September 11: A Symposium.
Post-September 11, in Australia, as in the USA, the ad hominem tactic has had a thorough workout, and the patriotism card is the most thumbed in the deck. As a consequence, it becomes increasingly difficult, even in our two democracies, to debate crucial matters — ones that have potential life or death decisions written into them — and even harder to make the debate count. Spin rules. Public servants are formed into ‘task forces’ to keep its wheels turning. Propaganda thrives. Misinformation becomes a ministerial tool, and denigration replaces argument. Draconian laws that once would have been rejected by a public outraged at the infringement of their civil and political rights are passed into law in an atmosphere of contrived panic. There are plenty of journalists and commentators who have now had a rapid education in the consequences of dissent: abuse, threats, dismissal. And this in vaunted democracies. What kind of example, or hope, one has to ask, does this provide to people in other parts of the globe who live without even the presumption of democracy and freedom? What is lost, in this overheated atmosphere, is understanding, a readiness to reflect, and the analytical capacity to link cause, particularly historically complex cause, with effect. And so we blunder on in a politics of confusion, confabulation and vested interest.