Rather a long time ago a chap called John Stuart Mill asserted that there are some areas where governments/rulers appear to consider it best to mislead the public. These, he said, include “…the political religion of the country, its political institutions, and the conduct and character of its rulers.” He made this point back in 1867 and it’s abundantly clear that the political machine hasn’t moved on a great deal since then. There’s no doubt that it’s become increasingly media savvy to keep pace with technology, but it appears no more inclined to truthfulness – or what is nowadays referred to as transparency. One wouldn’t want to encourage informed debate and rock the political boat, after all.
Then, as now, governments simply don’t seem to believe that they can’t trust the public to make the right decisions on issues – unless, of course, they’ve been provided with the right information on the subject – by the right people… aka the government or someone who, in effect, speaks for the government. The sticking point here is, of course, that when governments choose what opinions their citizens will hold, they are, in effect, silencing the population and quashing the core principles of democracy.
JSM adds that rulers (governments) often inflict punishment upon those who criticize or who censure the conduct of government, which brings me to a film I watched today. The War You Don’t See is an indictment, not only of governments, but also of reporters and media conglomerates who collude with governments in programmes of public misinformation. Whether they do so actively (knowingly) or unwittingly (passively) makes little difference to the outcome.
Perhaps we need a JSM today, someone to remind us that we have a choice. Someone who will call attention to the need for active engagement in the world around us with words like these: “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part, and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing. He is not a good man who, without a protest, allows wrong to be committed in his name, and with the means which he helps to supply, because he will not trouble himself to use his mind on the subject.”
Instead of JSM, however, we have the Internet. We have Twitter and Facebook and Instagram. We have WikiLeaks and Assange and Snowden. We have choice, a voice and the ability to share information locally and internationally. But for how long – particularly if we remain passive?
And so we come to what is being promoted by the Australian government as a necessary evil in a world stalked by threats of terrorism, namely data retention – and all that goes with it. Politicians at best loosely conversant with the Internet have been waving their hands and trotting out confusing and, quite simply, embarrassing poorly informed explanations on the issue all week. They’ve wriggled out of answering questions that look too closely at what is, without a doubt, an orchestrated breach of personal (individual) security.
Why is this information so essential to government agencies – and why are they out-sourcing the retention of the data to commercial entities (telecom companies)? Radio National was asking these questions today too.
It looks overwhelmingly like a government trying desperately to reel in an unruly public – a public that is independently seeking (and gaining) information on a wide range of topics without that information being adequately mediated by the right people to ensure that the right opinions are formed… and the right people stay in government. The media is once again being utilised to manipulate and promote public fears, to link terrorism and data retention with ‘watch lists’ – using innuendo as an implicit threat to silence the tweets, discredit the whistle blowers, shut down the curious. The manipulation is overt, but the impact is insidious.
But I leave the last words to John Stuart Mill. “…an ignorant man … has at least a chance of being sometimes in the right. But he who adopts every opinion which rulers choose to dictate, is always in the wrong, when it is their interest that he should be so…”