Tag Archives: Department of Immigration

Truth, employment and freedom of speech.

2 May

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, yesterday proffered this analysis of the sacking of SBS sports presenter Scott McIntyre, after he posted a series of tweets that suggested, among other things, an alternative and previously unspoken view of the actions of the ANZACS.

In her piece Professor Triggs refers to the case of Banerji v Bowles (2013) in which Department of Immigration former employee Michaela Banerji was sacked after tweeting criticisms of detention centres, the Prime Minister, and the Minister for Immigration. Ms Banerji used a pseudonym for her Twitter account, and argued that her comments are “constitutionally protected by her right to freedom of political communication as an indispensable incident of representative government.” The Federal Court rejected this view.

Ms Banerji has now replied to Professor Triggs’ observations on her case here.

I know there are readers of Sheep who are as intrigued by legal forensics as am I, and the arguments made by both parties are of significant import to anyone who is employed and uses social media. I won’t add my comparatively ignorant voice to those of Professor Triggs and Ms Banerji, rather I’m interested in Trigg’s observations on the use of social media and Truth.

Triggs begins her piece with a quote from John Milton’s Areopagitica in which the poet passionately opposes censorship, arguing for freedom of speech. “Whoever knew Truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?” he asks.

Triggs argues that “today’s near universal access to social media challenges the idea that freedom of expression ensures truth will be victorious over falsehood.”  The poet Milton could not have envisaged the extent of free and open encounters awaiting society in its future, and made his observation at a time when only the privileged had access to a public platform.

There are a couple of assumptions in Triggs’ argument that ought to be noted. In claiming that universal access to social media dilutes the possibility of Truth triumphing over falsehood, Triggs, inadvertently I’m sure, is claiming not only that Truth is, as it was in Milton’s time, defined and controlled by a particular demographic who enjoy freedom of expression due to their privilege, but that this is still a legitimate manner in which to determine what is Truth.  Now the masses have unprecedented access to public platforms that democratise freedom of expression, Truth will inevitably be vanquished by the freely expressed opinions of these masses. Whatever is publicly expressed by those other than the privileged and entitled will inevitably be falsehood, is what her argument implies.

Truth is a tricky concept, fluid in the extreme, determined by the orthodoxy, enforced by the state and its agents, and religion and its agents. Social media offers the most expansive and democratic opportunity for the contestation of what Foucault calls “regimes of truth”  that has ever existed in human history.

Truth, argues Foucault, does not exist outside of power:

 on the contrary, truth “is produced by virtue of multiple constraints [a]nd it induces regulated effects of power”. This is to say that “each society has its regime of truth”, and by this expression Foucault means: (1) “the types of discourse [society] harbours and causes to function as true”; (2) “the mechanisms and instances which enable one to distinguish true from false statements” and (3) “the way in which each is sanctioned”; (4) “the techniques and procedures which are valorised for obtaining truth”; (5) “the status of those who are charged with saying what counts as true” (Foucault 1976, p. 112; 13).

Therefore, “truth” is “a system of ordered procedures for the production, regulation, distribution, circulation and functioning of statements”; it is linked “by a circular relation to systems of power which produce it and sustain it, and to effects of power which it induces and which redirect it”. 

It is the function of social media, exemplified most recently by the tweets of Scott McIntyre, to contest truth regimes produced by systems of power that control and sustain what comes to be normalised as “Truth.” Scott McIntyre, Michaela Banerji and countless others have used social media to contest the constructed regimes of truth, to their cost. Whether these challenges to the orthodoxy are accurate or not, the point is they must be made and in a liberal democracy the people who make them ought not to be punished.

There is absolutely no correlation between freedom of expression and what we might, at any given time, consider to be Truth. The very best we can do is, as Foucault recommends, constantly question the origins of our current regimes of truth, by whom are they determined, whose ends do they serve, what techniques and procedures are valorised for obtaining truth and by whom. Our most powerful weapon for contesting regimes of truth is social media. Professor Triggs is quite wrong: today’s near universal access to social media ensures an unprecedented freedom of expression that in turn ensures an unrelenting contestation of truth claims, and herein lies its power, and its threat to authority.

Freedom of expression has never ensured Truth, not in Milton’s time and not in ours. Social media is a powerful tool for the examination of regimes of truth established by the privileged and entitled, regimes that all too often have little to do with what is true, and far more to do with what is advantageous to those who declare it to be true.

Foucault: Regimes of Truth

 

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Cruelty is the worst policy

20 Jan

 

Amnesty Poster

 

In general, it’s always seemed to me that when governments or individuals take an increasingly hard, harsh and inhumane stand on an issue it’s a clear signal that they’ve actually lost the battle, and are on their way to losing the war.

