By silencing the voices of the majority, except at the ballot box when it suits them, the media is slowly strangling the minds of future generations.
Let’s face it, the world is going to hell in a handbasket. We have an American President with all the self -restraint of Count Dracula in a bloodbank, several other “Axis Of Evil” countries playing up like toddlers in the witching hour and we are all about to disappear in a large ball of thermonuclear light. I’ve probably been vaporised before this has ever gone to print.
Or we aren’t getting the whole story.
The truth is that in this era of “fake news” and sensationalism, true debate is getting killed. Does anyone really think, for instance, that Donald Trump picking a fight with NFL players choosing to take a knee during the national anthem is a matter of suspicious timing, rather than “force of habit”? Which news story has just emerged today, of course? Jared Kushner using private emails to discuss White House business. Don’t expect the general public to connect the dots though, thanks to editors who are more concerned with perception than reality. It’s easier to paint the nightmare of rockets flying over Los Angeles (spoiler alert: they won’t and never will) or reverse racism, rather than call out a political scandal that could take down an administration in its infancy.
After all, to debate is to present both sides of a story in a non-partisan way, before arriving at an overall verdict. Whose interests are served by that in political life, which should ideally be a life of service? Here, in Australia, we are conducting a postal vote to determine whether we should have a vote on same-sex marriage. You can imagine that groups on both sides of the debate have much to lose, hence the public vitriol about entirely irrelevant issues such as gender fluidity being taught in schools and people being sacked for signalling their right to vote “no”. Straw man arguments are so much easier to set up than debates about more concerning issues, for example how we are all being herded like sheep by a media that doesn’t want us to think freely.
Another spoiler for you: the “yes” vote will win, so the Prime Minister will congratulate himself for being so progressive and so very, very “now”. The Catholic politicians in the Liberal Party will then boycott the legislation in Canberra, before the Prime Minister folds like a cheap suit. Political expediency will win the day, but we can have another postal ballot in a few years’ time.
The truth of the matter is that the only people we have to blame are ourselves. It’s much easier to react than it is to think. It starts young too. An incident in my Year Nine English class was very instructive recently, after I let the class know we were going to be learning how to debate. One girl rolled her eyes and looked unhappy, so I asked her why. She asked what the point of it all was, as debating was just people talking at each other and not listening. And we are living in a place, Australia, that many hold up as an example of Orwell’s “Golden Country”.
Active listening, in all spheres of life, is pretty much in the minority. What was once an implicit skill in schools is having to be explicitly taught, with attention spans in children dropping to lower than those found in goldfish. After all, if you can’t listen, you certainly cannot think and then reflect that thinking in your answer. If you can’t reflect thought in your answer, how can you persuade? How can you demonstrate real empathy and not the insincere kind found on news feeds everywhere? If you are a teenage boy, how successful will you be in understanding consent or talking your way out of a fight, without the ability to actively listen or debate? If you are a teenage girl, how do you separate your feelings from your ability to respect a different point of view to your own?
Well, I am going to be frank, in my role as an educator, as a parent, as a friend. We are killing our young by not educating them to be centrists. To see both sides of a view, instead of lurching drunkenly towards one magnetic pole of opinion or another. We need to debate difficult issues, not sweep them under the carpet. Schools should be a safe space to do that in; they should be a place where difference is tolerated, yes, but not to the extent that no-one can ever be offended or upset that someone doesn’t agree with them. I don’t want a world where my twelve year old daughter grows up thinking that shouting loudest wins arguments. I don’t want her thinking that feeling a certain way gives her the right to belittle, criticise or shun those who disagree with her. We need to aggressively defend our young from extremism. It may be too late for some of us, but they are worth saving in an era where “nuclear war” is the most Googled search term by teeangers the world over.
So this is where we are, right now. A world of extremes, where free speech is getting its head kicked in at Charlottesville by extreme groups of all persuasions. Where American football players protesting civil rights are called unpatriotic by the President they elected. Where the fearsome spectre of gender fluidity being taught in schools is the new creationism debate. It’s up to us in schools to show that two plus two equals four, not five or whatever the governments of the day determine it to be. In the Victorian asylums of England, the mentally ill were given wickerwork as an early form of occupational therapy. One patient’s constructed chair was passed on to the next cell, upon completion, to be unpicked and rendered just wickerwork again, then on to the next cell to be reconstructed. We are in such a news cycle now, but it’s our choice as educators as to whether we keep playing the game that politicians, via their stooges in the media, want us to play.
To resist, then, is to live. To think is the dance of life. Denying a younger generation these basic reasoning skills would be criminal and history, such as it is, would also judge us for it. Their future need not be the image of a boot stamping on a human face forever, a place where language corrupts thought. Damn the safe spaces. My grandfather’s idea of a safe space was to fight for one on a Normandy beach. Damn the narrowing of language, the narrowing of minds, the narrowing of possibilities. Tomorrow does not belong to the social justice warriors, any more than it belongs to Neo-Nazis, terrorists or dinsoaurs. It belongs to the young minds that haven’t been shaped yet.
After all, it is their notion of truth, in the end, will either destroy the world or set it free.