In August 2016, Chris Kenny, associate editor for the Australian newspaper, wrote in an article (Bad News for Democracy when frank discussion is shut down) that he believed free speech in Australia was under threat. He invented two demographic categories: one called ‘the political/media class’ and the other group he labelled as the ‘mainstream and mavericks’.His claim was that one group (the elite) used what he classified as ‘political correctness’ to set the debate agenda and control what was acceptable, thus imposing a mocking and intimidating constraint on the second group (the silent majority).
Some people may remember Chris Kenny as the not so keen advocate of free speech when he used the Defamation Act to pursue the Hamster Decides for their depiction of him as a dog fucker. Animal lovers everywhere really couldn’t see the offence, but Kenny, just like his ideological Brother-in-arms, Cory Bernardi, have a particular thing about bestiality.Although the Defamation Act is generally inaccessible to mainstream mavericks (after all, you first have to have a reputation to defame, and how many silks does it take to convince a judge that your good name has been taken from you by crass rabble?) Kenny had that mighty target of hatred for the right wing, the ABC in his sights. While Kenny could not convince the judge that he had been defamed by being depicted as a dog fucker (after all, he works for the Australian), the ABC offered him an apology and picked up his very expensive legal tab.
As a true contrarian, Kenny offers Brian Cox’s questioning of Malcolm Robert’s assertion on Q & A that NASA is representing statistically fraudulent climate data, as proof of the contempt that the elite (Brian Cox) has for the maverick (Malcolm Roberts). Putting aside the fact that Brian Cox was quite restrained in his rebuttal of Malcolm Robert’s claim, it might be pertinent to inquire about the level of Robert’s scientific expertise; it is one thing to have an opinion, it is quite another thing to have a real understanding of complex matters that are outside your intellectual domain.Is this ‘elitist’? Hell yeah, because, guess what? Complex understanding of an issue is gained through years of hard work. It’s not a gut feeling or instinctual; it doesn’t come after a reverie or an epiphany. In the scientific community, a consensus opinion based on that complex understanding is arrived at after millions of study hours, conducted by people who have reduced their worldview to a very narrow focus. It is an opinion, not an absolute truth, and its interpretation and meaning is continually changing and shifting as new data and analysis are applied to the problem under examination.In his article Chris Kenny deliberately confuses the expression of ignorance and bigotry as a meaningful contribution to what he typifies as a ‘frank’ discussion; he suggests that ‘those who are prepared to say what they think’ (the mavericks) are representing mainstream views while the ‘so-called elites’ are forcing the debate into un-nuanced binary choices.Why does Chris Kenny fail to understand that just because a view or an opinion is mainstream, it doesn’t make that view or opinion correct? The first person to use the term ‘silent majority’ was Spiro Agnew, who was the vice-president in the Richard Nixon U.S. presidency. Agnew used it to denigrate the domestic opponents of the US war in Vietnam. He typified the opponents of the war as the noisy minority whose opinion was overruled by those decent (presumably white, middle-class polite folk) ‘the silent majority’.
As everybody in the world now acknowledges (except for Greg Sheridan and Gerard Henderson) in the case of the criticism of US foreign policy in Vietnam, the ‘silent majority’ were wrong and the ‘noisy minority’ were right.Richard Nixon’s America trashed the idea of democracy and freedom by superimposing an unconvincing layer of a defence of democratic principles over a covert and illegal police state bullying. As a consequence, whenever I hear anyone using those trigger words, such as silent majority, I reach for my Browning.Speaking of small-bore shooters, while seemingly representing a libertarian position (Senator Leyonhjelm, anyone?), proponents of free speech and open debate increasingly resemble those who are opposed to public discussion. While people like Chris Kenny argue for a wider range of views in the public discourse (and that is reasonable), they are simultaneously representing the views of nut jobs and fascists who are clearly unreasonable and definitely not intent on polite listening and careful consideration.
These proto-fascists use pejorative terms like ‘keyboard crusaders’ and ‘gesture politics’ to deride the views of their opponents and simultaneously make claims that their views (the majority view) are being mocked and derided. Interestingly, they are ignoring the political colouring of their allies by claiming that the majority support for Brexit and Trump demonstrates a populist denouncement of elitist views when in fact the outcome of both events represent a concerted campaign by far-right groups whose real agenda would horrify most of the ordinary support base for these issues.
Chris Kenny and the Australian newspaper are also in the vanguard of the call for the repeal of clause 18C of the 1975 (!) Racial Discrimination Act. Their claim is that we don’t need these sorts of muzzles on free expression. They would say that, particularly after their factional mates and prime practitioners of hate speech, Andrew Bolt and Bill Leak incurred the displeasure of that particular law. The recent QUT case is an example of a functional law and a functional justice system, not the opposite, as Kenny, et al would argue. In that instance, the High Court found that there was no case to answer and the claim was disallowed.
Follow the SBS link to see though the underlying reality of whom in this fair and democratic land is representing themselves as upholders of democratic discussion. If that’s democratic free speech in action, I’ll eat my sandals.http://www.sbs.com.au/ondemand/video/833543747801/18c-racial-discrimination-case-nears