Don’t Ask! Don’t Say!

It’s more offensive to name what is wrong than do wrong. (Paula Collins)

Over the last couple of years George Orwell’s dystopian novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four, seems to have come into its own as a manual for governance. Prols of the novel (people like us) could not think, ask or speak for themselves or their experience: they had to obey unquestioningly the narrative put out by Big Brother who watched constantly. Sounds familiar to recent experience of COVID and climate change.

As global tensions between autocracies and democracies play out to determine the better form of running a country, autocracy (Big Brother) seems to be creeping ahead as most favoured by leaders. Left leaning media largely fails in its job of calling government to account, having aligned themselves with Big Tech and Big Corporations in holding power with government of the day, influencing rather than enquiring.

Courage to question or voice an alternative point of view can end up costing legal process, reputation, job, career, house and friends, cancelled from social media and disparaged as a disrupter. Pregnant Zoe-Lee Buhler found out how damaging speaking up can be when she was handcuffed in her lounge room in front of her children and partner when charged with incitement merely for posting a lockdown protest meeting on Facebook. Trolls on social media piled on criticism of her.

In the USA people who had the gall to support Trump or hold pro-choice views have been raided by the FBI, arrested in front of their families, their electronic devices confiscated. A Canadian café owner was shut down, charged and bank accounts seized for donating coffee to truckers protesting vaccination mandates.

Conversely, second biggest donor to the Democrat campaign, FTX Cryptocurrency operator, Sam Bankman-Fried remains free, swanning polyamorously in the Bahamas, while people lose their life savings in the US$40billion collapse of his scam. His saving grace? Effective altruism, using promotion of accepted woke narratives to escape scrutiny.

Weaponising the police against dissenters is just so “Big Brother”, breaching as it does the separation of powers between governing and legal arms of administration, undermining institutions of democracy. It is also a function of fascism and communism.

After a big news splash, public humiliation and extortionate costs, all too often these politically motivated actions fizzle to nothing once political advantage has been secured. Still the point has been made: ask questions and speak out and you will be punished.

Firm and Family controls

If you think Big Brother controls exist only in government, you are wrong. In many families and firms, similar autocracy prevails. The boss or some other crazy maker can be forever “herding” workers into compliance with their diktats, allowing no other point of view. Work becomes particularly unpleasant and unsatisfying. Bureaucracies in big firms and public service are infamous for it. Compliance with the rule of the day prevails, though emphasis and orders may change. Rather than put up with it, long sufferers leave for greener options, unfortunately taking with them the chance of organisational renewal. In his book Beyond Order Jordan Peterson details the psychological distress of a client under capture to a crazy maker and how, with counselling and support for a new direction, alleviation and escape were attained.

In families things can be little different. Traditionally older parents exerted stern controls over children and others. Since Dr Spock’s book Baby and Child Care popularised child-centred care, respect and power in families and community have inverted. Indulged children are negotiated with rather than disciplined. Now it’s parents and elderly who are more likely to run the gamut of disapproval, cowed into silence for daring to question or speak their piece, forever walking on eggshells for fear of offending. A dominant sibling can assert similar inordinate power. Positive progress stalls when discussion is stymied. Ostracism once metered out to children for poor behaviour is shamelessly foisted onto elders for existing and having a point of view. Options for alleviation and escape for them are limited, though not exhausted.

Effects of power and control

Controlling the narrative to exert power and control over others has multiple effects:

  • Responsibility is foisted on those less able to bear it as expectations increase and tolerance of dissent declines. Fragmentation of individuals and groups invariably occurs, with high social and financial costs.
  • Naked emperor syndrome, as no one is allowed to say the narrative is baseless, because of the effect it would have over prevailing power and control of the populace. Sham is ultimately exposed. (Think COVID mandates without a scientific base and treatments refuted).
  • Unsustainable, autocratic power has a lifecycle unrenewed through evolution, ends up consuming itself, even though many suffer till the end (think North Korea, CCP, Daniel Andrews).
  • Truth has a way of emerging, eventually, as Orwell’s character reflects, “They can make you say anything – anything – but they can’t make you believe it.” (p192)

Autocrats rob individuals of responsibility and choice. For those pursuing forever infantilism over maturity, living or working under tyrannical rule may suit. Never will they be held responsible for what happens, sad though it is to encounter one late in life who clings to child-like ignorance.

On cult like issues orchestrating mass fear such as Climate Change and Covid mandates, the irresponsible, cloaked in the virtue of compliance with the narrative, assume virtuous, dogmatic judgement on those daring to raise an alternative position or failing to comply.

When people are silenced and herded into compliance, democracy which has been honed by freedom of speech and respectful debate loses out to autocracy.

Personal solutions

Most of us are powerless to influence change on a national or international scale unless we band together with other like-minded individuals. We are best able to exert positive influence our own lives (hard enough) and perhaps ripple out to others within our sphere of influence.

The Maturity Model for decision-making outlined in my book Becoming emphasises individual responsibility and management of expectations in making confident choices one can live with. Jordan Peterson also focuses on responsibility for taking charge over one’s life, no matter how unsatisfactory things may be. Responsibility (rather than blame) is the way to maturity and wholeness as a person.

To reduce fear, deal in facts, not fantasy of the doomsday cults. Cultivate a sense of humour and gratitude for what we have. Enjoy the present. Celebrate the wonders of innovation that solves so many of the world’s problems. Support those who carry heavy loads. Be kind.

Where relationships are intractable, take Jesus’ advice, “Shake their dust from your sandals and move on.” Or don’t go as often or stay as long.

As former PM Malcolm Fraser said, Life wasn’t mean to be easy. Asking questions and speaking out aren’t easy either, as so many have found out. Yet context is critical. Satisfy yourself your contribution has value in the overall scheme of life. Ask and speak up.  

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