’s fact was more ridiculous than any of their fiction.

Rational people and sensible citizens must continue to fight against the lies and the false claims during the election in order to avoid another term with Trump.

Even if he loses the upcoming election, the damage he has done to the USA will take years to repair, and the country will be more divided than ever. The other section of his supporter base does not mind if this is the case.

Trump’s other supporter base is big business. Trump himself is a business man and analysts have suggested that he ran for office not just because he is a narcissist, but because he saw an opportunity to further his own business interests. Corporations are benefiting from Trump’s presidency. Ironically, they benefit from exploiting average Americans, by exploiting American workers – by exploiting Trump supporters.

If this cruel dichotomy was pointed out to Trump’s supporters, they would just say it is fake news.

Image: Washington Post