In a political sense, I’m thinking of the current situation in detention facilities on Manus Island. New Immigration Minister Peter Dutton is promising to maintain Scott Morrison’s “hard-line” against asylum seekers who have resorted to self-harm and protest, methods which are, in reality, their only means of expression, as the Australian government has virtually denied them access to legal process and natural justice.

This hard-line against asylum seekers protesting their fate began in Woomera and Baxter detention centres in 1999, at the instigation of the Howard LNP government. It was maintained by the ALP governments led by Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Sixteen years of both major parties taking a hard-line against waterborne asylum seekers has achieved absolutely nothing any of us can be proud of, and it won’t.

Similarly, the hard-line threatened by the Abbott government against the young unemployed that will see them starving and homeless as they are denied benefits for six months will achieve nothing any of us can be proud of, and will ruin lives for a very long time and likely permanently.

Taking a hard-line is very rarely necessary, and very rarely useful. A hard-line shouldn’t be the default position. Instead negotiation, mediation, conversation, and communication are civilised and humane methods of approaching difficulties. When all else fails, by all means try the hard-line, but to do this first is cruel and inhumane, and shows a lack of intelligence, imagination and skill.

Human beings have a tremendous capacity for good will and understanding. It’s a great shame our leaders don’t value this capacity, and instead believe our strength lies in brutality. It doesn’t. It never has and it never will. All cruelty springs from weakness, as the philosopher Seneca noted.

If governments and individuals are too weak and cowardly to sit across a table from other human beings in an effort to resolve difference and difficulty, they will inevitably resort to cruelty of one kind or another. Ignoring another human being in need is just as cruel as taking direct and punitive action against him or her. There are countless stories of asylum seekers achieving success and making considerable contributions to Australian society when they are given the opportunity. Instead we destroy them because our governments believe the destruction of human lives and human potential demonstrates political strength and determination.

Peter Dutton may well congratulate himself for emulating Scott Morrison’s abhorrent tactics against those legally seeking asylum in Australia. But emulating a bully is no great achievement. Australian governments have for sixteen years now proved themselves to be capable only of bullying behaviour towards human beings in the greatest distress and need, be they asylum seekers or their own citizens. Cruelty is not a strength. It is the most appalling, base and destructive weakness.

Lover, lover, lover – burying the dead, Scott Morrison, and L. Cohen

16 Feb

Grief. Edgar Bertram Mackennal via Commons Wikimedia

One thing the Shadow Minister for Immigration reminded me of yesterday is that whatever qualities may be required for the practice of politics, the possession of emotional intelligence is not one of them.

Morrison’s race to the bottom whine about misuse of taxpayer dollars to bring bereaved asylums seekers from Christmas Island to Sydney  has brought down buckets of approbation down on his head, and deservedly so.

Jonathan Green’s piece also reveals the morally bereft position of the government on the issue.

Morrison’s complaint was that Australians have to reach into their own pockets to attend the gravesides of loved ones, but asylum seekers don’t.

I did for a moment have a wild fantasy that this was a bit of theatre. Well, it gave Joe Hockey the opportunity to parade his compassion, and he is trying to get somebody from the government to go on Sunrise with him to lift his profile. And if there’s to be a tilt at leadership, given that Abbott’s apparently in roughly the same place as was Rudd when he got the axe, then Hockey’s a likely candidate. What better way to pitch him than as the mature voice of emotional reason, with Morrison’s forces-of-darkness gibberish as the foil?

But as LP’s Mistress Kimbrella (oh, lover,lover,lover, come back to me…) and Ken Parish reminded me, I have the capacity to think like a loony conspiracy theorist if I’m not vigilant.

BTW, friends, I was proved right about the OLO strife being provoked by more than one person, IBM stating it was the article that offended employees in their offices as well as their advertising agency, and it being revealed that Gregory’s call to the ANZ didn’t get a mention anywhere. I guess someone will apologise sometime? Just kidding.

I notice that LP’s supporters are still busily defending over at the Drum, including one commenter who writes, mysteriously,Christopher Pearson has every right to his vile hate-speech.

A generous friend gave me Leonard Cohen’s On the Road DVD and CD for Christmas. Listening to Cohen, and watching him, (not to mention the spectacular Javier Mas) is a great antidote to the inevitable and profound spiritual exhaustion provoked by politicians using the funerals of babies to let everybody know how tough they are.

I thought of politicians when Cohen sang:

I asked my father
I said, “Father change my name”
The one I’m using now it’s covered up
With fear and filth and cowardice and shame

Vale little babies, mothers, wives, husbands, uncles, brothers, sisters, aunts, daughters, sons, cousins, lovers and friends, drowned at Christmas Island. Vale.


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